Current Affairs

Battle of the sexes

Abuse and dominance are a nasty business, no matter your gender.

I’ve just taken the economist to the after-hours doctors with another broken finger. “You’re baaaack,” said the nurse at reception. The fracture clinic staff also know us intimately. In the 15 years we have been together he’s broken two fingers, an elbow and his nose. My own X-ray history boasts an index finger, a big toe, one broken leg and the opposite elbow (caused by inattention, cask wine and cat sick, in that order). Together, we are a car crash of love.

For the record, I had NOTHING to do with his; that man falls down a lot. He comes off his skateboard, somersaults the handlebars of his bike – this time he was surfing and trapped his pinky between the board and the leg rope. Really, it wasn’t me.

I need to nip mounting suspicion in the bud or people will start calling me the Blonde Widow.

If I was giving him the bash in a Jane the Muss, ‘cook me some eggs’ fashion though, I’d be following something of a trend in popular culture. In fact, Super Hot Violent Chick is fast becoming a movie stereotyope. We’ve all seen it; the small, pretty girl whaling on the huge hunk of a guy is a classic romantic comedy staple. In the old days she would have beat her fists ineffectively against his broad chest; now she’s more likely to break a wine bottle over his head as Angelina Jolie did to Brad Pitt in Mr & Mrs Smith or sucker-punch him as Cameron Diaz does Edward Burns in The Holiday.

Florence and the Machine’s Kiss with a Fist could be the soundtrack to modern movie trysts; and the punch-drunk male played for laughs gives the impression it is cute, even sexy, when women hit men, when the scene reversed would be a hymn to misogyny and out-of-control male aggression. Accepting this casual female-on-male violence is not only bizarre, it’s also sexist, as it presumes women cannot do men any real harm. The size of bruises and the amount of blood spilled isn’t the only way to measure the effects of abuse, as anyone who has been belittled, controlled or intimidated by their partner will tell you.

Let’s not get carried away, though; I’m certainly not wanting to downplay the incidence of violence against women, and there’s no arguing against the stats. The World Health Organisation says between 15% and 71% of women have reported physical or sexual violence by a husband or partner. But it’s just that in those cases where men are the victim, there seems to be a strange double standard around it. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good double standard, especially when it comes to heavy lifting and car repairs; however, violence is somewhere I don’t want any blurred lines.

Unfortunately, it seems young women in the US are internal-ising messages that dominance is the only way to conduct a relationship successfully. A recent American study revealed one in seven women aged 15-22 admits to hitting their partner. Maybe it’s a post-feminist let-down type thing: dressing to kill, bringing home the bacon, kicking ass in the workplace – but the entitled alpha female may have a dark side, where to be empowered means getting what you want by means fair or foul and, “if she hit him, he probably deserved it” is a reaction to truly awful behaviour.

Exactly the reaction garnered by revelations in UFC (ultimate fighting championship) bantam-weight champion Ronda Rousey’s autobiography My Fight/Your Fight that, when she discovered secretly taken nude pictures of herself on her then-boyfriend’s computer, she slapped him in the face so hard “my hand hurt”. And she deleted his hard drive. Actually, that’s kind of… Ahem.

Not only is violence against men often trivialised, it may even – as in the case of that famous attack by Solange Knowles on her brother-in-law Jay Z – be treated as humorous.

“Women are catching up,” said the economist. “It’s exciting, and not before time.” Yes, it only took 40,000 years but we got finally got to Cro-Magnon. Well, I’m all for the dissolving of gender stereotypes, but you don’t have to hit your guy. You can hurt him far worse, should you wish to, with a devastatingly withering look. Save the hospital waiting room chairs for the clumsy and foolish.

Words by Lisa Scott
Photos by iStock Images

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