Are Women Getting More Violent?

People love to claim that female-on-male violence is "on the rise," often with a certain salacious glee. But there's a lot more to the story.

There's a terrific piece by Salon's Lynn Harris examining the question of the alleged "epidemic" — as epitomized by Teen Mom Amber Portwood's on-camera outbursts. This in itself is telling: while people might point to Amber's behavior as a sign of some larger degeneration, there's no sense of urgency to the tsk-tsking: the violence, after all, is on-camera; Amber is smaller than Gary; surely he, in this scenario, comes off as much a sad sack as she does an aggressor (never mind that any retaliation would change the tone of the situation dramatically). To point to this as a sign of anything beyond the culture of reality TV is both misleading and trivializing — even as it seeks to sensationalize an issue that, in Harris' view, is being dangerously overblown.

For one thing, she says, talk that female and male domestic violence is, at this point, equivalent is dangerous and misleading. Says she,

Let's see what the stats really say, and what they mean in context. The DOJ's numbers do contain this one perhaps surprising stat among many, many others: Males and females in violent relationships are "hit, slapped, or knocked down" by partners at almost exactly the same rate. Other research accumulating since at least 2000 suggests that, in fact, females are at least as likely as males to perpetrate intimate partner violence and that abusive relationships often involve mutual violence. So if you were cherry-picking, or very-broad-stroking, you could sort of call it even...Except it's not. Not at all. Experts say the raw, in-a-vacuum numbers don't even start to tell the whole story of a given relationship, or of the complex dynamics of domestic violence. Other DOJ data shows men are more likely to be attacked with a knife or hit with a thrown object; women are more likely to be grabbed, held or tripped, raped, or sexually assaulted. Perhaps more to the point, females are more likely than males to sustain severe or injurious violence and to require medical treatment.

Simply put, while female domestic violence is of course terrible — and, yes, any domestic violence taking place in front of children is unacceptable — they are not the same. They have different motivations and different results. They can't be compared or used as excuses. None of which is to say that it's okay to trivialize or sensationalize female domestic violence — an impulse Harris ascribes to our ongoing fascination with violent women, almost always prurient — simply that it's its own issue, not some twisted semblance of "equality" or byproduct of feminism.

The Amber example is a depressing jump-off point for discourse, but maybe an instructive one. Think about it: when people lament Amber's violence, it's not out of fear or some larger concern for men. Not because we are worried for Gary's safety. Rather, we deplore it because she has somehow failed as a woman, as a mother, as a partner. The fact that she's willing to do such things on camera is proof-positive that the acts themselves aren't automatically considered reprehensible: in some ways, it took public outrage to make them so. Is her behavior unacceptable? Absolutely. But maybe our fascination is, too.

Is Female-On-Male Violence On The Rise? [Salon]