Time.com 25 June 2014
The arrest of an Olympic gold medalist on charges of domestic violence would normally be an occasion for a soul-searching conversation about machismo in sports, toxic masculinity and violence against women. But not when the alleged offender is a woman: 32-year-old Hope Solo, goalkeeper of the U.S. women’s soccer team, who is facing charges of assaulting her sister and 17-year-old nephew in a drunken, violent outburst. While the outcome of the case is far from clear, this is an occasion for conversation about a rarely acknowledged fact: family violence is not necessarily a gender issue, and women—like singer Beyoncé Knowles’ sister Solange, who attacked her brother-in-law, the rapper Jay Z, in a notorious recent incident caught on video—are not always its innocent victims.
Male violence against women and girls has been the focus of heightened attention since Eliot Rodger’s horrific rampage in California last month, driven at least partly by his rage at women. Many people argue that even far less extreme forms of gender-related violence are both a product and a weapon of deeply ingrained cultural misogyny. Meanwhile, the men’s rights activists also brought into the spotlight by Rodger’s killing spree defend another perspective—one that, in this case, is backed by a surprising amount of evidence from both research and current events: that violence is best understood as a human problem whose gender dynamics are much more complex than commonly understood.
There is little dispute that men commit far more violent acts than women. According to FBI data on crime in the U.S., they account for some 90% of known murderers. And a study published in American Society of Criminology finds that men account for nearly 80% of all violent offenders reported in crime surveys, despite a substantial narrowing of the gap since the 1970s. But, whatever explains the higher levels of male violence—biology, culture or both—the indisputable fact is that it’s directed primarily at other males: in 2010, men were the victims in almost four out of five homicides and almost two-thirds of robberies and non-domestic aggravated assaults. Family and intimate relationships—the one area feminists often identify as a key battleground in the war on women—are also an area in which women are most likely to be violent, and not just in response to male aggression but toward children, elders, female relatives or partners, and non-violent men, according to a study published in the Journal of Family Violence.
But this woman-as-victim bias is at odds with the feminist emphasis on equality of the sexes. If we want our culture to recognize women’s capacity for leadership and competition, it is hypocritical to deny or downplay women’s capacity for aggression and even evil. We cannot argue that biology should not keep women from being soldiers while treating women as fragile and harmless in domestic battles. Traditional stereotypes both of female weakness and female innocence have led to double standards that often cause women’s violence—especially against men—to be trivialized, excused, or even (like Solange’s assault on Jay Z) treated as humorous. Today, simplistic feminist assumptions about male power and female oppression effectively perpetuate those stereotypes. It is time to see women as fully human—which includes the dark side of humanity.