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Boys are not men: Notes on working with adolescent males in juvenile detention. (in press). In D. Sabo, T. Kupers, & W. London (Eds.), Men in prison. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

The sounds of silence: Notes on the personal politics of men's leadership in gender violence prevention education. (in press). In N. Lesko (Ed.), Masculinities at school. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

with Sut Jhally. Putting the blame where it belongs: On men (2000, June 25). Los Angeles Times, M5. Read the article here.

with Sut Jhally. Manhood on the mat: The problem is not that pro wrestling makes boys violent. The real lesson of the wildly popular pseudo-sport is more insidious. (2000, February 13). Boston Globe, E1. Read the article here.

with Sut Jhally. The national conversation in the wake of Littleton is missing the mark. (1999, May 2). Boston Globe. E1. Read the article here.

Men, masculinities, and media: Some introductory notes. (Spring 1999). Research Report, Wellesley Centers for Women, Vol. 2, No. 2.

with Jeremy Earp. Tough Guise Teacher's Guide Online: A companion to the college and high school versions of the video, Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity. (1999). Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation, www.mediaed.org/guides/toughguise/tgtoc.html

More than a few good men: Strategies for inspiring boys and young men to be allies in anti-sexist education. (1998). Working Papers Series. Wellesley, MA: Wellesley Center for Research on Women.

Masculinity and sports culture. (1996) In R. Lapchick (Ed.), Sport in society: Equal opportunity or business as usual? Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Checklist: 10 things men can do to end men's violence against women. (1996). In D. Goelman, F. Lehrman & R. Valente (Eds.), The impact of domestic violence on your legal practice: A lawyer's handbook. Washington, D.C.: American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence.

Reconstructing masculinity in the locker room: The Mentors in Violence Prevention Project. (1995, Summer). Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 65, No. 2.

Advertising and the construction of violent white masculinity. (1995). In G. Dines & J. Humez (Eds.), Gender, race and class in media: A text reader. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications..

Working with male student-athletes. (1993). In A. Parrot, N. Cummings & T. Marchell (Eds.), Rape 101: Sexual assault prevention for college athletes. Learning Publications.

Rethinking private pleasure: Pornography and men's consciousness. (1992). In Empathy: Concepts of male and female power, Vol. 3 No. 2. Columbia., S.C.: Gay and Lesbian Advocacy Research Project, Inc.

Put the Blame Where it Belongs: On Men
By Jackson Katz and Sut Jhally

First published in
The Los Angeles Times
June 25, 2000, Sunday
Commentary, Pg. M5

The outrage in Central Park on Puerto Rican Day shocked and horrified not just New Yorkers but people everywhere. In its wake, the media have rushed to find an explanation, focusing on the "crowd" or "mob" psychology and the lack of a timely police response. These are important, but there is a far more central aspect that has remained largely unexamined: that men attacked and abused women. Seemingly "normal" men, perhaps fueled by alcohol, acted out publicly against women in an incredibly hostile and aggressive fashion.

The time is long overdue for us to have a national conversation about the way our culture teaches boys and men--across class, race and ethnic distinctions--to think about and act toward women. While this incident rightly shocked and angered a lot of people, and has caused women in New York and elsewhere to be even more vigilant about their personal safety, the most shocking aspect is how long this kind of thing has been going on with so little public response.

We are raising generations of boys in a society that in many ways glorifies sexually aggressive masculinity and considers as normal the degradation and objectification of women. Consider: Misogynistic music and videos, the sexual bullying by entertainers such as Howard Stern, the growing presence of pornography and female stripping in mainstream culture and the crude displays of male dominance in professional wrestling.

To demonstrate how deeply imbued our society is with the attitudes that stem from this acculturation--i.e. how "normal" the Central Park perpetrators were--imagine what the response might have been if, instead of a group of men assaulting women, the Central Park event had consisted of a group of white people targeting and attacking people of color. Wouldn't the media discussion have focused on racism as the proximate cause of the attacks rather than on the "mob mentality"? And would we be searching for sociobiological explanations for antisocial behavior? No, we would focus, rightly, on the persistent problem of racism in America and on the need to teach our (white) children to respect and embrace racial and ethnic diversity.

Or consider if the genders had been reversed in the Central Park attack. Media discussion would have zeroed in on what was going on with the female gender that caused some women to act out in this way.

Yet when a group of men target and attack women, the "experts" talk about crowd psychology, marginalizing the discussion of the societal sexism that fuels sex crimes.

This "degendering" of the discourse around male violence is not unique to the Central Park fracas. In recent years, there have been thousands of news stories, television specials and town meeting discussions of "youth violence," which is perpetrated overwhelmingly not by youths of both sexes but by adolescent males. Last summer, Woodstock '99 featured several rapes and countless sexual assaults by men against women. The festival concluded with a shameful display of wanton destruction by out-of-control males. And yet the discussion afterward blamed it on the "crowd." More recently, when groups of men went on a rampage after the NBA victory of the Los Angeles Lakers, the media focused in again on a "mob" out of control.

One explanation for the reluctance of the media to make these obvious connections is that the few brave souls who dare speak the truth--especially if they are women--run the risk of developing undeserved reputations as male-bashers, which can hurt their careers. Therefore it is the special responsibility of men to speak out. 

Fortunately, there are signs that the tide is slowly turning. High schools and colleges are paying more attention to the need for gender-violence prevention education with young men. Recently at the United Nations, there was an international panel discussion of men talking about ways that boys and men could help prevent domestic and sexual violence. In Namibia earlier this year, there was a first-ever national conference of men that was devoted to this subject. For the past decade, men in Canada have run campaigns in which men wear white ribbons to symbolize their refusal to be silent in the face of other men's violence.

These are small but significant steps toward creating a society and a world where the crowd of men who are outraged by gender violence overwhelms the crowd that commits such violence.

Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times



Manhood on the Mat: The Problem is Not that Pro Wrestling Makes Boys Violent. The Real Lesson of the Wildly Popular Pseudo-Sport is More Insidious

By Jackson Katz and Sut Jhally

First published in
The Boston Globe
February 13, 2000, Sunday, Third Edition
Focus Section; Pg. E1

As professional wrestling explodes in popularity, cultural analysts are struggling to catch up to its significance for society. The traditional ways of seeing it - for example, as a morality play of good vs. evil - have been transcended, as wrestling has morphed into perhaps the ultimate expression of the entertainment industry's new, multiplexed model for success.

Vince McMahon, head of the World Wrestling Federation, describes it as "contemporary sports entertainment which treats 'professional wrestling' as an action/adventure soap opera. With the sexuality of '90210,' the subject matter of 'NYPD Blue,' the athleticism of the Olympics, combined with reality-based story lines, the WWF presents a hybrid of almost all forms of entertainment and sports combined in one show."    Add to that the fertile brew of traditional advertising, product merchandising, and frequent pay-per-view special events and the result is revenue in the tens of millions of dollars, not to mention a forceful new strain of sports entertainment.

But understanding pro wrestling's immense popularity, especially with (white) men and boys, requires viewing it in the broader context of shifting gender relations.

The accomplishments of social movements such as feminism, as well as the shift to a postindustrial, high-tech era of automated production and e-commerce, have challenged the culture to construct new definitions of masculinity. In the new social, cultural, and employment context, there is less emphasis on characteristics such as strength and physicality that, in an earlier age, not only clearly defined men and women in very different ways, but made masculinity dominant.

In threatened response, many men have retreated into the safe and cartoonish masculinity of a more primal gender order, a world typified by the wildly popular program "WWF Smackdown!" where size, strength, and brutality are rewarded. In wrestling's contemporary incarnation, it's not who wins and loses that matters, but how the game is played. And the way the game is played in the WWF and its companion league, World Championship Wrestling, or WCW, reinforces the prime directive - might makes right, with extreme violence defining how power is exercised.

In the past, discussions about wrestling's effects on "real world" violence have typically centered on the behavioral effects of exposure to it. Does it cause imitative violence?

But that misses the point. For the question is not, "Are children imitating the violence they see?" but "Are children learning that taunting, ridiculing, and bullying define masculinity?"

We know from decades of research that depictions of violence in the entertainment media create a cultural climate in which such behavior is accepted as a normal, even appropriate, response to various problems.

We can see this process of normalization clearly in pro wrestling, where intimidation, humiliation, control, and verbal aggression (toward men as well as women) is the way that "real men" prevail. Manhood is equated explicitly with the ability to settle scores, defend one's honor, and win respect and compliance through force of conquest.

Already, this definition of manhood is at the root of much interpersonal violence in our society. For example, abusive men use force (or the threat of it) in an attempt to exercise power and control in their relationships with women. While there is no causal relationship between pro wrestling and male violence, it is clear that the wrestling subculture contributes to a larger cultural environment that teaches boys and men that manhood is about achieving power and control.

Real (or simulated) physical violence actually comprises a small percentage of the length of a pro wrestling telecast. Most of the time is devoted to setting up the narratives, and to verbal confrontation and bullying. In wrestling video games, each combatant not only has signature moves, but also verbal taunts that can be directed against either an opponent or the crowd. The object of the game is to see who can be the most effective bully.

It is a lesson that resonates all too clearly in our schools: A recent survey of 6,000 children in grades 4 to 6 found that about 1 in 10 said they were bullied one or more times a week, and 1 in 5 admitted to being bullies themselves. And we know from the 1990s' series of school shootings that, all too often, guns become the great equalizer for boys who have been bullied, ridiculed, and verbally taunted.

The hyper-masculine wrestling subculture is also deeply infused with homophobic anxiety. Macho posturing and insults ("wimps," and other worse epithets) can barely mask the fear of feminization that is always present in the homoerotic entanglement of male bodies. (The most popular of the trademark taunts by the wrestler X-Pac involves a thrusting of the crotch, accompanied by a sexual vulgarity, and his signature move of humiliation is to back his opponent into a corner and "ride" his face.)

As the enactment of gender has moved to center stage in wrestling narratives, so have women become much more central to the plot lines. In the days of Hulk Hogan and the Macho Man, women were essentially restricted to a couple of sexualized figures. But now, there are many stereotypically hyper-sexualized female characters, especially in the WWF.

More frequently male wrestlers have "girlfriends" who accompany them to the ring. And every week, in one of the most overtly racist and sexist characterizations on contemporary television, the Godfather, an over-the-top stereotype of a hustling pimp (and one of the few important black figures in the WWF) leads out his "ho train" of scantily-clad white women to the leering and jeering crowds.

As female sexuality is increasingly used in the scripts, the line between the bimbo/prostitute sidekick and the female wrestlers is eroding. A recent WWF women's champion is Miss Kitty, a former hyper-sexualized sidekick, who during one pay-per-view event removed her top. And the big contests for females wrestlers often involve mud or chocolate baths, or the "evening dress" contest (where you lose by having your dress ripped from your body).

The few exceptions, such as Chyna, a wrestler in her own right, (who, with The Rock, graced last week's Newsweek magazine cover) emerge from another place in heterosexual male fantasy, the Amazon warrior - tall, muscular, lithe, and buxom.

While ambiguity about proper gender assignments may be the contemporary norm, in the mock-violent world of professional wrestling, masculinity and femininity are clearly defined. And while pro wrestling shares many of the values sometimes associated with elements of the political far right (among them patriarchy, opposition to homosexuality, and respect for hierarchy, , many conservatives have condemned its vulgarity and sexuality.

This criticism (much of it egged on by master promoters like McMahon) fuels the erroneous belief of some youngsters that somehow the WWF and WCW are alternative and rebellious. However, one of the great insights of cultural studies is that adherence to a conservative and repressive gender order can appear powerful and liberating - or rebellious - even as it assigns greater suffering to those deemed less powerful in the social order.

Some people will argue that analyzing the social impact of wrestling is a useless exercise because, after all, it's only play acting, right? But to those who still believe that there is no connection between popular culture and broader social and political issues, that an analysis of wrestling has nothing to teach us about where our culture is heading, we have two words of caution: Jesse Ventura.


The National Conversation in the Wake of Littleton is Missing the Mark

By Jackson Katz and Sut Jhally

First published in
The Boston Globe
May 2, 1999, Sunday, City Edition
Focus Section; Pg. E1

The events at Columbine High School 12 days ago have plunged us into a national conversation about "youth violence" and how to stop it. Proposals came last week from all corners - the Oval Office, Congress, living rooms across America. That we are talking about the problem is good; but the way we are talking about it is misdirected.

It is tempting to look at the murderous attack in Littleton as a manifestation of individual pathologies, an isolated incident involving deeply disturbed teenagers who watched one too many video games. That explanation ignores larger social and historical forces, and is dangerously shortsighted. Littleton is an extreme case, but if we examine critically the cultural environment in which boys are being socialized and trained to become men, such events might not appear so surprising.

Political debate and media coverage keep repeating the muddled thinking of the past. Headlines and stories focus on youth violence, "kids killing kids," or as in the title of a CBS "48 Hours" special, "Young Guns." This is entirely the wrong framework to use in trying to understand what happened in Littleton - or in Jonesboro, Ark., Peducah, Ky., Pearl, Miss., or Springfield, Ore.

This is not a case of kids killing kids. This is boys killing boys and boys killing girls.

What these school shootings reveal is not a crisis in youth culture but a crisis in masculinity. The shootings - all by white adolescent males - are telling us something about how we are doing as a society, much like the canaries in coal mines, whose deaths were a warning to the miners that the caves were unsafe.

Consider what the reaction would have been if the perpetrators in Littleton had been girls. The first thing everyone would have wanted to talk about would have been: Why are girls - not kids - acting out violently? What is going on in the lives of girls that would lead them to commit such atrocities? All of the explanations would follow from the basic premise that being female was the dominant variable.

But when the perpetrators are boys, we talk in a gender-neutral way about kids or children, and few (with the exception of some feminist scholars) delve into the forces - be they cultural, historical, or institutional - that produce hundreds of thousands of physically abusive and violent boys every year. Instead, we call upon the same tired specialists who harp about the easy accessibility of guns, the lack of parental supervision, the culture of peer-group exclusion and teasing, or the prevalence of media violence.

All of these factors are of course relevant, but if they were the primary answers, then why are girls, who live in the same environment, not responding in the same way? The fact that violence - whether of the spectacular kind represented in the school shootings or the more routine murder, assault, and rape - is an overwhelmingly male phenomenon should indicate to us that gender is a vital factor, perhaps the vital factor.

Looking at violence as gender-neutral has the effect of blinding us as we desperately search for clues about how to respond.

The issue is not just violence in the media but the construction of violent masculinity as a cultural norm. From rock and rap music and videos, Hollywood action films, professional and college sports, the culture produces a stream of images of violent, abusive men and promotes characteristics such as dominance, power, and control as means of establishing or maintaining manhood.

Consider professional wrestling, with its mixing of sports and entertainment and its glamorization of the culture of dominance. It represents, in a microcosm, the broader cultural environment in which boys mature. Some of the core values of the wrestling subculture - dominant displays of power and control, ridicule of lesser opponents, respect equated with physical fear and deference - are factors in the social system of Columbine High, where the shooters were ridiculed, marginalized, harassed, and bullied.

These same values infuse the Hollywood action-adventure genre that is so popular with boys and young men. In numerous films starring iconic hypermasculine figures like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Bruce Willis, and Mel Gibson, the cartoonish story lines convey the message that masculine power is embodied in muscle, firepower, and physical authority.

Numerous other media targeting boys convey similar themes. Thrash metal and gangsta rap, both popular among suburban white males, often express boys' angst and anger at personal problems and social injustice, with a call to violence to redress the grievances. The male sports culture features regular displays of dominance and one-upsmanship, as when a basketball player dunks "in your face," or a defensive end sacks a quarterback, lingers over his fallen adversary, and then, in a scene reminiscent of ancient Rome, struts around to a stadium full of cheering fans.

How do you respond if you are being victimized by this dominant system of masculinity? The lessons from Columbine High - a typical suburban "jockocracy," where the dominant male athletes did not hide their disdain for those who did not fit in - are pretty clear. The 17- and 18-year-old shooters, tired of being ridiculed or marginalized, weren't big and strong and so they used the great equalizer: weapons. Any discussion about guns in our society needs to include a discussion of their function as equalizers. In Littleton, the availability of weapons gave the shooters the opportunity to exact a twisted and tragic revenge: 15 dead, including themselves, and 23 wounded.

What this case reinforces is our crying need for a national conversation about what it means to be a man, since cultural definitions of manhood and masculinity are ever-shifting and are particularly volatile in the contemporary era.

Such a discussion must examine the mass media in which boys (and girls) are immersed, including violent, interactive video games, but also mass media as part of a larger cultural environment that helps to shape the masculine identities of young boys in ways that equate strength in males with power and the ability to instill fear - fear in other males as well as in females.

But the way in which we neuter these discussions makes it hard to frame such questions, for there is a wrong way and a right way of asking them. The wrong way: "Did the media (video games, Marilyn Manson, 'The Basketball Diaries') make them do it?" One of the few things that we know for certain after 50 years of sustained research on these issues is that behavior is too complex a phenomenon to pin down to exposure to individual and isolated media messages. The evidence strongly supports that behavior is linked to attitudes and attitudes are formed in a much more complex cultural environment.

The right way to ask the question is: "How does the cultural environment, including media images, contribute to definitions of manhood that are picked up by adolescents?" Or, "How does repeated exposure to violent masculinity normalize and naturalize this violence?"

There may indeed be no simple explanation as to why certain boys in particular circumstances act out in violent, sometimes lethal, ways. But leaving aside the specifics of this latest case, the fact that the overwhelming majority of such violence is perpetrated by males suggests that part of the answer lies in how we define such intertwined concepts as "respect," "power" and "manhood." When you add on the easy accessibility of guns and other weapons, you have all the ingredients for the next deadly attack.