People on the Left and the Right Share Blame for the Sexual Miseducation of Americans

A correspondent brought to our attention this insightful interview published on the Media Education Foundation website. Jackson Katz, Ed.M. is one of America’s leading anti-sexist male activists. He is the co-founder of the Mentors In Violence Prevention (MVP) program, the leading gender violence prevention initiative in college athletics. He is the director of the first worldwide domestic and sexual violence prevention program in the United States Marine Corps. He is also the creator and co-creator of educational videos for college and high school students, including “Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity” (2000), “Wrestling With Manhood” (2002) and “Spin the Bottle: Sex, Lies and Alcohol” (2004).

On March 24, 2006, MEF Marketing Director Kendra Olson Hodgson interviewed Tough Guise creator Jackson Katz about his new book The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help. The transcript of the interview follows…

In spite of all of the services for victims and survivors that the battered women and rape crisis movements have been able to provide, and all the judicial and legal reforms, the rates of men’s perpetration are still shamefully high. I’m arguing that until we acknowledge that the reason for men’s violence is not anything that women and girls are doing or not doing, but that it lies in boys’ and men’s attitudes and behaviors, and the functioning of institutional structures that are largely controlled by white men. Until we name the problem as men’s attitudes and behaviors in patriarchal culture, then we’re just cleaning up after the fact…

An exercise I use in my trainings powerfully illustrates this. I use a chalkboard or a whiteboard, and I put a line down the middle. Then I draw a male symbol on one side, a female symbol on the other. Then I ask the men what they do on a daily basis to prevent themselves from being sexually assaulted. Usually the answer is nothing… And then I ask the same question of the women, and the board fills up with things that women do. Whether they live in an urban, suburban, or rural area, it doesn’t really matter. The board just absolutely fills up. The point is that the threat of sexual violence is a pervasive part of women’s lives in the United States in 2006, and whether or not a woman has already been victimized by a man–and millions have–the threat of men’s violence is an omnipresent reality in women’s lives. So, knowing that, men who claim to care about women, social justice, or simple decency, need to figure out what they can do about this horrendous problem…

[Hodgson:] The idea of putting the onus on men can lead some people to say that you are ‘male-bashing’. It’s a term that has been used to describe feminists for years, and I am wondering if you can respond to the use of this term as a criticism.

Sure. …I don’t believe that holding men accountable for men’s violence is male-bashing… Let’s look at the term ‘male-bashing’. Look at the word, “bash”. If you look it up in the dictionary, as a verb it means “to hit or strike”. In other words, it’s a violent term. So, the women who speak out against men’s violence–and it’s disproportionately been women–the women who speak out against men’s violence, who try to hold men accountable, they get called “male-bashers.” If you consider that “to bash” means “to hit or strike”, a “male-basher” in that definition is a violent person. So we’re led to believe that the people who are speaking out against violence are actually the violent ones? This is what is called an Orwellian inversion–it’s like saying, “Freedom is Slavery,” “War is Peace”.

…[I}ndividual rapists have to be understood as products of social systems and institutional forces that are much larger than individuals… [I]t is wildly naive to look at individual rapists as just appearing out of nowhere, as if the culture around them–the economic and political structures as well as the gender order–is not implicated in individual perpetration…

Media, as the great pedagogical force of our time, powerfully functions to transmit cultural values. Among those important cultural values are expectations about how boys and girls, men and women, are supposed to act in order to conform to cultural mandates about their gender… For decades, rates of perpetration have been so high; it is incredibly short-sighted to understand the reason for this as a handful of isolated individuals acting out in ways that are unrelated to each other… [C]ritical media literacy is an indispensable component of any thoughtful approach to gender violence prevention.

…I firmly believe that the vast majority of gender violence is preventable. Men who act out in these ways, who sexually harass, abuse, rape, and batter women and children, are not sick; they’re not sociopaths, they’re not deeply disturbed. They are in fact disturbingly “normal”. This, by the way, makes a lot of people extremely uneasy, because it’s a lot easier to see the men who perpetrate these crimes as “monsters” and as “sickos”… [P]revention means addressing the culture that produces perpetrators–before the fact. But effective prevention requires introspection on a national or cultural level, as well as on an individual level. It means thinking about how systems as well as individuals participate. That’s a challenge because many people and institutions don’t want to look in the mirror.

[M]y focus in on the guys who see themselves as good guys, and how they, in so many different ways, participate in a culture that oppresses women, and that produces rapists and batterers at pandemic rates. This is a challenging approach to take because a lot of guys will say things like… “I can go to strip clubs, I can masturbate to pornography. This is not a problem. I don’t go out and rape women. So get off my case. Talk to the guys who are doing it–the rapists and the batterers–you know, it’s not me, it’s not my problem.” So many men–and some women–say those sorts of things…

If individual men do not directly assault women, but they do participate in so many different ways in a culture that glamorizes men’s violence against women–not only tolerates it, but in some ways glamorizes it–then how can they say that they have nothing to do with it?… We need to get many more men involved in starting to challenge other men in peer cultures, small and large… If we can create peer culture climates among men whereby the abuse of women by some men will be seen as completely socially unacceptable–in other words, if guys will lose status among their peers if they act out in sexist ways–then we’ll see the rates of rape, domestic violence, and sexual harassment come way down…

I have to say that one of the persistent problems on the left is there is more lip service paid to sexism than there actually is work against sexism by many, many men who claim to care about social justice, who claim to care about oppression and other forms of exploitation…

I want to mention a chapter in the book called, “Guilty Pleasures: Pornography, Prostitution, and Stripping”. In this chapter, I look at the ways in which the pornography culture, and the prostitution and stripping industries, if you will, are helping to shape boys’ and men’s attitudes toward women and girls and their sexuality as well as men’s sexuality. This is a national conversation that is long overdue. You asked what my dream was about the book–well, one piece of the dream is that I hope my book helps to catalyze a more thoughtful conversation between men, as well as between women and men, about pornography, prostitution, and stripping. Ideologically, these are enormously influential industries. I think there has been very little thoughtful conversation about them in male culture, and certainly even in the academy. My friends and I are very frustrated by either the lack of or the superficiality of the conversation about them. For example, pornography is by far the most influential form of sex education–or sex (mis)education–in the United States. There is so little quality sex education in the schools in our sex-crazed country. The right has successfully squelched the responsible sex education movement that arose in the seventies. In the void, you have this enormous multi-billion dollar industry that has profit as its motive, not education. The pornography industry is serving as the vehicle for so many boys’ and men’s sexual socialization. And the level of brutality that has been normalized in mainstream pornography, the level of sexist brutality, is just astounding. Many people have not been paying attention, but I think they need to pay attention. It’s very disturbing, I think, for a lot of people to see–with eyes wide open–what boys and men are masturbating to. But I think it needs to happen. Sadly, in recent years many feminists have been leery of going down this road because this issue is seen as divisive, and fraught with both ideological and interpersonal conflict. I think that’s really sad because the industry hasn’t slowed down one bit–in fact, it’s only been accelerating in the last few years.

See also:

Free Book Download: Diana Russell’s Against Pornography: The Evidence of Harm (explicit)
“I have found that showing pornography is an effective and rapid consciousness-raiser about misogyny and male views of women. It helps to enhance women’s understanding of many males’ dangerous notions of what it is to be a man. It often also succeeds in arousing women viewers’ anger (and some men’s) at the contempt and hatred of women they see in the pictures and captions.”

Hustling the Left
As Craft demonstrates in the numerous Hustler cartoons she reproduces on her site, the magazine mocks child abuse (often by depicting the child as sexually precocious and seducing the adult), and promotes racism and violence against women. Hustler invites readers to identify with Nazis, wife-beaters, incestuous fathers and kidnappers of children (the famous “Chester the Molester” cartoons). The Left would show no mercy to any other corporation that made money by trafficking in racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic images. Why does the porn industry get a free pass?

Meanwhile, the absence of an effective political challenge to pornography has allowed its values of sexual exploitation, degradation, violence and commodification of the body to spill over into mainstream films and television. The Left’s critique of corporate-owned media is incomplete, says Craft, because of a refusal to challenge the source of its exploitative aesthetic, namely the porn industry.

Andrea Dworkin: Time for Progressives to Stand with the Victims, Not the Users (explicit language)
This is a political point: what once was the Left wants to be the user,
does not want to be anywhere but on top of the used; and some so-called
feminists want to be the user, not to be under, not to be the
condemned, the injured.

A Review of Adriene Sere, “Sex and feminism: Who is being silenced?”
Sere, the former editor of the feminist e-zine Said It, says leftist
publications, in their rush to overturn conservative taboos, have
become apologists for oppressive and dehumanizing sexual practices.
Magazines such as The Nation and The Progressive consider it off-limits
to ask whether porn, prostitution, sadomasochism, and sex without
emotional intimacy really advance the liberation of women, or simply
perpetuate inequality. Feminists who raise these questions are mocked
as prudes.

Bringing Compassion to the First Amendment
Porn kills many things: innocence, hope, trust, health, bodies,
spirits. I know it is hip today to proclaim it harmless, but the
unfashionable fact is that this is an industry built on distorted
fantasy, loneliness, and despair. And we on the left need to stop
hiding behind the First Amendment issues and articulate this untrendy
but vital truth.

Pornography and Male Sexuality
…a particular incident was reported in the men’s jail during the Diablo Canyon anti-nuclear blockade. While most of the activities had a strong feminist consciousness, once 800 men were separated into the prison and prison authorities distributed pornographic literature along with other reading material, “that atmosphere began to disintegrate,” as one of the participants put it. His account continues: “Some courageous and concerned men began to see what was happening and, within a few days, succeeded in changing the jail environment back to something very close to what it had been in the camp itself [prior to the blockade].”

Young New Yorkers Talk about Porn’s Effect on their Relationships (explicit language)
“Looking at Internet porn was pretty much my sex education,” he says. “I mean, in school, it was just, ‘Here’s a gigantic wooden dildo, and now we’re putting a condom on it,’ whereas on the Internet, you had it all. I remember the first time I had sex, my first thought as it was happening was, Oh, this is pornography. It was a kind of out-of-body experience. I was really uncomfortable with sex for a while…”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.