The Macho Paradox: Excerpt from Jackson Katz's book on why violence against women is a men’s issue

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


Most men who are violent toward women are otherwise “normal” guys. They are average and unremarkable. How many times do we have to hear people interviewed on television news programs naively proclaim, after their neighbor has murdered his wife and kids, that he is the last person they would think capable of such a crime because he was such a nice guy and friendly neighbor? The unsettling reality is that men’s violence toward women is so normal that perpetrators are generally indistinguishable from the rest of us.

You can’t tell if a man is a batterer by looking at him. Rapists don’t have distinguishing facial features. What’s more, the majority of violent men and boys are not isolated, loner sociopaths. To be sure, deeply disturbed individuals inspire morbid fascination, and thus are more likely to be featured in repeated headlines and on late-night cable TV programs. Because of occasional real-life serial killers, or the ubiquitous cultural presence of fictional characters like Hannibal Lecter, monsters have a disproportionate impact on our cultural psyche.

 The Macho Paradox: Excerpt from Jackson Katzs book on why violence against women is a men’s issue

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

But even they can present a normal front to the world. As the Time magazine headline read after a notorious serial murderer was arrested in the US state of Kansas in March 2005, “Was the Killer Next Door? Dennis Rader Was a Husband, Father, Church Leader — And Is Now the Man Accused of Terrorizing Wichita.”

Still, deranged murderers and rapists comprise only a very small percentage of violent men. Most men who assault women are not so much disturbed as they are disturbingly normal. Like all of us, they are products of familial and social systems. They are our sons, brothers, friends, and coworkers. As such they are influenced not only by individual factors, but also by broader cultural attitudes and beliefs about manhood that shape their psyches and identities. And ours.

Most perpetrators are, in fact, “our guys,” the phrase Bernard Lefkowitz coined to describe the popular white, middle-class New Jersey boys who gang-raped a mentally retarded girl in a 1989 case that achieved national notoriety. Those boys — like the vast majority of perpetrators of gender violence — didn’t speak a foreign language or adhere to strange customs. They were homegrown products of contemporary American society.

There is no getting around the fact that violent boys and men are products of our culture, and as such are influenced by cultural ideas about manhood that teach individual males what is expected of them — in and out of relationships with women. Their violence says something about us.

To put it bluntly, we are unindicted coconspirators in their crimes. That uncomfortable truth is one of the many reasons why people — both men and women — have a self-interest in denying the extent of the problem. If millions of women and girls are abused and mistreated by men, then it follows that a lot of men abuse and mistreat women.
Who are these men? Most of them are not strangers. Most women who are raped are raped by men they know. Women who are battered are battered by their partners. Women who are sexually harassed are usually harassed by fellow students, teachers, coworkers, or bosses. In other words, most of us who know female victims also know the men who have abused and violated them.

Who wants to think about their friends and loved ones as rapists, wife beaters, and sexual harassers? If people have reason to be in denial about the victimization of women they care about, isn’t it even more understandable that they would be in denial about male perpetrators they care about? At least the victims are sympathetic; something bad has happened to them. But who wants to admit that men they care about have done bad things to women?

The motivation for denial is particularly acute for family members of perpetrators. What do his actions say about us as a family? It also brings up all sorts of conflicts for friends. Should I be loyal to my friend, even though I know he’s done something wrong? I wouldn’t hit a woman, but he did, and he’s my friend. Are his acts a reflection on me? Friends are also forced to make a choice. Unless they confront an abusive friend in some way and repudiate his abusive acts, the people close to violent men can be implicated either as complicit in immoral behavior or as cowards. The more you convince men of the need for them to take action, the more you challenge them to examine their complicity.

One of the underlying causes of the rampant victim-blaming that goes on in men’s discussions about violence against women is that it makes our ethical choices easier. If the (false) choice is between “She’s a vindictive slut who’s trying to take down one of my boys,” and “My friend is a rapist,” it’s a no-brainer to figure out which one is the easiest to live with.

Therein lies the central paradox of trying to mobilize men by shocking them about the reality of gender violence in the lives of the women they care about. If crimes like child sexual abuse, rape, battering, and stalking were relatively uncommon, it would be much easier to take comfort in the notion that perpetrators were unusual, anomalous, just bad seeds.

It is less stressful to blame the demonized “other” than it is to engage in self-examination. It would be so much easier to blame this whole nasty business on deranged psychos—easier on the victims, too. But reality intrudes. Deep in our conscience we know that violence against women is committed by men whom the victims — and we — know all too well.

Copyright Jackson Katz, 2006

Updated Date: Oct 30, 2018 11:34:58 IST