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US expert Jackson Katz says being a ‘good guy’ is not enough to prevent violence against women

Kate Emery
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Jackson Katz portrait. Ian Munro
Jackson Katz portrait. Ian Munro Credit: Ian Munro/The West Australian

If you are a “good guy” who would never hurt a woman, find domestic violence abhorrent and are horrified by sexual violence, this message is for you.

Unless you’re challenging the status quo, you are part of the problem.

That is what visiting US expert on gendered violence prevention, Jackson Katz, wants “good” Australian men to hear.

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“Being a good person is not enough — it doesn’t change anything,” Dr Katz told The West Australian. “Just because you don’t assault girls or women doesn’t mean you’re playing a constructive role in changing the societal forces that are producing these predictable outcomes, so let’s figure out what you can do.

“Preventing gender-based violence is a leadership issue for men, and that’s any man who’s in a position of leadership, however broadly defined, because everyone has a sphere of influence. You need to engage with this issue, and I’m here to say that’s the missing piece: women’s leadership, here in Australia and all over the world, has been incredible in its transformative impact in the last half-century, but the missing piece has been the committed leadership of men.”

Jackson Katz portrait.
Jackson Katz portrait. Credit: Ian Munro/The Nightly

Taking action might be as simple as challenging a sexist joke or derogatory comment rather than letting silent disapproval pass for consent.

“That’s the target audience of my work: the men who say, ‘I think this is horrible, I don’t like what I see, I know we have a problem with domestic abuse and harassment and sexual violence, but I’m a good guy, I don’t hurt women’,” he said.

“I think there’s an awful lot of men in that category. I think what ends up happening to a lot of those men because they’re not sure of what to say or do or because many of them are anxious about what other men are going to think of them if they do speak up . . . a lot of men default to doing nothing or saying nothing and keeping their head down. As a result, we have billions of men all over the world who could potentially be part of the solution but end up being part of the problem through their silence and inaction. I think we can do better than that.

“Sexual violence and abuse takes place on a continuum. Domestic homicide or sexual assault are extremes, but the continuum is much broader than that. There’s everyday stuff, like you’re hanging out with a group of guys, and no women are present, and one or two of the guys start making really derogatory comments about women, or they use derogatory terms to refer to women. If you’re in that group and you don’t make it clear that that kind of language isn’t OK, then, in a sense, isn’t your silence a form of consent and complicity?”

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 6  -   Profile of Dr. Jordan Peterson. The U of T prof at the centre of a media storm because of his public declaration that he will not use pronouns, such as "they," to recognize non-binary genders.        (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Jordan Peterson. Credit: Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Dr Katz, in Perth for a series of talks, is the co-founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention, one of the longest-running gender violence prevention programs in the US. He routinely works with the sports industry and the military.

But he includes himself in the men who have failed to do enough. If they had, he said, charismatic misogynists like Andrew Tate and Jordan Peterson would not have found such a willing audience, particularly among young men.

“In social media and in other parts of the universe that a lot of young men inhabit — the Andrew Tate universe, the Jordan Peterson universe — men who speak up and support women and gender equality and feminism get mocked and ridiculed as soft and weak, and they’re virtue signalers. . . and it’s depressingly predictable,” he said.

“I don’t think we should be alarmist totally because I think that the data shows that there’s a lot of forward progress made and a lot of young men do have some pretty progressive ideas . . . but I think there has been a backlash.”

Dr Katz said women had led the fight against gendered violence for too long, and it was time for men to step up.

“Women have been shouting this from the rooftop for decades, and I think a lot of men have heard the shouts, but they haven’t really taken the next step,” he said.

“Instead of being mad at women for being afraid of us, we should be mad at men and male-dominated institutions that have created a situation where women are afraid of us — even if we’re good people.”

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