Men are the primary perpetrators

“Contrary to the disinformation promulgated in recent years by the so-called “men’s rights” movements, the most important statistics about violence against women do not lie. The vast majority of credible researchers in sociology, criminology, and public health confirm that men commit the most serious intimate-partner violence and the overwhelming amount of sexual violence, including the sexual abuse of children. Some women in heterosexual relationships do assault their male partners, and a small number of researchers maintain that women’s violence against men is a more significant social problem than many people in the field recognize or acknowledge. But while women’s violence is wrong – if used for purposes other than self-defense – it is rarely part of a systematic pattern of power and control through force or the threat of force. On a wide range of issues, from domestic violence and rape to stalking and sexual harassment, there is no symmetry between men’s and women’s violence against each other, no equivalence. If the tables were turned, and the primary problem was women assaulting men, would we be as likely to blame the victim as are now? Would the general public be needlessly focused on men’s experience of victimization at the hands of women? Would people constantly be asking: why do men stay with the women who beat them? Somehow I don’t think so. I think most of us – especially men – would be honing in on the source of the problem – women’s behavior. We would ask, rightly, “What the hell is going on with women? How are we going to get them to stop assaulting us?”

But with the situation reversed, we focus not on the perpetrator class but on the victims. There’s some history behind this, and some language. Ever since women succeeded at breaking silence around the historical reality of their experience of violence at the hands of men, Western and other world cultures have framed gender violence as a “women’s issue.” This act of framing/naming has had a profound impact on our collective consciousness, both positive and negative. On the one hand, thinking about gender violence as a women’s issue has contributed to a foregrounding of the needs of female victims and survivors. The dramatic growth over the past three decades in public understanding about how violence against women harms women – how it is a violation of their basic human rights – is one of the great achievements of modern multicultural feminism.

On the other hand, focusing on what happens to *women* has helped obscure the role played by *men* – and male culture – in the ongoing violence. After all, men are not only the primary perpetrators of gender violence. We are also the not-so-innocent bystanders. Men hold a disproportionate amount of economic, social, and political power. This means we’re most responsible for those aspects of our culture that promote and encourage violence against women. It also means we’re more responsible for what we do or do not prioritize in terms of prevention – including the prevention of gender violence.

On a personal level, men who are not abusive towards women nonetheless play important roles in the lives of men who are. Men who physically and sexually abuse women are not monsters who live apart from the civilized world. They are in our families and friendship circles. They are our fathers, our sons, our brothers, and our best friends. They are our fishing partners, drinking buddies, teammates, fraternity brothers, and colleagues. We too easily let them and ourselves off the hook when we call their violence a “women’s issue.” Do we do it intentionally? I don’t know. But whether conscious or unconscious it’s an effective strategy to avoid accountability.”

Jackson Katz, The Macho Paradox, pp. 15-16. From the section, “3. Men are the primary perpetrators.” [Emphasis added.]

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