As violence spins out of control in Syria and we become inundated on what now seems like a monthly report of gun violence against masses of people in the United States, news reports will say “including women and children” when reporting casualties. Almost every news cycle, we see a sensational story about some horrible act of violence, usually murder, committed towards a woman victim. No matter how far we believe we have come in our society towards an equalization of the sexes, it is readily apparent in our portrayal and indoctrinated perception of women that they are the weaker, innocent, and less violent members of our species. This antiquated generalization doesn’t hold water when confronted by the reality. Attitudes that still incorporate this stereotype lead to unfair applications of laws and place an unequal value on human life.
There is a remnant notion left over from our 19th century Victorian era and mass produced, homogenized gender portrayals of the 1950s that implies and sometimes directly states that there is a weaker sex. As a general rule, this is a biological truth. Men have always physically dominated in muscle mass and brute strength. In a society that traditionally depends on hunting and physical prowess to stay alive, it is necessary to protect the physically weaker sex, especially if that sex bears the brunt of carrying the offspring that will ensure the continuation of that species. While this was certainly true of our species thousands, and possibly hundreds, of years ago, it is not necessarily applicable in a modern Westernized society.
The fact that women are physically weaker than men does not necessarily make them less violent. A Canadian study published in the National Post in 1997 reported that “Woman are just as violent to their spouses as men, and they are almost three times more likely to initiate violence in a relationship.” Also in 1997, Patricia Pearson published a book titled "When She Was Bad… Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence”. Pearson argued that “Woman commit the majority of child homicides in the United States” and “an equal or greater share of severe physical child abuse.” A British Crime Survey showed that men made up about 40% of domestic violence victims. The list of results from studies could continue for pages, but the message common to them all is that violence is not a male-specific trait. The real difference is that while men more often commit acts of violence towards strangers, women tend to commit acts of violence towards people they know, particularly those in their immediate family or those that have some past or present romantic attachment.
Page 2 of 2 - By continuing to stereotype women with outdated roles of innocence and pacifism, we not only demean women as a “weaker” sex, we also trivialize and minimize the value of the life of the male. There is no doubt that violence against women plagues our society, which still retains vestiges of the “man is king" culture we inherited from our ancestors. Abusive men use their physical dominance to terrorize and brutalize women on a daily basis. Application of laws designed to protect women from these horrible acts of domestic terrorism can often be manipulated and used as a weapon against men because they were rooted in the “woman as innocent victim” mentality. In most cases, police response to a domestic dispute is to automatically arrest the male, regardless of any facts that indicate the person responsible for the dispute may be the female. A man will probably be arrested for hitting a woman, and rightly so. But it is rare that a woman is arrested for hitting a man. Violence is violence, regardless of who is the aggressor and who is the victim. Similarly, in a war, the media seems to think that by reporting that a number of people were killed in a government crackdown, the tragedy is worse by saying, “including women and children”. Death is death and murder is murder and by making the death of a woman a tragedy while reporting the death of a man as just a casualty we put forth the idea that one type of person’s life is of more value than another.
As we continue moving forward into the 21st century, it is time we take another look at violence and its roots before it leads us down the same aggressive and warlike path it took us in the last century. In order to do that, we have to throw off the misleading notion that hate and violence is only a “man” thing.
(James Jackson writes his “different perspective” for The Sun-Times. His columns are submitted as an opinion editorial and are not meant to represent an official view of The Sun-Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)