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“We Talk About Women Being Raped, Not Men Raping Women”

Jackson Katz takes on the power of passive language.

If you use Facebook or Twitter, chances are you’ve seen some version of this quote by Jackson Katz, in which the educator, filmmaker, and activist points out how problematic it is that passive language is used to describe violence against women.

Here’s how it begins:

“We talk about how many women were raped last year, not how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. We talk about how many teenage girls in the state of Vermont got pregnant last year, rather than how many boys and men impregnated teenage girls.”

Katz then proceeds to point out how, simply by using passive language, we absolve men of all responsibility: “Even the term ‘violence against women’ is problematic…It’s a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at that term, ‘violence against women,’ nobody is doing it to them. It just happens to them…Men aren’t even a part of it.”


Jackson Katz
Jackson Katz
Llewellyn Simons ©paul shoul

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His words have been making the rounds online in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment and assault against movie producer Harvey Weinstein—and the attendant #MeToo campaign in which women are sharing their own experiences on social media. However, Katz tells Fortune that they are actually a transcription of a speech he made at Middlebury College five years ago. “I have been doing and saying this stuff for a long time—the only difference is now people are paying attention,” he says.

Katz says he began working towards gender equality (“one of the great unmet challenges of the human species”) in college, after was awoken to the pervasiveness of sexism and sexual assault through his work on the University of Massachusetts newspaper.

“I realized that I was in a position of power—as a white heterosexual man—to do something about this giant problem,” he says. Today, is is best known as the co-founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP), one of the most widely influential gender violence prevention programs in the U.S., and the first one of its kind to be instituted in sports and military organizations.

In addition to talking about the power of language—which, he argues, “structures thought” and thus has the potential to alter the way people think about sexual violence—Katz spends a lot of his time as an educator time teaching the “bystander” approach, which “moves beyond the perpetrator-victim relationship.” For Katz, every person who knows of a perpetrator’s actions, as well as every person who knows the victim, has a responsibility to speak up. “Their silence is a form of consent and complicity.”

Katz’s main goal is to get “more men in positions of institutional, political, cultural leadership to take this stuff seriously and take it to the next level,” he says. “Women’s leadership has been incredible and transformative but the missing piece is men’s leadership.”

For him, not committing sexual assault or harassment is “way too low a bar for what it takes to be a good guy.”