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Smoothing masculinity's rough edge

By ERNEST HOOPER
Published January 29, 2006


Jackson Katz says when men are uncomfortable with the way friends talk about women, they need to step up and challenge them.

In many ways, that's exactly what Katz does through his work training athletes, Marines and college students to combat violence against women. He brings his message to Tampa as the keynote speaker for the Ophelia Project's annual fundraising dinner Thursday at Higgins Hall.

It's a new and intriguing approach for Ophelia, which aims to create a more caring community for teen and tween girls. The organization has created a number of support programs for young girls, but by bringing in Katz, it is giving men and boys a chance to improve the way they treat the opposite sex.

Katz challenges many of society's conventional thinking regarding masculinity. He notes that men commit anywhere from 85 to 99 percent of the violent and sexual crimes in this country, yet the only time the media looks at the issue in terms of gender is when a woman commits the crime.

In domestic situations, Katz noted in his award-winning video Tough Guise, men often do despicable things to women. However, more attention is given to stories when women are the perpetrators, such as when Lorena Bobbitt emasculated her husband, John.

Katz argued this is because violence has become the norm in defining masculinity. Boys are taught at a young age to be tough and physical, and not to cry. Those who are emotional are called Wuss, Sissy, Softie and some words not fit for this family newspaper.

The notions are reinforced by the media, which constantly links power, control and violence to masculinity, he says. Too often, media images show men as one-dimensional beings of strength and violence.

He cites movie characters such as Rambo and the Terminator, and points to sports, especially professional wrestling, as arbiters of the stereotype.

The trend, Katz says, has actually grown since the 1960s when white men backlashed against blacks, women and gays who made strides in society.

All of these aspects contribute to a guise that men use to shield their vulnerability and hide their humanity. When men don't access their true feelings, Katz says, they buy into the idea that being a man means being in control of other people, particularly women.

More than anything, Katz says men can no longer expect women to lead the charge against domestic abuse and violence. He also insists the media has to do more to help redefine masculinity.

See, I wasn't kidding when I said Katz challenges a lot of traditional constructs. I'm looking forward to his presentation even though I'm not sure I'm going to agree with everything he says.

These days too many people go through life searching out media reports and radio celebrities who say only what they want to hear.

They seek out confirmation instead of information.

Katz isn't afraid to criticize some of our most popular forms of entertainment, and we shouldn't be afraid to hear his commentary.

Tickets are $75. For information, call 813 224-9622 or go to www.tampaymca.org/ophelia/upcomingevents.htm

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at hooper@sptimes.com or at 813 226-3406.

[Last modified January 29, 2006, 01:27:17]


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