Male Body Image and Gender Violence
Last month I attended a program on the University of Wyoming campus presented
by Jackson Katz. Katz is considered to be one of Americaís "leading
anti-sexist male activists." He is convinced all of us can effect social
change through our reactions to everyday occurrences. For this monthís thought
bullets, I share some of the highlights from the program that I found to be
especially insightful and thought-challenging.
- Historically, gender violence has been seen as a womanís issue,
and that according to Katz, is part of the problem. As long as gender
violence is seen as a womanís issue, it is too easy for men to ignore it.
The vast majority of men are not perpetrators of gender violence, but they
are still affected by the issue due to mothers, sisters, daughters,
girlfriends, and wives being victims of gender violence. Indeed, many men
and their male friends are victims of gender violence. Until we engage men
in the solution to gender violence, we are doomed to fail.
- Gender roles are fluid and change over time. We need to quit thinking and
acting like they are not changeable. Many media roles for men are currently
based on dominance, both dominance over women and dominance over other men.
Gender roles are taught, and therefore by extension, harmful gender roles
can be untaught.
- It is not enough for a man to say, "Iím a good guy. I donít beat
or rape women." The bar for being a good guy must be raised.
Katz suggests that the new definition of a good guy must include the
concept that a good guy does not allow mistreatment of women by his
family, friends, or co-workers.
- It is not only women who fear aggressive, dominant men. Katz points out
that men fear other men and this part of the complex issue of aggressive
male dominance is seldom, if ever, discussed.
- One of the important reasons to include men in the efforts to address
gender violence is so that men who are currently ignoring the issue can be
included in the discussion and solution. These men may never engage in the
discussion until there are male role models (like Jackson Katz and others).
If only women are discussing the issue, too many men will never hear their
- Side-note: To illustrate this point, of the several hundred people
attending the program on campus, the majority were males. Would the
audience make-up have changed if the subject matter stayed the same but
the featured speaker were female?
- Name calling has been an effective tool in silencing people who speak up
against gender violence and other social issues. Historically, women who
have championed the gender violence cause have been subjected to brutal name
calling. Men who champion the cause are now also subjected to cruel name
calling. A true test of strength of character is doing what is right, even
if you are targeted for name calling. Name calling (or fear of name calling)
often keeps men silent, and they become bystanders of gender violence
(although they are not the perpetrators of violence, they see it happening
and do nothing to stop it.) We must redefine the concept of male strength to
include speaking up against any form of violence against others.
- Men need more multidimensional roles on the big screen. Being male is much
more than being muscular, tough, in control, and carrying the biggest
firearm. Katz showed images of big screen male roles and noted how the body
image had changed over the years to an unrealistic standard of muscularity.
He showed body images of several super heroes (Batman, Superman, GI Joe,
etc.) at the time they were introduced to the world, compared to how they
look today. Without exception, the increase in muscularity was dramatic. He
also compared the roles Humphrey Bogart played with those of Arnold
Schwarzenegger and noted the size of the biceps increased proportionally
with the size of the firearm.
- Katz biggest fear with the level of violence on TV and in the movies is
not the fear of imitation (although a few viewers do imitate the violence
they see), but rather the biggest damage comes from the normalization and
desensitization of gender violence, and that affects us all. As an example
of this normalization of violence, during his program Katz showed video
clips of professional wrestling and specifically males violently attacking
females. Acts of brutality that should outrage us are now so common that few
of us are even offended by the scenes.
- One of Katzís favorite sayings is this: A man of quality is never
threatened by a woman of equality.
Source: Pop culture, Masculinity and Gender Violence, presentation by
Jackson Katz, University of Wyoming campus, Union Ballroom, February 21, 2005.
Compiled by Betty Holmes, MS, RD
to Thought Bullets--main page.
Return to home page.