The Uncommon Man

August 08, 2006

Review of "The Macho Paradox" by Jackson Katz

This thoughtful and specific review came from Men Can Stop Rape's 4th Annual Summer Reading and Viewing Issue of their eNewsletter.

'The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help' by Jackson Katz
reviewed by Pat McGann, MCSR's Communications Director

For those of us who have spent some time in the movement to engage men in preventing men’s violence against women, the content of Jackson Katz’s 'The Macho Paradox' will be very familiar. I don’t mean to suggest that this is bad, especially when you take into consideration that the primary purpose of the book isn’t to serve as a how-to manual providing readers with sample exercises; it is instead a book about the movement. And therein lies its value, I would argue.

Of course Katz’s take on men’s involvement in preventing gender-based violence is Katz’s take, meaning he comes at it from the perspectives and experiences that have defined his work through groups he has initiated like Real Men and Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP). But Katz places his work within a larger context, recognizing the contributions of experts like Alan Berkowitz and organizations like the Family Violence Prevention Fund. So in a very real sense, we can claim that 'The Macho Paradox' is the first historical record of our movement. And Jackson Katz is well qualified to serve as our initial historian, having been involved in gender violence prevention with men and boys since the late 1980s.

The wealth of concrete examples – both from media and from his workshop experiences – conveys just how long Katz has been involved with the issue. The media examples consist of both high profile and lesser known cases – Clarence Thomas on the one hand, for example, Daniel Holland on the other, a man who in the mid-1990s in Massachusetts shot his wife eight times as his eight year old son slept in the next room. In more personal examples he recounts hearing the 'The House of the Rising Sun' as a boy and later realizing the song’s sexism, as well as listening to ten National Football League rookies disclose in a workshop, one of them sobbing openly, that when they were growing up their mothers were battered. This is no abstract, generalized critical examination. Katz grounds his study in an engaging multitude of specifics that ground the issue in everyday realities and complexities, supporting his take on bystander theory and practice, which is intended to move men from the position of passive bystander to social change agent. Clearly, Katz has done his homework.

If I had to judge, however, how equally balanced the book is between its attention to bystander theory and its attention to masculinity, the scales would fall heavily on the side of bystander theory. Katz claims that “one of the most important theoretical contributions of the battered-women’s movement is the insight that men’s abusive behavior in relationships is best understood as a manifestation of a masculinist ideology of power and control” (p. 229), suggesting just how central the topic of masculinity should be to 'The Macho Paradox.' And yet he starts out with statistics about violence against women in chapters one and two, the very strategy he discounts at the end of chapter two as ineffective when trying to reach men. The strategy he upholds in chapter three as most effective for reaching men is to make the subject personal. He’s not referring as much to men’s experiences with masculinity as he’s referring to men’s connections with the women and girls in their lives who are living with the trauma of sexual violence and/or the constant threat of sexual violence. And he’s referring to the boys who have watched their mothers battered and beaten by their fathers. While this is a valuable approach to engaging men, it’s not the only one, and it only reaches those males who know females who have experienced men’s violence against women. An additional strategy would be to explore with men how women and men might benefit from alternative, positive, non-violent, healthy visions of masculinity that challenge the harmful aspects of traditional masculinity. In other words, in addition to addressing bystander theory, I’d like to see Katz more directly take on masculinity, the way he does in his documentary film, 'Tough Guise.'

But perhaps that will happen in another book. Or another history. Let’s all hope there are many more histories to come, from Jackson Katz and others in the movement to end men’s violence against women.

Visit the Macho Paradox website.

Posted by Daniel at August 8, 2006 10:31 AM


Thanks for a great, fair analysis. I agree with your comments and want to stretch the discussion further. What about culture? Not the "competency" we all see in conference workshops but the "appropriateness' not spoken about. I can be competent in my approaches but am I always appropriate?

Moreover, I would love someone other than a Anglo American man to talk about the intersectionality of our work. How are these opressions we see and feel everyday the same as Family Violence and Rape?

More soon... hopefully.

Con Amor y Paz,

Posted by: César J. Alvarado at August 8, 2006 11:47 AM

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