Activist addresses American manhood, violence against women


By Brittany Redden, Reporter

As part of Greek Week, UNO welcomed Jackson Katz, renowned anti-sexist activist, researcher and filmmaker Tuesday.

Katz co-created the 1999 documentary “Tough Guise: Men, Violence and the Crisis in Masculinity,” which addresses the cultural teaching and pressure for men to exert hyper-masculinity, often at the expense of their emotions. He also appears in the documentary “Miss Representation” and speaks about how this relates to the sexualization and objectification of women.

An enthusiastic crowd of about 300 gathered in the Milo Bail Student Center Ballroom to hear Katz’s observations and beliefs about male identity construction first-hand and ask him questions about the subject.

Much of Katz’s talk dealt with April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the associated issues, such as gender-biased language and the role of media. Katz pointed out that sexual assault, violence and abuse are often wrongly seen as solely women’s issues that some men help with.

Gendered language, such as using passive voice when structuring the message (“Mary was raped by John” as opposed to “John raped Mary,”) makes the victim the focus.

“We’re not going to get anywhere with violence by asking about Mary,” Katz said. “Instead we have to ask, ‘What’s going on with men?'”

Katz also highlighted the media’s use of words such as “alleged victim” or “accuser” when referring to the woman in violence or rape cases. By using this politically correct term, the victim is now portrayed as having victimized the assailant, and it portrays the victim negatively.

In past presidents’ declarations of month-long awareness campaigns (like Sexual Assault Awareness Month), Katz said they too have historically ignored where the root of the issue lies – in men – and perpetuates the idea that these are women’s issues by not mentioning men as perpetrators. The only reference to men in any of the presidents’ declarations of Sexual Assault Awareness Month was to men as victims.

The media is a main source of men’s perceived need to create a “tough guise.” What is widely recognized as the cultural definition of a man is constantly changing, and usually for the more brooding, violent and strong. The responsibility of teaching boys at a young age to discern between what can be gleaned from media as an expectation and a real-world expectation lies in the adults, Katz said.

“We need to raise the bar on being a good guy in America in 2013,” Katz said. “Something more than, ‘Well, I’m not a rapist,’ or ‘I don’t beat my girlfriend.'”

The answer lies in one of the driving forces behind many of the decisions in our lives – media. As is further explained in Katz’s film “Tough Guise” (to which the sequel, “Tough Guise 2,” will be released in the fall of 2013), the media continuously portrays men and women in narrow, stereotypical ways due to a general acceptance of these practices as the norm. In order for things to change among people, namely men, Katz said a change needs to happen at the media production level.

“It’s naive to think we can have the social change we need without critically examining the media,” Katz said. “It seems so obvious.”

The sequel to his first hit documentary, “Tough Guise 2” will be released in the fall of 2013. In addition to these and the film “Miss Representation,” you can see Katz in an upcoming documentary about male identity construction as it relates to hip hop music, “Beyond Beats and Rhymes.”