Women as Aggressors: How we Get Away with Violence and Why it Must End

by Ogechi Emechebe After the video of a fight that ensued on a New York subway—in which a man slapped a woman that was taunting him—wen...

by Ogechi Emechebe

After the video of a fight that ensued on a New York subway—in which a man slapped a woman that was taunting him—went viral this week, four people were arrested. The video shows the woman, 21-year-old Danay Howard, being slapped hard after she continually berated and hit another passenger, 25-year-old Jorge Pena. Howard was charged with a felony assault and disorderly conduct. Pena was charged with misdemeanor assault, but his charge was dropped after a judge ruled he was acting in self-defense.

Actress Tasha Smith made headlines last week when her husband, Keith Douglas, filed claims that Smith was abusive and he feared for his life. He claims that when Smith gets drunk, she threatens to kill him or says she will hire people to do the deed. He also stated that in the past, he’s had to run away from her and lock himself in a bedroom during her explosive episodes. Days later, Smith came forward and said her husband was actually the abusive one in the relationship, and she is the one who fears for her life. Their allegations currently boil down to “he said/she said,” but I can’t help but wonder if Smith’s claims will be taken more seriously than those of Douglas.

Approximately 350,000 men are assaulted annually by an intimate partner, but I’m sure the number is significantly higher since men are often afraid to report abuse due to our society’s very narrow definitions of masculinity. I’ve seen and heard many instances of women slapping and punching their partner, because they automatically assume that he will not defend himself. And if he does, all hell will break loose—as we saw in the NYC subway video.

Our society has a double standard of dealing with men and women in cases of physical and intimate partner violence. We all know it’s inexcusable for a man to hit a woman, but why do we turn a blind eye when women do the same?

Before my words are taken out of context, let me be clear that I don’t condone a man hitting a woman, nor is a woman responsible for the abuse inflicted upon her. This article is not about women who suffer terror and abuse at the hands of their partners. It is focusing on women who are culprits of domestic violence and abuse themselves, because they have chosen to interpret society’s stance on men not hitting women as a “get away free” card.

It seems some women take advantage of a system that advocates to end violence against women, but they will turn around and execute that same violence upon men. Far too many women have the mentality they can harass, berate, hit, and throw objects at a man—but once he retaliates, he’s immediately the offender and she’s the victim. This is not right.

I am happy that in the case of the NYC subway altercation, the charge against Pena was dropped. Howard’s behavior that night on the train was despicable. She decided to disrespect, humiliate, and hit a man she didn’t know. She deserves to be punished for her actions.

I take Whoopi Goldberg’s stance on this topic (one she has shared on many occasions): If anyone—including a woman—chooses to hit a man, she cannot assume she won’t get hit back, nor should she be shocked if he does. This is not an invitation for men to attack women, but rather taking a deeper look at how we spend so much time focusing on men who hit women that we are failing to give women the same message.

We laughed and shared the video of Solange attacking Jay-Z in the elevator. However, had it been Jay-Z hitting and kicking Solange in that elevator, his career would have been over immediately. Even if he had retaliated to one of her blows just once, we would never look at him the same way again. But Solange? We celebrated her violent outburst.

We tell men they should walk away from their female attacker, or they should try to restrain her in a non-forcible way. Why don’t we tell women to refrain from throwing punches? How do we know every man is capable of restraining a woman? Why do we put this responsibility on a man to do so, if we do not expect a woman to do the same? Why do we place total responsibility on men to determine the outcome of a situation, when they are the ones being assaulted and victimized?

Historically speaking, women are seen as the weaker sex—physically and emotionally. Thus, it is largely assumed that we are incapable of committing the same kind of violent acts that we almost expect from men in our society. This belief is so ingrained in us that when women commit heinous crimes, the media often focuses on the fact that the perpetrator was a woman, rather than the crime itself.

We are setting up a dangerous future for little boys and girls with these messages. Little boys are told in one breath to “man up,” but in the other, to accept the abuse dished onto them by girls and women. And little girls are continuously placed in the role of victim; so much so, that they never learn to accept accountability for the ways they can perpetrate violence. Phrases like “you hit like a girl” are a double-edged sword: They tell girls that they’re weak, while telling boys that he should just “handle it” if a girl hits him. While we recognize the differing physical impact between males hitting a female versus a female hitting males, we completely neglect the emotional and psychological impacts. Again, we deny men their right to feel their emotions and express hurt. Aren’t men human beings with emotions that deserved to be expressed too?

As we teach boys to respect women, we cannot forget to teach girls to respect men. We must teach across the gender binary that people should control their tempers during an argument and keep their hands to themselves. Period. As a feminist, I fight for the equality of men, women, and those who identify outside of the two. But I refuse to tolerate the hypocrisy of excusing women from their responsibility in committing the very same acts we have been fighting to free ourselves from for centuries. If a woman is abusive to her partner or any other man, she deserves the same kind of punishment by law enforcement that any man would get.

Yes, men are given dominance and privilege in our society. But the constructs of masculinity are just as harmful to equality, as the constructs of femininity are. And to have a more equitable society, we have to fight to liberate both from these rigid definitions. We need to dismantle the misconception that men are the sole perpetrators in all cases of intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. Yes, men are more likely to commit these crimes. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore when women do as well.

Men and women need to stop fighting each other; and instead, fight the cultural norms that perpetuate these harmful and outdated ideas.

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

Ogechi Emechebe holds a journalism degree and loves reporting on issues such as gender equality, social justice and healthy lifestyles. When she's not writing, she enjoys reading, working out and cooking. She can be reached at emechebe1021@yahoo.com.

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