interview for the media education foundation about Jackson's new book, the macho paradox, why some men hurt women and how all men can help

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.


KOH: To begin with, could you give an overview of your new book The Macho Paradox?

JK: Sure. The full title is The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help, and it is a book-length articulation of much of the work that I have been doing over the past couple of decades. What I'm trying to do is reframe the conversation in the field of gender violence prevention. I argue that while historically the issues of sexual assault, domestic violence, intimate partner violence, and sexual harassment have been considered "women's issues" that "good guys" sometimes help out with, I'm arguing that they're basically men's issues. Fundamentally, the problems of sexual and domestic violence are problems of boys' and men's attitudes and behaviors, and (white) male-dominated power structures that either produce, perpetuate or condone these attitudes and behaviors. I'm hoping that my book contributes to a paradigm-shift in the field, a move toward holding men accountable on both a personal and an institutional level.

KOH: That leads me to ask about the first chapter in the book which is titled "Violence Against Women is a Men's Issue," which is also a concept that you explore in the video Tough Guise -- it's a lot of the framework for the whole video. Can you speak a little bit more about this idea -- why do you think that violence against women is a men's issue?

JK: One thing I want to be clear about is that women are now and have always been at the forefront of this work. Women created the battered women's movement, the rape crisis movement. In a multicultural and an international sense, women have been the ones who have raised these issues, led reform movements, and created a range of new and vital institutions. And they're responsible, in a very positive way, for changing the national and international dialogue about domestic and sexual violence. So when I say that these are "men's issues," I'm not in any way saying that they're not also women's issues, or that women's and girls' lives haven--t been central. Obviously, because the subject here is men's violence against women. But I'm saying that we need to think about the subject differently, because if we continue to think about men's violence as a "women's issue," it's not going to get us very far in terms of truly preventing the violence. 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.

We need a whole lot more men involved in this work; we're not even close to having a critical mass of men involved for it to be culturally transformative. There is an ever-increasing number of men in the United States and around the world -- men of all racial, ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds -- who are working alongside of women, learning from women, but working in parts of male culture where, historically, there has been very little work done. This is all part of a growing movement; there is no doubt about the positive aspect of it, but we've got a long way to go. This is a movement still in its infancy.

Virtually every man I know has women and girls that he loves and cares deeply about -- mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, girlfriends, friends. By definition, if we care about these women and girls, then we should care about the issue of men's violence against women. Both the incidence and the threat of it. And more than our personal connection to women: this is an issue of basic social justice and fairness. Look, just about every woman and girl in this country, almost on a daily basis, orders her life around the threat of men's violence. This is a pervasive reality in women's lives -- the fear of rape, the limitations on women's freedoms as a result of fearing men. It's omnipresent -- and, as a result, in a sense hidden in plain sight.

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. I've done this exercise around 1300 times, and I've gotten about four straight answers from men. In most cases a man will finally raise his hand and say, "I don't do anything. I don't even think about sexual assault on a daily basis." 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.

Something else I say in the chapter "Violence Against Women is a Men's Issue" is that while concern for women and girls should be paramount in terms of men--s activation on these issues, our motivation should also be concern for other men and boys. There are so many examples, but just consider one: think about all the boys who are growing up in abusive homes right now. In the domestic violence and sexual assault fields, we've been talking routinely at least for the past decade about the effects of these crimes on children, on the children growing up in domestic violence homes, or in situations where their mother is a rape survivor, and now she--s an alcoholic or a meth addict, because she--s medicating her trauma. There are countless conferences across the country that have been dedicated to this issue, to "children who witness," the effects of these crimes on children. Well the category of --children-- includes both girls and boys. Look at all the boys who are growing up in homes where they--re being traumatized by what a man -- their father, step-father, mother--s boyfriend -- is doing to their mother. Look at all the boys in juvenile detention in the United States or in lock-up who have committed crimes, in many ways as an externalization of their family trauma. In other words, they're acting out in the world trauma that they've experienced in their family of origin. For thousands and thousands of boys, there is a direct relationship between the trauma they suffer at home and the perpetration of criminality (not to mention bullying and other forms of cruelty) outside of the home. Look at all the adult men who are walking wounded, who are trauma survivors themselves, who grew up in homes where there was violence perpetrated against their mother, often against their mother and the kids. Look at all the men in AA (Alcoholic's Anonymous) meetings -- if you listen to their life histories, oftentimes their alcoholism developed as a response to trauma. Because men live in a culture where male vulnerability is denied, a lot of men turn to alcohol and other drugs as a way of medicating their trauma symptoms. If your concern is with men and boys and with their lives and health, then by definition you need to pay attention to men--s violence against women. It horribly affects men and boys as well as women and girls.

KOH: In Tough Guise, you very clearly state that the phrasing should be "men's violence against women" and not just "violence against women." Could you talk about why we need to use the phrase "men's violence against women"?

JK: I have a chapter in The Macho Paradox called "Stuck in (Gender) Neutral." It's an extended discussion about language, and I'm suggesting that the paradigm shift we need to have must begin with a critical reassessment of how we think and talk about these issues. In that chapter, I go through a number of examples of current uses of language that keep us stuck in the old paradigm. One of them is the use of the passive voice, and I talk about that in Tough Guise as well. Honestly, it's one of the insights in Tough Guise that a lot of people remember, because when people can critically examine the language they use on a daily basis and look at it from a new perspective, it really changes consciousness. So the use of the passive voice is a really important part of the discussion about violence. It has a very political effect -- which is that it shifts our attention off men as perpetrators and puts it onto women and children as victims. I'll give you an example. We ask questions like "how many women were raped in the United States last year?" or "how many women on college campuses are the victims of rape or attempted rape," or "how many girls are abused in teen dating relationships," or "how many teenage girls got pregnant last year in the State of Massachusetts?" In all of these constructions, we're using the passive voice, and in each case, it shifts our attention off men and boys and puts it onto girls and women. Imagine how the conversation would be different if we asked "How many men raped women? How many adult men and adolescent boys impregnated teenage girls?" The term "violence against women" is itself a passive construction -- there is no active agent in the sentence. It's as if it just happens. It's a bad thing, "violence against women." But nobody's really doing it. It's happening to women, but nobody's really making it happen. It just sort of happens. But if you insert the active agent -- in this case, "men," because we know that the vast majority of violence against women is perpetrated by men (there is some violence against women perpetrated by other women, but the overwhelming majority is perpetrated by men), you have a new phrase, "men's violence against women." It doesn't roll off the tongue as easily, but it's a more accurate and honest phrase.

KOH: 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.

JK: Sure. This is an important topic. Again, I have a whole chapter in my book on it. The chapter is entitled, "Male-Bashing?" with a question mark, because I don't believe that holding men accountable for men's violence is male-bashing. I don't believe that for a moment. 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". . . The women (and men) who are speaking out against men's violence are the true bashers? They're the ones who are bashing men? But it's even worse than that, because in the term "male basher," not only are the women who are speaking out against men's violence being called the violent ones, but men are now the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators. So it's a complete flip-flop of reality, because in the term "male-basher," men are now the victims of violence. In the real world, there is a huge problem of men's violence against women. But in the term "male-basher," women are now the violent ones and men are the victims. Borrowing a phrase, I would call that a double Orwellian Whammy. It's similar to another really disturbing linguistic development over the past couple of years that is directly related to this phenomenon. It is the term "the accuser," when headline writers and news anchors call alleged victims of rape or another form of violence "the accuser," rather than "the alleged victim." This problematic usage accelerated in the Kobe Bryant rape trial. By calling a woman who comes forth with a rape allegation "the accuser," it has the effect of making them into the ones doing something to the alleged perpetrator. In other words, it reverses reality. Instead of the alleged victim alleging that she was assaulted by the perpetrator, now the perpetrator is in a sense being assaulted by her accusation. So she is the one doing something to him. He is now the victim of her accusation. This helps to shift people's sympathy away from the alleged victim and towards the alleged perpetrator, which is a very powerful way of flip-flopping these issues and overturning decades of feminist consciousness-raising around the gender and power dynamics at the heart of these crimes. I reject out of hand that holding men accountable for violence against women is male-bashing.

KOH: I would like to ask about another chapter, which has a very provocative title, "It Takes a Village to Rape a Woman." Could you explain what the premise of this chapter is and what you are indicating with the statement, "it takes a village to rape a woman"?

JK: Well, it is a deliberately provocative title. But I think it articulates an important part of what I'm trying to say in this book. Basically, what I'm doing in the chapter is flushing out the feminist idea that we live in a rape culture, that individual rapists have to be understood as products of social systems and institutional forces that are much larger than individuals. And that it 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. So, the basic feminist concept of a rape culture is what is embodied in the phrase "It Takes a Village to Rape a Woman." The existence of a "rape culture" has wide implications -- there are so many different ways in which the culture contributes to the high rates of sexual violence, which includes perpetration by men against women, and against other men and children. There are so many cultural factors that are involved. In this chapter, I focus on certain aspects of media culture, and how those contribute to what I refer to as "the growth in rapist values among men and boys." For example, I look at the Kobe Bryant rape trial, and I look at the popularity of the white rapper Eminem. I look at professional wrestling, and I also look at talk radio -- in particular the so-called "shock jocks" Howard Stern and Tom Leykis, and the right-wing bully Rush Limbaugh, and how those men's public personae, as well as the things they specifically say, help contribute to a rape culture, specifically to the promotion of rapist values among boys and men. I'm not arguing, nor does any thoughtful person argue, that media causes violence or that media causes rape. But I am talking about the ideological role of media in helping to shape gender constructions, especially masculinities.

KOH: There is a line in the book -- I think it's in the sub-chapter on media literacy -- that reads, "A crucial component of the patriarchal system is the gender ideology that is transmitted to young people through media, and plays such a powerful role in their understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman." Could you talk about what you mean by the gender ideology that is transmitted to young people through the media and then how that ideology serves to reinforce the patriarchal system?

JK: The basic concept is that gender is a social construct and not a biological inevitability or essential category. A given culture, at a given time, defines what is masculine and what is feminine and what is the 'appropriate' way that boys and men should act to achieve a certain kind of masculine identity and credibility and to 'make it' in the world of men. So, this is about social norms; it's about how a culture defines the norm, what is the expectation of boys' and men's behavior, in relationship to women and girls, violence, sexism, sexuality and everything else. 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. So, I think the cutting edge of gender violence prevention, as distinguished from the treatment or punishment of offenders, or services for victims after the fact, the cutting edge of prevention is the critical examination of what it means to be a man. 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. This is terribly na--ve. We have to look at this structurally -- why is there so much perpetration? We have to ask: why do so many "average men," "normal guys," do bad things? I think the answer is that it's not about individual, idiosyncratic experience -- these are structural, cultural problems. So the cutting edge of gender violence prevention is to critically interrogate how the culture is defining manhood, and masculinity -- of course, cutting across class, race and ethnicity in complex ways. I can't overlook the complexities of this undertaking, but at its heart, this is a very long-term project that involves redefining what it means to be a man. One of the key places that we need to do the work, both intellectually and politically -- and certainly as educators we need to be doing this work -- is through critical media literacy. Obviously, that is one of the key linkages between my work in this book and my work in making media literacy videos and working with MEF to make Tough Guise, and participating in Spin the Bottle and Wrestling With Manhood -- it's all related. One of the things I do throughout The Macho Paradox is to talk about media culture, and reinforce the idea that critical media literacy is an indispensable component of any thoughtful approach to gender violence prevention.

KOH: Tough Guise was released at the end of 1999. What role did that video play in the creation of this book -- your choice to write it, the formulation of the argument, your decision to actually publish a book?

JK: To be honest, for years I had planned to write a book that articulated some of my basic ideas and insights around men's violence against women. One connection between Tough Guise and this book is that I've seen how so many people have responded to Tough Guise over the years, and how useful it is as an educational tool. I've seen how many women and men -- whether they're college professors, high school teachers, or educators in the domestic and sexual violence fields -- how many of them use Tough Guise in their classrooms, trainings, and other settings. I think there is a hunger, a thirst, among both educators and students to hear these perspectives and listen, talk and engage with the ideas presented therein. I knew this instinctively before we made Tough Guise, but it's been completely validated that there are countless people, including great numbers of men, who are eager to have this conversation. I have to tell you about my experience in the publishing world, trying to get this book published. My literary agent sent the proposal out to twenty-five publishers and got twenty-four rejections. Only one publisher agreed to publish it, Sourcebooks. All of the other ones who bothered to respond said essentially the same thing. They said, "We think this is a very important subject, we think you have the proper credentials to write the book, but we don't think there is a market for it. Good luck." This is after I had documented in the proposal that Tough Guise has been seen by millions of people. In other words, I argued, there is already a track record; people are interested in these ideas. But the mainstream publishing world, almost in a single voice, said, "No one is really interested." Knowing, in the back of my mind, that Tough Guise is being used all over the country, in so many different places, strengthened my conviction. But ultimately only one in twenty-five publishers was persuaded by that argument.

KOH: Your work in general -- the work you do around the country in lectures, this new book, Tough Guise -- is really focusing on prevention of men's violence against women. Your work isn't about law enforcement, crisis response, or treatment. Why have you chosen to focus your efforts on prevention?

JK: There are so many different reasons. For one, 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." If you adopt the position that there are some depraved individuals out there who need to be caught and punished, in an interesting way the world seems to be a safer place. If you see them as completely different from yourself -- in other words, if you "other" them -- then it's easier to maintain your (false) sense of security in the world. That is also one of the ways that racism contributes to this dynamic. If the cause of the problem is the racialized other -- in other words, men of color -- the problem at least hypothetically can be contained, and the white majority can deflect the need for introspection. This is one of the ideological functions of the prison industrial complex: lock them up and we feel safer. But of course this is not only racist but delusional. In our society, most of the perpetrators of gender violence are white men, and they are not sick and disturbed. They're normal, average guys, so prevention 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.

Throughout The Macho Paradox, I focus most of my attention on so-called "good guys," or men who see themselves as good guys. I don't focus on batterers and rapists. Of course I talk about batterers and rapists, but my 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 listen to Eminem and I don't go out and rape women or murder them and cut them up and put their bodies in the trunk of a car. I know the difference between fact and fantasy." They'll make those kinds of simplistic arguments. Or they'll say, "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. But the systematic prevention of domestic and sexual violence means looking at how culture systems are implicated in perpetration by individuals, much in the way a racist society is implicated in the racist acts of individuals or institutions. I don't think it is credible for men to say, "I have nothing to do with (gender violence) because I'm a good guy."

It's like white people saying, "I'm not racist. I don't burn crosses, I don't tell racist jokes, and I don't enact racist policies. I'm a good person, I support racial justice." But if you're a white person and you don't challenge other white people, don't use your power and privilege as a white person to work against racism, your silence or passivity is a form of consent and complicity in the perpetuation of racism. Well, it's the same thing with men's violence against women. 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? So, part of what I'm talking about in terms of prevention is thinking critically about the ways in which so many of us men participate in this culture, actively or passively. This is an uphill climb, I have to say. But it's one of the things I'm trying to articulate. We need to get many more men involved in starting to challenge other men in peer cultures, small and large. It's as simple as when one of your friends tells a rape joke, saying, "Hey man, that's not funny. That could be my sister you--re talking about. My daughter, my friend, my mother. It's not funny.-- It's the same thing as encouraging white people to challenge other white people when they make racist jokes, or heterosexual people to challenge other heterosexuals when they tell a heterosexist joke. 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.

KOH: In your biggest dreams, what will be the impact of this book? Who will read it? How will it be used? What do you want it to do?

JK: I really hope that my book contributes to this paradigm shift that I'm talking about. Instead of thinking that the way to address the issues of domestic and sexual violence is for a handful of good guys to help the women out -- if we can shift that perspective to make it one where responsible men, by definition of that responsibility, address these issues head-on and take sexism seriously, as seriously as they take all other forms of oppression, including imperialism, racism, and poverty, and other forms of exploitation-- If men take sexism as seriously, then we're going to begin to start to see significant positive changes. 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. When it comes to sexism, it's just kind of an add-on, "Yeah, and the women too, oh yeah, we have to pay attention to sexism, too." As opposed to understanding that sexism is one of the central oppressions in human societies, and one that directly -- not tangentially -- intersects with all other forms of oppression. Sexism, or male dominance, is part and parcel of oppression at every level, and it needs to be understood as such. And so if my book can contribute to a re-invigoration of a focus on sexism as a fundamental oppression, I--d be very, very pleased by that. And certainly, in the field of domestic and sexual violence prevention, I hope that people who are influential in the field read it, and I hope that it helps to shape their thinking about how to bring more men into the conversation, how to talk about these issues in a way that brings more men into the conversation, how to build alliances between women and men, and to move beyond the simplistic idea that it's "men against women."

KOH: Anything else that you'd like to share that we haven't talked about yet?

JK: 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.

I also want to re-emphasize that I address some of the complexities of race and ethnicity as they relate to gender violence. I have a whole chapter in the book called "Race and Culture," and in this chapter, most of the discussion is about white men's violent sexist behavior. I want to call attention to the ways in which discourses about race and violence often shift attention off of white men and onto men of color. I--m turning that around and saying that when we talk about race and culture, we also need to talk about white men and white culture, and how aspects of that culture contribute to men's violence against women. I examine how the racialized "other" as the rapist or as the batterer is one technique, conscious or unconscious, to shift focus off of white men's actions and responsibilities. I think it's important for white men to talk about this.

I also discuss heterosexism and homophobia, and the relationship between men's violence against women and men's violence against other men, especially gay men. There are all kinds of links between these phenomena. In my book, I talk about how homophobia is used as a policing mechanism in male culture -- in other words, one of the reasons why so few men speak out against men--s violence against women is the fear that they will then be constructed as less than fully masculine, or as gay. In a culture where homophobia persists -- although significant progress has been made -- in a culture where homophobia persists, a lot of young men and boys will not speak out, if speaking out will call upon them homophobic animosity, anger, and potential violence. The point I'm making more generally is that while the focus of The Macho Paradox is men's violence against women, I do weave in a critical discussion about racism, heterosexism, and even neo-colonialism, and how all of these social oppressions interact and intersect.

KOH: Jackson, thank you for speaking with me at such length. I'm looking forward to reading the book.


Jackson Katz, Ed.M. ( is one of America's leading anti-sexist male activists. He is widely recognized for his groundbreaking work in the field of gender violence prevention education with men and boys, particularly in the sports culture and the military. He has lectured on hundreds of college and high school campuses and has conducted hundreds of professional trainings, seminars, and workshops in the U.S., Canada, Japan and Australia. 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).



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