‘Men commit 99% of rapes. Why is rape a women’s issue?’ says activist Jackson Katz

Leading US academic says men’s violence against women ‘fundamentally a leadership issue for men’

Tackling men’s violence against women is “fundamentally a leadership issue for men” at all levels of power and influence, a leading academic and activist on gender-based violence has said.

Dr Jackson Katz, co-founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention, a long-running education programme in the United States, said it was dishonest and inaccurate to present violence against women as a “woman’s issue” only. Speaking at an event co-hosted by Trinity College Dublin and Women’s Aid on Thursday, the author and film-maker said a “paradigm shift” was needed in how men’s violence against women was spoken and thought about.

“Men commit 99 per cent of rapes. Why is rape a women’s issue?” he asked. “Why do we use passive language about men’s violence? We ask, ‘How many women were raped last year?’ rather than, ‘How many men raped women last year?’

“The use of passive language has a very powerful political effect, which is to shift the focus off the people who have more power on to the group which has less. Making the invisible visible is part of the work we have to do.”

While men may get defensive, and protest that it was “not all men”, he said to name it as a men’s issue was not “man bashing”.

“It is a gendered issue and we have to say it out loud. This is not a gender neutral problem... It’s not anti-male to tell the truth. It’s not anti-male to say the majority of violence is perpetrated by men against women, against other men, against themselves... We need to move beyond the silly defensiveness that so many men bring to this conversation.

“We need to be talking about what’s going on in men’s lives, boys’ lives. Male children are born every bit as empathetic, as loving, as woman children. What happens between the ages of zero, two and all of sudden he’s 16 and pushing his girlfriend against a locker because she disrespected him in front of his boys? What do we do about that? We need to talk about that but we won’t as long as we say this is a woman’s concern.”

Tackling the acts and attitudes, including comments and jokes, that underpin misogyny, said Dr Katz, would benefit men and boys who have often been raised with a toxic “ideology of masculinity” and may have experienced adult male violence as children.

“So many men and young men live lives of quiet desperation... So many are living diminished lives because of trauma and violence they have experienced... and the violence that is happening around them. There is a lot of pain and sadness in men’s lives and most of it is unnecessary.”

The role of men could be “transformative”, he said. It was important to “invite” rather than “indict” them to be active bystanders who will interrupt misogyny. While many fear the social pushback of speaking up, he said framing this as an act of courage and leadership would elicit a positive response from most men.

“The 16-year-old boy who tells his friend who has just told a rape joke, ‘That’s not funny’, that’s a leadership act. If we frame it that way I think a lot of men can hear it because it’s a positive challenge. It’s giving them another tool in the kit of being a good person.”

He said we need to get “to a place where men who are in positions of leadership or who are aspiring to be leaders — in business, in politics, in unions, in sports, in communities, in faith communities — know that it’s their responsibility in the 21st century to know and lead on gender equality”.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times