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Oak Leaves

October 4, 2019




VIA Sparks Conversation about Violence against Women



Erica Mohr

 

He’s been called names from “man-gina” to “Katz-strated.” But Dr. Jackson Katz, a leader in the international movement of men who are working to prevent gender violence and promote gender equality, brushes aside those insults in his quest to educate and transform society.

Known for his TED talk, “Violence Against Women—It’s a Men’s Issue,” and as the co-founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP), Katz brought his expertise and frank manner of speaking to MU on Sept. 26, when he gave a VIA in Cordier Auditorium at 7 p.m. Students listened to a 70-minute talk that analyzed how violence against women is not solely a women’s issue, and how gender impacts more than one may think.

The setting of the event was simple: there was a single wooden podium in the dead middle of the Cordier stage, with an easel off to the side. The light shone directly on Katz, calling one’s eyes to be on him at all times.

As he spoke, his hands would grip the podium, his voice projecting with dedication and purpose.  “It was clear that he was speaking from a passionate place and I think the crowd’s reactions showed that what he said resonated with a lot of people,” Erin Brock said. Indeed, oftentimes, if Katz made a point that resonated with parts of the audience, his speech was interrupted to lots of cheers and clapping from the audience. 

Along with getting the audience to respond positively to what he was saying, Katz also dressed professionally, wearing jeans, brown shoes, a grey button-up, with a black suit-jacket over his shirt. His clothing did not overwhelm or distract from his message.

First, Katz spoke about the long-standing problem of sexual assault and domestic violence. He stated how men have been assaulting women, children and other men for thousands of years. He told the audience about women’s leadership and the impact it has started to have. For example, the 1970s was when rape crisis centers started to pop up. This was not an accident; these centers emerged because of women’s leadership and their allies. Katz spoke of the big landmarks women’s leadership has had on the modern day; and the audience showed a lot of appreciation for what he said. 

Katz did not only speak of the accomplishments of the women’s rights movement, but also noted how far women’s rights activism still has to go. “He spoke a truth that not many people are aware of or like to hear,” Brock said. 

Katz did not shy away from hard-hitting and heavy topics, but instead embraced them. “Your generation is sadly the school-shooting generation” he said. “A lot of people are afraid to say school shootings are a gender problem. If it was about guns and mental illness, why aren’t 50 percent of school shootings done by girls? Girls have every bit the mental health challenge that boys do, and they have every bit the same access to guns.”  

Throughout the VIA, Katz identified himself as an ally to the women’s rights movement. He spoke many times about how he understood the part men have played in classifying women as “second-class citizens.” One student, Kara Heckmuller, found his position to be refreshing. “It was so nice to know we had someone on our side,” she said. “It was so great because he was really getting the message across.”  

But Katz’s objective was to offer solutions to these problems. He gave ways for the people in the audience to begin taking action against sexism. For example, one tip he gave was about watching the language individuals use. Instead of asking “How many girls got pregnant this year?” he suggests asking “How many boys impregnated girls this year?” Instead of asking “How many girls were sexually assaulted?” Katz urges people to ask “How many boys sexually assaulted girls?” to highlight their responsibility.  

Katz also spoke at length about bystander intervention, which is at the heart of his educational program. He calls on male peer leaders in the community—such as athletes—to speak to their peers if they hear them making inappropriate comments, such as rape jokes or sexist comments. He suggests that the men could say to their peer, one on one, that they are concerned about the joke or comment, and that it’s not cool. Katz said that rape culture is built on such comments, and that speaking out to one’s peers will do a great deal to dismantle that culture.

Katz was brought to MU by the Gender Studies Program, in cooperation with the College of Arts and Humanities and the VIA Program.