Have you ever hit a man? Made him feel worthless? Isolated him from friends and family? Stalked him at work? It feels weird being asked those questions, I’ll admit it. Usually they go the other way around with women being asked if the man in their life is aggressive, physical or controlling with them.
But a new study from the British University of Cumbria last week came to a startling conclusion: Not only are ladies just as likely to hit as men are but we’re more likely to use “serious threats, intimidation and physical violence” than the gents. So much for the “gentler sex?”
The researchers asked over 1,000 young men and women to fill out a questionnaire about interpersonal violence, checking boxes for things they had done to a partner. The results showed that women are more likely to use physical aggression than men but they also have a clear desire to control their partners. “It wasn’t just pushing and shoving — some people were circling the boxes for things like beating up, kicking and threatening to use a weapon,” said lead researcher Elizabeth Bates, Ph.D. “In terms of high levels of control and aggression, there was no difference between men and women.”
You may notice that I keep using the third-person writing about this. I’m honestly having a really hard time understanding this research. Personally I’ve never hit or threatened anyone with violence and certainly not someone I was in a relationship with. Moreover I can’t think of a single girl who I know that has hit someone and it wasn’t out of self-defense. I may be biased as I worked at an emergency shelter and as a rape crisis counselor for years so I’ve heard many, many experiences from women who were terribly harmed by a male loved one. Occasionally we got the odd call from a man (which we took just as seriously) but by and large it was man-on-woman violence. So are women really “intimate terrorists?” Really?
Yet this research is very compelling. It needs to be replicated, preferably with other age groups in other countries, but I do think we as women should take it seriously. Perhaps we’ve given ourselves permission to be cruel because we think we can’t. Or that because we are often weaker and smaller, the results won’t be as catastrophic as if it were the reverse. But whether or not that is true, any victim of domestic violence can tell you that the real anguish is mental. It’s awful trying to reconcile with someone who says they love you and then does terrible things to you. And I’m sure the damage is real no matter the gender of the person being assaulted. Not to mention the social stigma men face in reporting domestic violence.
According to my husband, “It’s embarrassing enough that you got hit by a girl, telling anyone would make it that much more humiliating.”
Part of me wonders about the people taking the survey. Self-reporting is always sketchy. Perhaps the men checked fewer boxes because they know it isn’t socially acceptable or didn’t see their own actions as threatening, even where a woman might. Perhaps the women checked more boxes because our society treats women-on-men violence as cute and funny or even empowering. But it isn’t cute or funny and it certainly isn’t empowering. Both genders need to find other ways to resolve arguments than with intimate terrorism. Besides, it certainly doesn’t hurt us, as women, to admit that men can be victims of domestic violence as well, and in the end I think that the more conversation there is about this, the better. On both sides.