While G.I. Joe’s biceps have grown over the decades, so too have discussions regarding gender violence.
Anti-sexism activist Jackson Katz discussed several cultural factors that may help shape the definition of masculinity Wednesday during his “Bad Boys and Bystanders” presentation in the LBJ Student Center Ballroom.
A native of Boston, Katz has a varied history as a social theorist, having been a former all-star high school football player. He was the first man to minor in women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He went on to receive a master’s degree in education from Harvard University and a doctorate in cultural studies and education from UCLA.
In the late 1980s, Katz worked for Real Men, a Boston-based grassroots organization that helped educate people on sexism.
He later cofounded Mentors in Violence Prevention at Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society. Multiple college athletic programs, NFL and Major League Baseball teams, NASCAR and the U.S. Marine Corps have implemented the program.
Now, Katz stresses the importance of institutions such as colleges and athletic teams and their role in ending gender violence.
“We need a paradigm shift in thinking,” said Katz. “We need to try to make visible what has been made invisible.”
In his presentation, Katz said in order to accomplish this shift, people need to consider language constructs. They should practice using the active voice, such as “John beat Mary” versus “Mary was beaten by John.”
Katz used linguist Julia Penelope’s work about the “erasure” of women and lesbians from the English language. The exercise explained how grammatical shifts can create a culture that blames victims by using the passive voice.
He said cultural ideas about manhood are at the root of such grammatical shifts and “bystander behavior,” described by Katz as the act of remaining silent toward acts committed by peers. According to Katz, males may choose to remain silent to preserve the idea of masculinity, although they are uncomfortable or disapprove of these acts.
“There’s been an awful lot of silence,” said Katz. “If you say nothing, what do you say?”
“Bad Boys and Bystanders” was sponsored by various Texas State departments, including the Vice President for Student Affairs, to raise awareness for the on-campus organization Men Against Violence.
“They’ve had a long history here, and we’re trying to sort of rebuild that and make it a larger presence on campus,” said Stephanie Kneedler, Texas State Student Health Center graduate research assistant.
Kneedler said Katz was asked to return to Texas State because he offers a unique perspective on gender violence.
Katz will continue to educate the public on gender violence with a follow-up to his 1999 film “Tough Guise: Violence, Media & the Crisis in Masculinity,” scheduled to be released this fall. He cites the rise in school violence and the number of males in U.S. prisons as the reason for creating the sequel.
“Look at the rampage shootings. When males do it, the focus is on youth, not gender,” said Katz. “There’s something about masculinity at the heart of it.”