Feminist Machismo?

jackson katz bookI wanted to go see Jackson Katz talk about his new book, The Macho Paradox, last night: I’ve seen bits and pieces of his work through anti-violence groups, but been reluctant to really check him out. Historically, there’ve been some problems with white straight guys trying to out-activist their white feminist cohorts, and getting disproportionate credit for the offering the kind of support that should be expected from allies. Plus, race and class differences among men (including their varying relationships to a racist criminal justice system that ‘punishes’ sex offenders) tend to get glossed over in anti-sexism education that focuses on a prototypical white frat boy perp. Not to mention the commonplace omission of sexual violence in queer communities.

Disclaimers aside, I hold out hope for Katz.

Trusted friends of mine have said he’s really solid on stuff others normally leave out. His talk teaser suggested as much, beginning with the book’s subtitle: “Why some men hurt women and how all men can help.” Although “some men” functions as an appeasement to the dudes who consider themselves good guys and object to lumping all men together as perpetrators, it also recognizes that queer men, for instance, may not hurt women in the context of sexual relationships, but nevertheless have a responsibility to “help.” (A responsibility that comes, I would argue, not from some sort of humanitarianism, but from the reality that they do also perpetuate patriarchy in other ways, i.e. economically, culturally.)

The body of the talk description was also promising:

Jackson will explore some of the ways that male culture contributes to sexual and domestic violence, and will suggest strategies to enlist men in the fight against all forms of men’s violence toward women. Topics covered include male peer culture in schools and colleges, messages about masculinity and alcohol use, men’s uses of pornography, prostitution and stripping, sexism in the sports culture and the U.S. military, the many intersections between racism and sexism, and the role of homophobia in all-male groups.

Militarism, homophobia, racism — keywords, check. And as a former college athlete (in a game notorious as a sexist, racist buttress for plutocracy, if not an especially violent spectacle), I appreciate Jackson taking on sports: that golden calf of American culture.

I do wonder how self-consciously Katz, a white man, uses the word “macho.” Does he acknowledge its ties to anti-sexist efforts in Latin@ movements, like the 1970’s Puerto Rican nationalist group the Young Lords Party? In the words of Jennifer Nelson in Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement, the YLP ethic “appropriate[d] the traditional Latino concept of machismo for the purposes of the revolution”: YLP members proclaimed that “machismo must be revolutionary . . . not oppressive.” I’d bet he just uses it as a hook, but given his track record, maybe he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Tight as Katz’s analysis might be, and glad as I am to have him in our campus discourse, men’s education only accomplishes so much. One of my friends who does anti-violence work often comments that, typically, it’s not until someone close to him (a sister, friend, cousin, former girlfriend, mother) discloses that she was sexually assaulted that a guy will start to give a damn about rape. First he must feel personally affected and invested; then, he might act. It’s the rare dude indeed who is spurred to change after a 7:30pm Wednesday night lecture.

Still, those who care enough to show up can probably go further. Organizing and mobilizing around sexual violence is tough work in often hostile campus climates, and the men who do care enough to join up can effect truly beautiful change.

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One response to “Feminist Machismo?

  1. did anyone go? i sadly did not, and would love to hear folks’ reactions…

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