Jackson Katz: Violence against women

Ted Talk by Jackson Katz on violence against women and men’s role in promoting gender equality.

... one of the ways that dominant systems maintain and reproduce themselves, which is to say the dominant group is rarely challenged to even think about its dominance, because that’s one of the key characteristics of power and privilege, the ability to go unexamined, lacking introspection, in fact being rendered invisible in large measure in the discourse about issues that are primarily about us. And this is amazing how this works in domestic and sexual violence, how men have been largely erased from so much of the conversation about a subject that is centrally about men...

...I want to share with you this exercise that illustrates on the sentence structure level how the way that we think, literally the way that we use language, conspires to keep our attention off of men.This is about domestic violence in particular, but you can plug in other analogues. This comes from the work of the feminist linguist Julia Penelope.

It starts with a very basic English sentence: “John beat Mary.” That’s a good English sentence. John is the subject. Beat is the verb. Mary is the object. Good sentence. Now we’re going to move to the second sentence, which says the same thing in the passive voice. “Mary was beaten by John.” And now a whole lot has happened in one sentence. We’ve gone from “John beat Mary” to “Mary was beaten by John.”We’ve shifted our focus in one sentence from John to Mary, and you can see John is very close to the end of the sentence, well, close to dropping off the map of our psychic plain. The third sentence, John is dropped, and we have, “Mary was beaten,” and now it’s all about Mary. We’re not even thinking about John. It’s totally focused on Mary. Over the past generation, the term we’ve used synonymous with “beaten” is “battered,” so we have “Mary was battered.” And the final sentence in this sequence, flowing from the others, is, “Mary is a battered woman.” So now Mary’s very identity — Mary is a battered woman — is what was done to her by John in the first instance. But we’ve demonstrated that John has long ago left the conversation.

Now, those of us who work in the domestic and sexual violence field know that victim-blaming is pervasive in this realm, which is to say, blaming the person to whom something was done rather than the person who did it. And we say things like, why do these women go out with these men? Why are they attracted to these men? Why do they keep going back? What was she wearing at that party? What a stupid thing to do. Why was she drinking with that group of guys in that hotel room? This is victim blaming, and there are numerous reasons for it, but one of them is that our whole cognitive structure is set up to blame victims. This is all unconscious. Our whole cognitive structure is set up to ask questions about women and women’s choices and what they’re doing, thinking, and wearing. And I’m not going to shout down people who ask questions about women, okay? It’s a legitimate thing to ask. But’s let’s be clear: Asking questions about Mary is not going to get us anywhere in terms of preventing violence.

We have to ask a different set of questions. You can see where I’m going with this, right? The questions are not about Mary. They’re about John. The questions include things like, why does John beat Mary? Why is domestic violence still a big problem in the United States and all over the world? What’s going on? Why do so many men abuse, physically, emotionally, verbally, and other ways, the women and girls, and the men and boys, that they claim to love? What’s going on with men? Why do so many adult men sexually abuse little girls and little boys? Why is that a common problem in our society and all over the world today? Why do we hear over and over again about new scandals erupting in major institutions like the Catholic Church or the Penn State football program or the Boy Scouts of America, on and on and on?And then local communities all over the country and all over the world, right? We hear about it all the time. The sexual abuse of children. What’s going on with men? Why do so many men rape women in our society and around the world? Why do so many men rape other men? What is going on with men? And then what is the role of the various institutions in our society that are helping to produce abusive men at pandemic rates?”

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Transcript excerpt from TED

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