The Macho Paradox: Excerpt from Jackson Katz's book on how men's 'self-interest' can reduce violence against women

Editor's note: Since 5 October 2018, a slew of #MeToo allegations have emerged on social media timelines in India, heralding the second wave of the movement. The allegations, astounding in the range of behaviour, encompass everything from inappropriate comments and unwelcome advances to sustained harassment, and in some cases, assault.

In light of these recent developments, Firstpost is publishing excerpts from Jackson Katz's The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can HelpThe book, first published in 2006, makes the case that violence against women is a men’s issue. Katz takes the reader deep inside male culture to examine why so many men physically and sexually abuse women and children, including those closest to them.

Katz, PhD, is an educator, author, filmmaker and cultural theorist who is internationally renowned for his pioneering scholarship and activism on the issues of gender, race and violence. You can read more about his work here.

The following is the second of two excerpts being published from Katz's book. Read the first one here


Some men do not need to experience an assault against a female loved one in order to grasp the urgency of the problem. They understand that men’s exploitation of women is a fundamental human rights issue that is tied to countless other social and political problems in the US and around the world.

But substantive reductions in gender violence require the involvement of a much broader cross section of men. Transformative social change will come about only if a critical mass of men realises that it is in their self-interest to reduce the level of men’s violence against women. Self-interest is a far more powerful motivational tool than is concern for social justice.

Consider how opposition to the US war in Vietnam in the 1960s increased dramatically — especially among white middle-class college students — when the government instituted the military draft. When your own life is on the line, or the life of someone close to you, it has a way of getting your attention.

 The Macho Paradox: Excerpt from Jackson Katzs book on how mens self-interest can reduce violence against women

The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help, by Jackson Katz

There is a further benefit to making the issue of gender violence personal. When men can feel the issue in their hearts as opposed to intellectualising it in their heads, they are much more likely to gain the self-confidence necessary to confront their fellow men.

It often takes special courage and strength for men to risk confrontations with friends and colleagues about the mistreatment of women, to rise above possible ridicule and disbelief, and to withstand whispering campaigns about their “manhood” if they refuse to conform to sexist and abusive norms.

But the question remains: is it defensible — is it even possible — to mobilise men to work against gender violence by arguing that it’s in their self-interest to do so? It is obvious that this work is in women’s interest. But whether it is in men’s interest is less clear — and more controversial. For example, some feminists in the 1970s advanced the argument that all men benefit from some men’s violence against women because that violence — and the threat of it — is a key tool in men’s continued subordination of women, from which all men benefit.

Today we know that the picture is significantly more complicated. Most importantly, men as a category are not homogenous. There are important differences between and among them. Not all men have the same interest in maintaining the current status quo.

Take gay men, for example. There are aspects of male privilege that gay men enjoy. But they are also subject to some of the same discrimination and violence that women experience. In fact, violence against women and gay-bashing have a lot in common, not the least of which is that in both cases, heterosexual men — often with something to prove — are the primary perpetrators.

Men of colour derive some of the same benefits from male privilege as dominant white males. But in other respects they do not have as much invested in maintaining the status quo as many white men do. How does it “benefit” men of colour, for example, if women of color — African Americans, Latinas, and others — suffer disproportionately high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault, especially in poor communities?

Poverty and racism surely contribute to the incidence of domestic and sexual violence by men of colour against their girlfriends, wives, and daughters. But this violence then helps perpetuate poverty and racism in a continuous feedback loop. An early 1990s political slogan aimed at men of colour put it like this: “You can’t fight the power if you’re dissing the sisters.”

Violence against women of colour (largely perpetrated by men of colour) actually subverts the fight against racism and ethnic discrimination by draining the energies of so many women. How can they fight for peace and justice in their communities if there is no peace and justice in their own homes?

There are also the deleterious effects of domestic and sexual violence on children. Domestic-violence researchers have documented the relationship between violence at home and school drop-out rates, gang participation, street crime, and teen pregnancy — all of which are persistent problems in communities of colour.

Although it is true that men who dominate and abuse women often “benefit” from their abuse in the sense that they get what they want from it, it is also true that it is in men’s self-interest to reduce the violence suffered by our mothers, daughters, wives, and girlfriends. Over the past generation, millions of boys — of all socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic groups — have trembled in fear and powerlessness as they’ve watched their fathers or other men beat their mothers.

Most of these boys eventually grow up. If they can negotiate the rocky waters of male adolescence, today’s victimised boys will one day be men, many of whom will develop emotional and substance abuse problems linked to their traumatic childhoods. How many men today are in therapy — or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings — to deal with the effects of growing up in violent families?

Of course, there is no comparison between the pain of men who care about female victims of men’s violence and the suffering of the girls and women themselves. Regardless, countless boys and men have suffered as a result of violence done to their female loved ones. Think about all of the boys whose mothers have been murdered. Approximately twelve hundred women each year in the US are murdered by husbands, boyfriends, or exes. That is more than thirty-six thousand women in the past three decades. They have left behind tens of thousands of children.

Consider, too, all of the fathers whose daughters are raped. Parents know that seeing children suffer is probably the most difficult experience they can imagine. Is it possible to quantify the pain of parents whose daughters (or sons) have been raped?

I have talked to many fathers (and mothers) who have gone through this. A father’s pain can be compounded by his sense of guilt that he failed in his manly duty to protect his family, however unrealistic a burden that is. Of course mothers experience their own guilt as well.

I once had a male colleague whose only daughter was raped. A few months later, in the middle of a public presentation, his grief and anger at the rapist poured forth in a way that left people sitting in stunned silence. Another friend once called to seek my advice and support when his oldest daughter was sexually assaulted in her first week of college. For these men, violence against women is as personal as it gets.

If you factor in all the husbands and boyfriends of women with sexual abuse histories, or who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms from past abusive relationships, or the male partners of women who are sexually harassed in the workplace, the collective numbers of all these boys and men is in the millions.

You do not need to convince a majority of men to prioritise gender-violence prevention in order to effect significant social change. If only a small percentage of the men with a direct personal stake made their personal experiences political, the reverberations would be culturally transformative.

Copyright 2006, Jackson Katz

Updated Date: Nov 01, 2018 09:47:45 IST