Gender justice activist and UMass alum gives talk on men in the #MeToo era

“Most men don’t even think about the possibility of being sexually assaulted”

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(Elizabeth Donoghue /Collegian Correspondent)

By Elizabeth Donoghue, Collegian Correspondent

Jackson Katz, a gender justice activist, spoke to a room packed with students, faculty, administrators and community members at the Old Chapel on Tuesday evening on the role men play in the #MeToo movement.

In his discussion of men and the #MeToo movement, Katz spoke about the ways that all men are implicated in disrupting gender violence.

“Most men don’t even think about the possibility of being sexually assaulted,” Katz said.

Katz, a University of Massachusetts alum, noted that UMass was instrumental to the activism he would pursue later in his life.

“The genesis of my activism is at UMass,” Katz said.

While attending UMass in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Katz wrote for The Massachusetts Daily Collegian as a weekly columnist. Katz described one formative protest he covered as a reporter: There had been multiple rapes on campus and female students organized a protest to demand better street lighting on campus.

Katz was inspired by the protest and the leadership expressed by the female students for standing up for women and men across campus that “deserve to walk across campus with freedom and dignity.”

After the protest, Katz learned of the personal experiences of his female peers that dealt with the daily threat of sexual violence from men.

“Women were completely organizing their lives around the threat of violence from men – the threat of sexual violence from men,” Katz said. “Always knowing where they have to be, what time they have to get a ride, be home at a certain time.”

Katz clarified that the majority of sexual assaults on college campuses happen indoors and when the perpetrator and victim are acquainted.

Katz asked the men in the crowd, “Imagine if you had to live like women, had to live in the constant fear of a member of the other sex assaulting you. How would you feel about it?”

He encouraged men to respond with empathy.

Misconceptions, Katz pointed out, are that combatting gender violence is a women’s issue and men do not also benefit from eradicating sexism. Katz also noted that boys who have been abused are ten times more likely to abuse.

Katz commented on the social and political salience of the evening’s discussion. “This couldn’t be a more timely topic,” Katz said.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee this past week regarding sexual assault allegations, and the presidency of Donald Trump were two topics of discussion.

“It is so obvious that men need to be speaking out about these issues,” Katz said.

No more should men silently support women, Katz said. He encouraged men to use their social capital to “honor these women and stand with these women.”

“We are in the position to take the pressure off women,” Katz added.

Katz’s talk coincided with the campus teach-in, “The Problem with the Color Line,” on Tuesday evening in the Cape Cod Lounge.

Katz spoke about how at UMass, he learned about how deeply pervasive racism is in our culture and in the world.

“As a young white guy, how would I feel if I were a man of color who dealt with racism on a daily basis, the daily indignities as well as the more severe manifestation?” Katz asked the crowd.

Katz emphasized that the bystander approach can be utterly transformative if it is integrative. Katz highlighted lateral accountability – people interjecting in daily situations when they hear racist or sexist remarks.

Ali Wicks-Lim, a UMass alumni and Montague resident, brought her 13-year-old son to Tuesday evening’s discussion. She remarked that the room was predominantly women. She hoped to impress upon her son that he should care about women’s issues.

She asked Katz, “What is your advice to get men to simply start showing up?”

Katz responded and said as a society we must build it in organically as an expectation. For example, Katz mentioned, the implementation of annual leadership training.

Katz encouraged Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, who was present, to integrate academic and student affairs to hold men and leaders accountable.

Christine Foley Pilsner, an employee of Isenberg School of Management and a UMass alumnus, remarked on the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, one of the women who alleges Judge Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her in high school, as well as those who have criticized her for apologizing during the hearing.

Pilsner also remarked on women’s socialization to be small and inferior.

She asked, “How do we reprogram the women?”

Katz spoke about the colonization of the mind and said that many young women today are saying, “The way things are aren’t the way things have to be.”

Katz graduated from UMass in 1982 with a Bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He was the first male student to earn a minor in women’s studies at UMass. Katz graduated with a Master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and later earned a doctorate degree from the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

The event was supported by the Eleanor Bateman Alumni Scholar in Residence program; the program brings accomplished alumni back to campus to engage in conversation and workshops.

“Women’s rights are fundamental to democracy,” Katz said to the crowd.

Katz added, “Don’t mourn. Organize.”

Elizabeth Donoghue can be reached at [email protected]