It is no secret that misogyny and violence have permeated most of Western society since its inception. It is also no secret that in 2014 there is still a great deal of discrimination, objectification, and violent attitudes and actions that many women have to deal with on a daily basis.
However, where do these problems stem from and how can they be resolved? Dr. Jackson Katz, speaker, author, filmmaker, and one of America's leading anti-sexist male activists, believes he knows the answer to both questions: men.
Katz recently delivered his "More Than a Few Good Men" presentation to a crowd of students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, on Thursday, Sept. 11. Katz's visit was planned, organized, and sponsored by the UT Women's Coordinating Council (WCC).
Throughout his presentation Katz touched on a number of issues related to gender violence and issues but time and time again came back to the same point: violence against women is a men's issue and one that they can help solve through education and by taking a proactive role in their communities as active bystanders. Many of the topics and ideas Katz discussed can be heard in the talk Katz delivered to a local audience at TEDxFiDiWomen.
Brittney Woods is the committee chairperson of the WCC and sees events like these as necessary towards opening a dialogue about domestic violence and sexual assault prevention. "We really don't get to hear the male's point of view on these types of issues too often," Woods explained, "Especially with the laws that say that we have to be informed about sexual assault cases and things of that nature we really wanted to bring [Katz] to campus because we thought that he could offer a different perspective on these topics and provide ways for students to get involved with the movement towards domestic violence prevention."
After the presentation, Katz spoke one-on-one with audience members at a book signing and told me that throughout his years as an activist he has seen some changes in audiences as well as in the field.
"One of the differences is that there are more men and young men who are involved in this kind of conversation, who are not threatened by it, and who are more welcoming," he explained. "I think that there are more men overall that are involved in the kind of work that I do and that my peers and colleagues do and that is a significant change because early on there were not very many men," Katz went on to say, "There's not enough men doing it now and not enough men coming to events like this now, but there's more."
Ultimately, Katz told me that he hoped that men in the audience would leave feeling that they needed to be more educated and proactive about issues related to gender violence.
"Shifting all of the responsibility to address issues of sexual violence and domestic violence onto women's shoulders is not fair and it's wrong and we need more men to step up," said Katz, "I think that anybody who was here tonight would have heard that from me, including the men that were here."
It would appear that many of the men in the audience did hear Katz's message and calls to action. I repeatedly heard words and phrases such as "eye opening," "informative," and "I didn't realize," from the men that I had the opportunity to speak with after Katz's presentation.
Gabriel Valerio, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering and the keeper of exchequer for UT's Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity chapter, found Katz's presentation to be eye opening.
"[Katz's presentation] is something I would definitely like to tell my fraternal brothers and also my real brothers just to keep them informed like I have been informed today," he explained. "These are things everyone's eyes should be opened towards. It was something I was unaware of and that I'm sure others were unaware of."
For Valerio, the most important takeaway of the night was the role of leaders.
"Leaders should be more involved and willing to speak out about this problem we are having both with men and with females," he remarked.
While I think -- as well as saw from audience members -- that Katz's presentation really can change minds, hearts, and opinions through education and common sense, his ability to open a dialogue is even more valuable.
Holly Ningard is a first-year Ph.D. student studying sociology with a focus in criminology and agreed with this sentiment.
"I thought [Katz's presentation] was great, I think that anything that gets us to start thinking about issues from new perspectives [or] introduces whole new dialogues and whole new ways of thinking about things is fantastic," she told me.
Ningard was first exposed to Katz's work as an undergraduate and found his ideas about dominant power groups extremely captivating.
"Dominant races, dominant sexualities, and dominant genders are invisible from the conversation and that was one of the most striking things to me," she said. Ultimately, Ningard found Katz's ideas about redefining myths to be the most compelling segment of his presentation.
"[Let's not] go back to the whole 'rape myth' idea which are statements like 'she was dressed in a short skirt so she was asking for attention,'" Ningard explained, "These myths and things like that, we need to really do more critical thinking about them."
What I ultimately took away from the night was that the greatest opposition to change -- whether it is for issues of gender, race, class, etc. -- is silence on such issues. When people are allowed to live in their own comfortable, unchanging bubbles of ignorance or denial progress towards fuller equality can never be made. However, when people's bubbles of ignorance and attitudes are challenged and a discussion can be facilitated -- this is where true progress can be made.
More men need to hear Jackson Katz and others like him speak not because their minds and attitudes will automatically be changed, but because their existing attitudes and evaluations of women will be fundamentally and critically challenged. Some men will feel uncomfortable listening to Katz, some may even feel offended or accused, but that is what it is all about. Many men should feel uncomfortable about how they and their peers treat and value women; many should feel that the challenges and dangers many women must overcome and face everyday because of men are not okay. However, until now it has been far too easy for many men to simply carry on living in ignorance or denial because there haven't been enough male speakers and activists like Katz willing to challenge the status quo.
If nothing else, Katz's presentation left me with a sense of hope. It was clear that Katz's message was received, especially by many of the men (including this one), and hopefully Katz's ideas and calls to action will be things that those who attended the presentation continue to think about as they help shape the communities they live in. I hope that others who get to see Katz speak in the future will feel the same way.
Jackson Katz is an author, filmmaker, cultural theorist, and one of America's leading anti-sexist male activists. He has delivered lectures to hundreds of college and high school students, is the co-creator of educational videos for college and high schools such as Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity, and has authored two books to date, one of which is "The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help."
The UT Women's Coordinating Council was founded in 1976 and provides programming on a variety of issues - including body image, sexual assault prevention, relationships, and domestic violence prevention - from a feminist perspective. Their programs span a range of activities and include presenting prominent speakers, entertainers, film, and other video presentations to the UT campus as well as conducting interactive workshops.
Luis Ruuska is a student studying journalism and electronic media and is The Huffington's Post's editor-at-large for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He welcomes comments at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @LuisRuuska.