A new US survey indicates that young women are three times as likely to admit hitting their partner than men, but the normalisation of intimate violence is a disturbing trend with miserable implications for both genders, argues Jennifer O’Mahony
The scene will be familiar to anyone who has sat through a Hollywood romcom-by-numbers.
A glossy American couple fight over an alleged infidelity, and at one point the hunk involved says something unacceptable in a pique of anger.
Our heroine responds with a slap, right across the face, and the argument ends there.
We’ve seen Meg Ryan do it, Jennifer Aniston do it, and the most recent example of a whack across the chops I saw was in hipster-com Girls, where friends Elijah (Andrew Rannells) and Marnie (Allison Williams) trade insults over his sexuality before he calls her a bitch and she slaps him, hard.
The couple follow up this charming seduction scene with, as is the series’ custom, coitus that is swiftly interruptus by a character’s punctured ego.
In short, pop culture gives the impression it is cute, or empowering, or even sexy when women hit men. The scene reversed would carry a single connotation of misogyny and out-of-control male aggression, but here we are expected to laugh, or even to be turned on by these characters’ resort to the grim shortcut of violence to deal with problems.
And young women are clearly taking note. It was revealed this week that one in seven women aged 15-22 in the US admits to hitting their partner, compared to just one in twenty men.
Buzzfeed reports: “When the researchers, commissioned by the NO MORE anti-domestic violence campaign, asked young people why they’d lashed out, almost 60 per cent of all respondents said their partner had hit them first. Given this, it’s possible that young women are just more likely to admit to hitting a partner than men were.”
Women in violent relationships were most likely to hit back, and to say publicly they had done so, a worrying element of the survey that should not be overlooked.
However, it is thought that as much as a third of domestic violence in the UK is female on male, according to the most recent British Crime Survey, and not all of it in retaliation.
Domestic violence remains a problem that is perpetrated primarily by men, a fact of which I think most are aware. But how many of us have seen women “playfully” slap their boyfriends after a few drinks, or knee them in the genitals, or joke about how they will beat them up?
It is the sort of dialogue conducted by young women all the time, when the same words would (rightly) be thought of as repellent coming from the mouth of a man.
Violence does not make relationship problems go away, but increases the chance of a similar incident reoccurring, whether a man is hitting a woman or a woman is smacking him back.
Young women are internalising messages that dominance is the only way to conduct a relationship successfully, in keeping with the individualistic streak that feminism has acquired in recent years, where to be empowered means getting what you want, not working together for what you can both accept from each other.
The casual female on male violence that we accept on our screens is also sexist, as it presumes that women cannot do men any real harm. The size of bruises and the amount of blood spilled is not the only way one measures the effect of violence, as any man or woman who has been belittled or controlled or intimidated by their partner will tell you.
Some of the very same critics who rail against the treatment of women in internet pornography, where slapping and hitting are common titillating elements, would not think twice of condemning their friends for the same if it were directed at their boyfriends.
The philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote in ‘Reflections on Violence’: “Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power’s disappearance.” Women are not empowering themselves when they hit men intentionally, but simply reaffirming their lack of power in a situation they can no longer control.
Violence, therefore, certainly isn’t a weapon in the feminist arsenal or a way to tackle domestic abuse.
It undermines the efforts of domestic violence campaigners and it gives abusive young men, who have made headlines of their own, an easy modus operandi if they can claim they were simply responding to attack.
Call domestic violence for what it is, regardless of gender: abuse. How cute is that?