Jackson Katz’s The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help is a deeply necessary book, for it describes a paradigm shift in the way we view and treat men’s violence against women. Before reading this book, I knew some of the basic premises—our cultural definition of masculinity relies on sexism and violence against women (“real” men are not women/feminine/”weak” and can demonstrate their control and dominance over both weaker men and women), men bond together via sexism either actively or passively, we engage in victim-blaming and scrutinizing of a woman’s behavior when she speaks out about rape, and our media and language are steeped in this paradigm. What I didn’t understand—what this book helped me to understand—is what specific steps non-violent or formerly violent men can take to become empowered bystanders in the movement for change. As Mr. Katz states many times throughout the book, this change is good for men as well as women, for men are deeply affected by the violence entrenched in our definition of masculinity—they are affected as sons, as boyfriends, husbands, fathers, brothers, friends, and victims. Men’s violence against women is, at its’ core, a men’s issue—and Katz deals with it as such.
Being a good ally is, in part, about listening. It is about recognizing your societal privilege (whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality, etc.), and setting aside your own whatever (denial, fear, concern, guilt, frustration, anger, certainty) to just listen. That doesn’t mean you never get to talk, or that your emotions and perspectives are unimportant. To get the full picture, conversations about sex, gender, and race need all perspectives—and our current system creates problems for everyone. But because the voices of women and people of color are ignored, dismissed, sidelined, and erased by both the media and our educational system, their voices should be heard first. Conversations about race need the voices of those who deal, in their daily lives, with racism. Their voices are vital to understanding the ways in which racism is unconscious as well as conscious—the ways it is coded into every system we have. And when people of color speak about racism in America, the rest of us need to listen right off the bat—before we speak, before we ask a question, before we try to defend or fix anything. We just need to listen.
Work-life balance is a hot topic these days. Famously non-feminist Marissa Mayer caused a recent stir by eliminating telecommuting at Yahoo!, a move that many mothers decried as family unfriendly and economically counterproductive. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is sparking heated conversations about women, workplace, leadership, and motherhood. Each time a powerful working woman joins the conversation about family and work, the media reacts as though this conversation is new when it is anything but. It’s been circulating around the kitchen table and the office water cooler for quite a while. And it’s time we moved it to the courtroom.
I wrote two posts analyzing last year’s Superbowl commercials: Who’s Buying It? and Girl, Look at That Body. This year, I figured there would be plenty of material to work with: lots of examples of men being masculine by hurting each other and turning women into trophies, whatnot like cars or, just to change things up a bit, cheeseburgers. And I was right: examples abound. So many, in fact, that it’s nearly impossible to choose which ones to discuss. Should I spend my words on Audi, who encouraged teenage boys to take the car, take the girl, take the punch, and smirk all the way home? Or GoDaddy, which presented a close-up, geeked-out fantasy in all its stereotyped glory? I could examine, in excruciating detail, what it’s like to imagine being a woman lying on the beach while a scorpion cuts the tie on your bikini top (hint: it doesn’t make you want to cavort topless in the ocean, as Fiat seems to think it does). And then there’s Calvin Klein, not to be outdone by last year’s H &M commercial, jumping on the bandwagon of male objectification so joyfully you can almost hear the gleeful cackling of the ad execs, prying open the door to a whole new world of possibilities.
A recent article in The Washington Post by Ann Hornaday entitled “Guns, blood and film: Sea change at the box office?” discusses the possibility that Hollywood might dial back the violence in the wake of our latest national school shooting. Ms. Hornaday notes that, after Newtown, “Studios immediately canceled splashy premieres and tweaked marketing campaigns” for recently released violent films. Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), also verbally supported the idea that the MPAA is “…ready to be part of the national conversation” about gun violence. After noting the industry’s reactions, the article discusses recent violent films and moviegoers’ continued support of them; Ms. Hornaday emphasizes that real change lies in the hands of spectators. In other words, we must rely on the market—in this case, the media-consuming market—to help us make the right choices when it comes to the connection between fantasy violence and actual violence.