Beyond the ‘Bad Apples’ Theory of Gender Violence



Over the past couple of weeks, the news has been flooded with stories about men’s sexual misconduct and abuse. Within just days of each other, R&B star R. Kelly was arrested on multiple counts of sexual abuse, 77-year-old New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged with soliciting prostitution as part of a wide-scale investigation into suspected human trafficking, and the Pope admitted that scores of Catholic priests have been sexually assaulting nuns for decades.

For author and activist Jackson Katz, one of the early architects of the bystander approach to gender violence prevention, these high-profile cases are just the latest reminder that we need to look beyond individual pathologies and examine the broader social norms that underlie abusive behavior.

“In mainstream media, there’s been this tendency to treat stories like these as separate and distinct scandals involving a few ‘bad apples’ and pathological individuals who somehow stand outside the norms of society,” said Katz, who’s been featured in a number of MEF videos on masculinity and gender violence over the years. “Of course we need to hold individuals accountable. But as the #MeToo movement has made clear, cases like these need to be seen as part of a much larger and more systemic pattern of men’s abusive behavior. Unless and until we get serious about addressing the underlying social norms and cultural attitudes that perpetuate these behaviors, we’re just going to keep running from one scandal to the next without getting to the root of the problem.”

If you’re an educator or activist looking to explore the role that social norms and dominant cultural attitudes play in perpetuating sexism, sexual misconduct, and sexual violence, we urge you to check out our full collection of videos and other resources featuring Jackson Katz. From his groundbreaking analysis of violent masculinity in Tough Guise (1999) and Tough Guise 2 (2013) to his inspiring call for men to step up and challenge regressive male peer-culture dynamics in our newest film The Bystander Moment: Transforming Rape Culture at Its Roots (2018), these videos provide crucial insights into the social, cultural, and political norms that have worked to reinforce and rationalize men’s abusive behaviors.

We also urge you to check out the in-depth interviews we’ve conducted with Katz over the years on a range of pressing issues, from the overwhelmingly male phenomenon of school shootings and gang rapes to Donald Trump’s mastery of the politics of white male anxiety and resentment.

Throughout these videos and interviews, Katz zeroes in on how social norms – in particular normative ideas about manhood across race, class, and ethnicity – have perpetuated a culture of silence in the face of men’s sexual violence. But he also invites men into the conversation rather than casting blame on them, appealing to them not as potential perpetrators but as potential leaders in the fight to end gender violence.