By Elise Schoening
In a world of media often saturated with extreme violence and sexual crimes, TED Talk lecturer Jackson Katz reminded students in a packed Kendall Hall why gender-based violence remains a critical issue. Katz’s lecture, “More than a Few Good Men: Be a Leader in Creating a Less Violent Future,” was a call to action for students — particularly men — to combat daily instances of aggression against women, delivered on Thursday, March 12.
Katz is internationally recognized for his work in the field of gender violence and violence prevention. Over the years, he has worked closely with sports teams, law enforcement and various divisions of the military on the education and prevention of violence.
While Katz has given numerous lectures, he is best known for his TED talk, “Violence against women — it’s a men’s issue,” that went viral in 2013. His lecture at the College offered a similar message.
Katz spoke to the College community about the underlying factors of gender violence and how everyone in the room can actively engage in solving this issue, which has become so prevalent in our society.
Katz began by explaining that violence is best understood as a gendered issue since men are the primary perpetrators of most categories of violence. Nevertheless, gender-based violence is often labeled as a women’s issue, which Katz explained is both problematic and polarizing. His lecture called for a paradigm shift in how we think about and discuss the topic of gender violence.
“I don’t accept the premise that these are women’s issues that some good men help out with,” Katz said, who believes there is an undeniable link between violence and masculinity. “Calling gender violence a women’s issue is, I think, part of the problem. It gives men an excuse to not pay attention.”
At the heart of Katz’s lecture was the premise that we need to change the language used to frame this conversation on gender violence. Too often, the focus falls on the victims, most of whom are women. As such, men are routinely left out of the conversation and are therefore rarely challenged to think about their own privilege and position in the dominant gender group.
In order to fully combat gender-based violence, Katz argued that we must acknowledge the role men play in this issue, as well as their potential to be a part of the solution.
He believes it is no longer enough for men to simply say that they do not rape or abuse women. Instead, Katz urged the men in the audience to take an active role in the prevention of violence and abuse. This includes not only intervening in violent situations, but also challenging sexist comments and ideas that contribute to an environment where gender-based violence is widely accepted.
“We need more men and we need more women who have the courage and strength to break the silence,” Katz said.
This bystander approach was originally used to combat bullying in schools. Katz and his colleagues then adapted it for use in situations of sexual assault and domestic violence.
It recognizes the complexity of gender-based violence and moves beyond the victim-perpetrator binary. It also holds people who witness violence or abuse and remain silent accountable for the wrongdoing. As such, the bystander approach has the potential for great change by involving everyone in the issue.
According to Katz, the bystander approach to violence is essentially a leadership approach because it encourages everyone to take responsibility for creating a more ethical and just world.
“The bystander who acts, a person who sees injustice and acts, is a leader,” Katz said. “That’s what a leader does. A leader speaks up.”
This approach is fundamentally rooted in the belief that everyone has the ability to speak out and confront unacceptable behavior. Katz therefore believes the bar for leadership must be raised. In particular, men must begin to view gender violence as a personal issue and challenge other men who speak and act in sexist or abusive ways.
Katz invited the male audience members into a conversation from which they have traditionally been excluded. Missing from the lecture, however, was a discussion on how transgender individuals and people identifying outside of the gender binary are often targeted for violent crimes.
Katz argued that gender is the single most important aspect of violence. While he briefly mentioned that gender identities extend beyond just men and women, he failed to explain how other gender identities fit into the discussion on gender violence.
Still, Katz managed to cover the broad and perhaps daunting topic of gender violence in just under an hour and a half. He was able to demonstrate the universality of the issue, as well as the potential for everyone to be a leader of change. It was a bold and compelling lecture that resonated with those who attended.