Violence against women has been on my mind a lot lately. High-profile cases such as Chris Brown’s alleged beating of his girlfriend, Rihanna, and New York State Senator Hiram Montserrate’s alleged assault on his girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, not to mention the not-as-well-known uptick in incidences of female genital mutilation in Great Britain, added to the astonishing figure of 130 million living women who have been permanently scarred by this horrifying procedure, plus the fact that one out of every three women has been sexually or physically abused in the course of her life, well…let’s just say I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
True to my Virgoan nature, I have been trying to analyze why this keeps happening to women. Why are statistics like this accepted and acceptable?
My theory is that there are two main factors involved. One is our society’s desire to blame the victim for her situation; a desire which has been newly energized by our Reagan-loving President, Barack Obama. I wrote about this epidemic of victim-blaming some time ago, here. But the second factor is one I haven’t articulated before: the myth of female physical equality.
I understand that feminism historically has striven to balance the two sexes by using many different tactics. One such tactic is to claim that women are equal to men in every single way. Forgive me if I lose my feminist creds here, but I find this idea to be laughable, and perhaps harmful. Nonetheless, it has taken hold of our imaginations. After all, isn’t it fun to watch a taut and toned, 100-pound Alyssa Milano kick 200-pound demon ass on “Charmed?” (She never even messes up her hair, or gets a scratch on that rock-hard abdomen, or twists her ankle in the five-inch platforms she wears!) But in reality, how likely is it that a woman can actually beat the hell out of a man who is really fighting back? And if she can’t do that, then how can she be equal to a man in every way?
I’ll tell you something. I was a student of karate for a year and a half. When my Shihan told me that in order to advance in the dojo, I needed to join the Friday night fighting class, at which time I’d have to fight large, muscular black belts and possibly break limbs, I looked at him, rolled my eyes, and quit. I know my own limitations.
Unfortunately, once you go down the road of claiming women are equal to men in every single way, it can lead you to places you don’t want to go. For example: If women are 100% equal, then there should be nothing special about a man hitting a woman, because she’s physically strong enough to defend herself. Right?
Even getting this generation of teenage girls to see violence as abuse has its own challenges. Tricia Rose, who teaches African-American culture at Brown, said that the singers and their young fans are a generation steeped in commercial hip-hop, which has influenced the smack-down tone of so many recent comments. The qualified support of Mr. Brown by a few male artists also gave cover to his fans’ fidelity.
“This is the air that hip-hop breathes,” said Ms. Rose, author of “The Hip Hop Wars.” “The celebration of a stereotype of an aggressive, physical, often misogynistic masculinity that often justifies resolving conflict through violence. It can’t be held responsible for this, but it can’t be ignored.”
Moreover, teenage girls can’t be expected to support Rihanna just because of her gender, youth culture experts say. They see themselves as sharing equal responsibility with boys. Parity, not sisterhood, is the name of the game (emphasis added).
During a presentation about dating violence to ninth graders at Hostos-Lincoln Academy this week, one girl said, “If they hit you, smack them back. Both my parents say that to me.” (emphasis added)
When Danielle Shores, 17, a high school junior in Austin, Tex., heard about the fight, she thought: “Yeah, men hit women, and women hit men. It was blown out of proportion because they’re celebrities.”
She sounded miffed. “My best friend got hit by her boyfriend, and I don’t see people making a big deal about it,” Ms. Shores said.
There is a lot of violence among young partners. Although the study of abuse in adolescent relationships is scarcely a decade old, the incidence is startling. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 10 percent of teenagers report being hit or slapped by a boyfriend of girlfriend.
Some studies suggest that girls are more likely than boys to report being aggressive within a dating relationship.
But Dr. Elizabeth Miller, an adolescent pediatrician at the School of Medicine at the University of California, Davis, pointed out: “The numbers of girls who sustain serious injuries, and the sexual violence sustained against girls, is much higher than boys.” (emphasis added)
Um, duh. As a general rule, men are a lot bigger and stronger than women. Why can’t some feminists admit that? And why can’t we admit that there is no excuse, ever, for a man to hit a woman because of that simple, biological fact?
In our passion and advocacy, we feminists often fail to anticipate counter-arguments, and thus are unprepared and flustered when they are presented. I feel that we should argue that females and males are equal because of our shared humanity. Nothing else need be said, and what counter-argument can realistically be presented? Who is going to come right out and argue that a woman is not a human being? Although this subtext is certainly present in the anti-feminist movement, bringing this dark meme into the sunlight would certainly destroy it.
Some feminist tactics work, and some don’t. I say, let’s ditch the myth of female physical equality, and promote the reality that women and men are equal because they are human.
What say you?