TAMPA — Don't call it "violence against women."
Jackson Katz says call it "men's violence against women."
Katz, a lecturer and pioneer in gender violence prevention education, told the audience at Thursday morning's "Man Up" seminar on the Hillsborough Community College Ybor Campus not to leave out the active agent when dealing with the issue.
Katz argued that use of the passive voice shifts the focus off of men and boys and onto women and girls.
"Historically, gender violence issues have been seen as women's issues that some 'good men' help out with," Katz said. "That's the frame. The very act of calling them women's issues is a problem."
During his presentation Thursday, Katz laid out two paths of action that men can take to combat gender violence — a term that includes sexual assault, domestic violence and gender discrimination.
First, he said, leaders in workplaces, sports, the military and politics need to take a stand and start setting a better example.
And second, men need to stand up to their friends and peers who perpetuate sexism.
"It's not just that we need men to interrupt and intervene in cases of overt physical violence," Katz said. "It's a whole continuum of beliefs and behaviors that we need to change."
Katz urged men to stop being passive bystanders. Often, men get defensive about the subject of domestic violence. They blame it on a few bad apples. The problem, Katz said, is that everyone, male and female, has a responsibility to build a culture that doesn't accept sexism, objectification of women or abuse.
"By focusing on men as perpetrators or potential perpetrators, most men shut you off right away," Katz said. "They say, 'I'm not the problem. I'm a good guy.' What we need is more men with the courage and the strength and the integrity to speak up."
Even if men aren't witnessing violence firsthand, they can look out for signs. If in the middle of a guys' night another man starts making demeaning comments, step in and say something. Sitting by quietly does nothing to change the cycle, he said.
"There's a way to be a man that's respectful and egalitarian, and that actually takes more strength than going along with it and being one of the guys," Katz said. "The irony of it all is that men who do speak out get called soft, when really it takes more strength to interrupt sexism than to participate in it."
For real change to take place, Katz said, our leaders need to effect change. He praised people like Nelson Mandela, President Barack Obama and Australian Lt. Gen. David Morrison for making public statements on men's roles in eliminating gender discrimination and violence.
Once leaders, especially those in stereotypical masculine professions such as the military and sports, start taking a stand against domestic violence and sexism, it opens the door for other men to do the same, Katz said.
For change to happen here in Hillsborough County, he said, the conversation needs to start with men like high school football coaches and others who influence young boys.
"Domestic violence, bullying, sex trafficking, these are all related," said Mark Nash, president of the Tampa/Hillsborough County Human Rights Council, who attended the event. "Facilitating this type of conversation amongst young people now will really help build the stronger adults we need."
The event was organized by the Commission on the Status of Women and sponsored in part by the Spring of Tampa Bay, a domestic violence center for Hillsborough County. The Spring is preparing to build an addition to the shelter, to expand from 102 beds to 128.
"I could build additions to my shelter for 100 years and it would never solve the problem," said Mindy Murphy, president of the Spring and organizer of Thursday's event. "I'd be putting Band-Aids on the root issue. We need people to take responsibility for solving the problems and changing the story in our county."
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.