Saturday, September 17, 2011

Female Aggression.


Recently there has been an increase in the number of news stories and reports of female aggression.  I find some of this information interesting, and some of it troubling.  This post is not nearly as well researched as my norm (the information appears harder to come by), but I would nonetheless like to explore the issue.  I have also consciously foregone including a nice, shiny picture to lead this post, because I feel it would be in poor taste.

To begin, it is worth exploring how female aggression usually differs from that of males.  Men, throughout their life cycle, are far more likely to resort to physical aggression than women.  It has been suggested that this could be due to some evolutionary strategy to impress females, but I digress.  Women are far more likely to "socially assault", if you will, their intended victims.  This usually takes the form of spreading distasteful rumours meant to tarnish the reputation and/or jeopardize the social relationships of the intended target.  This is particularly harmful because, in examples of children, this aggression often goes unnoticed and is not dealt with, it is far easier to break up a physical fight between boys.  One may also argue that it is a far more damaging form of aggression, we humans are geared to be socially accepted by our peers.  The lack of this acceptance can destroy a person's emotional well-being.  Louis C.K. sums it up eloquently, but filthily, by saying that "... women are nonviolent, but they will shit inside your heart."

Of course, this is not to say that no man has ever spread nasty rumours, or that women are never physically violent, but it is a documented trend.  However, this was not the main point of my post.  I have noticed an increase in the reports of domestic abuse with female aggressors.  While I have very little in the way of sources, let me say here that primary researchers in the field seem to be Archer, Straus, Desmarais,  and Ramirez.  These researchers have pointed out some other interesting and potentially problematic trends.  Outside the Western/Developed world, domestic violence is heavily dominated by male aggressors.  However, in developed nations, and in young heterosexual relationships especially, females are becoming the predominant aggressor.  If there is one aggressor in a relationship, it is twice as likely to be the female.  Further, the female is more likely to instigate violence.  As might be expected from Hollywood interpretations, men are more likely to choke or strangle, but women are more likely to use weapons, kick, slap, bite, punch, and commit what is defined by Straus and Ramirez as "severe assault".

This fact itself raises a host of interesting questions.  Dutton and Nicholls in 2005 reported that men were far less likely to report domestic abuse, and often did not regard the actions as a crime.  Do traditional gender roles influence this, because men could or should not be meaningfully harmed by a "weaker" sex?  Does it stem from the fact that women are less likely to actually cause physical harm despite the severity of their attacks?  Have we somehow legitimized female aggression with "benevolent sexism"?  This is, for the record, the belief that women are weaker than men, and should be afforded practical (holding doors, paying the cheque at dinner), and legal advantages or protections as a result.  Is this the reason that municipalities such as North Bay now report more female domestic aggression than male?

In fact, a YouTube video here shows a hidden camera segment by ABC News demonstrating the reactions of passersby to a woman publicly abusing a man.  The actions of the actors are largely dismissed as nothing serious.  The female actor was also privately applauded by a few women who saw the abuse taking place.  It is, to say the least, a strange phenomenon.

My main concern with this trend, however, is how it is handled by us as a society at large.  I cannot for the life of me remember where I read this, but it was written by a woman in national Canadian news publication.  The article took the position that there are not legitimate anger management therapies available for women.  When men take anger management classes, they are taught that their anger has the potential to harm others around them.  Their anger is dangerous; their anger needs to be controlled for the benefit of themselves and others.  In contrast, women taking the equivalent classes are taught that their issues are more environmental.  There are people and circumstances in their lives that cause them to lose control.  The emphasis is then placed on how to deal with these people and circumstances, and not so much on controlling the anger that dwells within them.

I would like to pause and say that I am not implying that women are more dangerous than men, and I do not mean to trivialize male aggression or battered women.  I firmly believe that domestic violence, regardless of the gender of the aggressor, is toxic and detrimental to society as a whole.  I also think that how we are dealing with it as a society could potentially lead to harmful situations, if angry outbursts are habitually attributed to environmental stressors.  Should time reveal that this gender-specific method of therapy be effective, you may consider my concerns relieved.  For the time being, I feel more in-depth studies might be of benefit, and potentially find a cause for this female aggression.  This assumes of course that it is a new phenomenon, and historic under-reporting has not skewed the available data.

I ask that you consider what has been presented here.  Perhaps discuss it with a friend or peer.  Awareness and critical public discussion may be key to developing a better understanding of a potentially unhealthy trend.


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