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October 23, 2003

Katz spotlights sexuality, homophobia

A public service announcement to the men at the University: stand by your women. To the women: your men are behind you.

That was the main message expressed Wednesday night at "More Than a Few Good Men," a talk concerning sexuality, homophobia, gender violence, and masculinity given by athlete-turned-women's-activist Jackson Katz.

The goal of the presentation was to increase awareness about gender violence and to increase male activism in the fight against sexual inequality. "Gender issues are traditionally considered to be ‘women's issues,' " Katz said. "The act of calling them ‘women's issues' gives men an excuse—they just ignore it," he said, adding that more men need to involve themselves with the issue.

According to The Disaster Center, 4,090 people were raped in the city of Chicago in 2000, the last year for which the Center has statistics. Of those, 90 percent of the victims were women, and most were under the age of 18. Katz said that community groups and other organizations need to take a more proactive stance towards combating violence against women.

"If you don't have a systematic plan for prevention, then you're just cleaning up after the fact, and that's the status quo right now. It's simply outrageous," he said.

Having grown up in what he calls a "jock-ocracy," Katz, a former three-sport all-star varsity athlete at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said he understands the societal pressures that prevent men from standing up for women's rights: "It's because there are policing mechanisms in the male peer culture that keep them silent."

Perhaps this widespread male chauvinistic culture of "jock-ocracies" inspired the Department of Physical Education and Athletics as well as the Pan-Hellenic Council, the fraternity and sorority league, to co-sponsor the event. Many of the attendees at the lecture, especially the males, wore shirts with fraternity insignias.

Controversy arose at the Mr. University pageant last March when a fraternity brother shouted homophobic comments at a student performer. Part of the lecture addressed homophobia, and Deputy Dean of Students Bill Michel briefly mentioned the incident at the lecture. "Our campus is not immune to these issues," he said.

The harassment can be much more subtle than a shouted slur, said second-year Hans Erik Berggren. To him the language used in everyday conversation reveals a great deal about personal prejudices. "People don't really realize what they say anymore—[homophobic expletives have] become part of their everyday language," he said.

Katz said that a media culture that promotes "über-machismo"—both rippled physiques and a "programmed lack of empathy,"—has led men to believe that caring about others, particularly women, is a sign of weakness.

"It's hopelessly naïve to think that the media culture is not influential," he said. "We're raising a generation of young boys and men in a society of professional wrestling, violence, and pornography. It makes them not only disrespectful towards girls and women, but aggressively disrespectful."

"It's a low point in our culture," Katz added. "The world has never needed the leadership of women more than it needs it today."

Moon Duchin, a graduate student who helped to coordinate the lecture, expressed hopes that the lecture would create greater communication and cooperation between the Center for Gender Studies and similar organizations and traditionally male-dominated organizations—such as men's athletics teams and fraternities. "Some of the harassment and so on that took place on campus last year didn't get the kind of community response that I might have hoped for. I wanted to see groups that haven't traditionally cooperated to come together to talk through these issues," Duchin said.

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