I had the opportunity to attend a very thought provoking workshop presented by the KC Metropolitan Bar Foundation. Jackson Katz was the presenting speaker.
Jackson Katz is an educator, author, filmmaker and social theorist who has long been recognized as one of America's leading anti-sexist male activists. Mr. Katz spent four hours discussing men’s violence against women in our society and how our language and actions have continued to perpetuate this grave and serious problem. I would like to spend some time in October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, discussing what I learned from the lecture. I have been working in the domestic violence field for a long time and I still found myself learning new things and hearing new thoughts on how to approach this very old and growing problem in our society.
The first thing I took away from the lecture was his thought that we don’t really need an Awareness Month for domestic violence. Our society is very aware of the issue of domestic violence but what we need now is action. Let’s take action which will lead to the end of the violence. I found this interesting and thought provoking. How can we make this happen? What can I do to lead this type of movement?
Mr. Katz spent the first part of the lecture discussing our language as we discuss domestic violence or, as he says, “Men’s Violence Against Women”. Yes, there are other types of violence—men against men, women against women, women against men—but the overwhelming majority of domestic violence is men against women. He says let’s call it what it is. But he also acknowledged that is difficult to do. Programs that are struggling cannot risk alienating supporters who may not be comfortable hearing those terms. They fear push back from partners in the community who might not want to be so forceful in the messaging. It is a balancing act and one that can come with a price.
He described how our language doesn’t hold men accountable for their violence. When talking about victims and perpetrators, we degender the perpetrator and gender the victim. What does that mean? It means we call victims, women, she, her or assign a gender to the victim. When discussing perpetrators we don’t do that. We call them perpetrators, abusers, or assign their profession, stockbroker, laborer etc. No gender assigned. What happens if we say he, men, husband when discussing the perpetrator. Assign a gender and it takes a more active approach and doesn’t hide accountability. For example notice the difference in the language below taken from a scenario presented at the conference:
John beat Mary
Mary was beaten by John
Mary was beaten
Mary was battered
Mary is a battered woman
What happened here? Focus and accountability moves away from John and Mary as the victim becomes the only focus. In the end, John is gone completely and we are only focused on Mary as the victim. I found this extremely powerful.
I left the workshop with a renewed sense of passion to do this work. I noticed I am looking at it differently and being more aware of my words. How do I speak of men’s violence against women? How am I playing a part in perpetuating the cycle of not holding him accountable for his violence? I encourage you to go to Mr. Katz’s website to learn more about his thoughts and what he has done to bring attention to the issue of men’s violence against women jacksonkatz.com. To learn more about what Hope House is doing or what you can do to get involved, visit our website: hopehouse.net