Redefining Manhood and Male Leadership to Prevent Gender Violence

Mar 13, 2014

President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, announcing a special task force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Katz says men in positions of power can influence social views of sexist.
Credit Lawrence Jackson / White

Dr. Jackson Katz lectures throughout the country on how social views of masculinity contribute to gender violence. He’s in Pittsburgh as part of the Center for Victim’s new Men Ending Violence Challenge known as the MEN Challenge.

He describes portrayals of hyper masculinity in the media as "a prescription for dysfunctional behavior," and connects social perceptions of manhood with violence.

"I think the first thing we have to talk about when we talk about interpersonal violence is gender, because men commit the overwhelming majority of violence. That's a fact, it's not even disputable," says Katz.

He says social constructs of masculinity are constantly changing, and the 1950's ideal of the male "breadwinner" is a small part of the true picture.

In a January feature for the Huffington Post, Katz referred to President Obama's announcement of a Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault as "a significant milestone."

He commended the President for using the power of his office to "shed light on the critical role of men in preventing violence against women" and Katz found the President's gender-specific language to be especially heartening:

The president's direct, gender-specific language about men's leadership on this issue is both refreshing and affirming, especially for those who understand that preventing sexual violence requires nothing less than a transformation in our cultural beliefs about manhood. Women working in the field of sexual assault prevention have been saying for years that challenging men's sexist attitudes and beliefs -- across the socioeconomic, racial, ethnic and religious spectrum -- is central to combating gender violence. In so doing, they have often been accused by small-minded and defensive men of being male-bashing "feminazis." Now that the (male) commander-in-chief has framed rape prevention as a men's issue, the pressure to prevent crimes of sexual violence might now move more squarely onto the shoulders of men and boys, where it rightly belongs.

The Center for Victims will be calling on Pittsburgh male-leaders, such as Mayor Peduto and District Attorney Stephen Zappala  to sign a pledge to educate themselves and promote awareness of how gender constructs play into violence.