Put the Blame Where it Belongs: On Men
By Jackson Katz and Sut Jhally
First published in
The Los Angeles Times
June 25, 2000, Sunday
Commentary, Pg. M5
The outrage in Central Park on Puerto Rican Day shocked and horrified not just New Yorkers but people everywhere. In its wake, the media have rushed to find an explanation, focusing on the “crowd” or “mob” psychology and the lack of a timely police response. These are important, but there is a far more central aspect that has remained largely unexamined: that men attacked and abused women. Seemingly “normal” men, perhaps fueled by alcohol, acted out publicly against women in an incredibly hostile and aggressive fashion.
The time is long overdue for us to have a national conversation about the way our culture teaches boys and men–across class, race and ethnic distinctions–to think about and act toward women. While this incident rightly shocked and angered a lot of people, and has caused women in New York and elsewhere to be even more vigilant about their personal safety, the most shocking aspect is how long this kind of thing has been going on with so little public response.
We are raising generations of boys in a society that in many ways glorifies sexually aggressive masculinity and considers as normal the degradation and objectification of women. Consider: Misogynistic music and videos, the sexual bullying by entertainers such as Howard Stern, the growing presence of pornography and female stripping in mainstream culture and the crude displays of male dominance in professional wrestling.
To demonstrate how deeply imbued our society is with the attitudes that stem from this acculturation–i.e. how “normal” the Central Park perpetrators were–imagine what the response might have been if, instead of a group of men assaulting women, the Central Park event had consisted of a group of white people targeting and attacking people of color. Wouldn’t the media discussion have focused on racism as the proximate cause of the attacks rather than on the “mob mentality”? And would we be searching for sociobiological explanations for antisocial behavior? No, we would focus, rightly, on the persistent problem of racism in America and on the need to teach our (white) children to respect and embrace racial and ethnic diversity.
Or consider if the genders had been reversed in the Central Park attack. Media discussion would have zeroed in on what was going on with the female gender that caused some women to act out in this way.
Yet when a group of men target and attack women, the “experts” talk about crowd psychology, marginalizing the discussion of the societal sexism that fuels sex crimes.
This “degendering” of the discourse around male violence is not unique to the Central Park fracas. In recent years, there have been thousands of news stories, television specials and town meeting discussions of “youth violence,” which is perpetrated overwhelmingly not by youths of both sexes but by adolescent males. Last summer, Woodstock ’99 featured several rapes and countless sexual assaults by men against women. The festival concluded with a shameful display of wanton destruction by out-of-control males. And yet the discussion afterward blamed it on the “crowd.” More recently, when groups of men went on a rampage after the NBA victory of the Los Angeles Lakers, the media focused in again on a “mob” out of control.
One explanation for the reluctance of the media to make these obvious connections is that the few brave souls who dare speak the truth–especially if they are women–run the risk of developing undeserved reputations as male-bashers, which can hurt their careers. Therefore it is the special responsibility of men to speak out.
Fortunately, there are signs that the tide is slowly turning. High schools and colleges are paying more attention to the need for gender-violence prevention education with young men. Recently at the United Nations, there was an international panel discussion of men talking about ways that boys and men could help prevent domestic and sexual violence. In Namibia earlier this year, there was a first-ever national conference of men that was devoted to this subject. For the past decade, men in Canada have run campaigns in which men wear white ribbons to symbolize their refusal to be silent in the face of other men’s violence.
These are small but significant steps toward creating a society and a world where the crowd of men who are outraged by gender violence overwhelms the crowd that commits such violence.
Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times.