In a world struggling to understand the idea of real equality of the sexes, our definition of “equality” is constantly under scrutiny. One of the more interesting conversations I’ve been seeing lately is around whether or not it’s ever okay for a man to hit a woman (and vice versa).
Obviously the best scenario is for no one to be hitting anyone. But what makes the conversation so interesting—and a bit surprising—is the way some folks are equating the “right” to hit someone with our concept of women’s rights.
To begin with there’s the stereotype that a man should never hit a woman simply because she’s female and theoretically the “weaker sex.” So if we’ve truly become an “equal” society, shouldn’t that mean all bets are off?
The problem with this argument is that hitting someone has absolutely nothing to do with “equality” or sexism. Advocating for equal wages is a far cry from condoning violence.
If a man finds himself in a potentially violent showdown with a woman (and let’s not pretend domestic violence against men doesn’t happen), there are other reactions available to him than to hit back. Depending on the situation, he could walk away. He could defend himself without striking out. To imply that the only possible defense would be to hit back also implies that to “act like a man” means being violent.
There’s also the very real physiology involved. “Men and women are not on equal footing when it comes to physical combat,” says psychologist Carla Rhodes. “[Men] have the advantage of being stronger and larger and potentially doing more damage.”
That doesn’t mean a woman couldn’t win a fight. Just that men, because of their build, can potentially do some serious damage that isn’t on par with what a woman would accomplish with a basic slap or even a punch. The equal-violence-as-self-defense argument sort of falls apart when the opponents aren’t evenly matched.
It’s also worth noting this disturbing statistic: one out of every six American women have been sexually assaulted. Statistically, then, self-defense means different things to different sexes. As Madison Holmes writes in Odyssey, “Self-defense implies that there is a legitimate threat of being over-powered. It does not excuse a ‘she hit me first so I’m gonna knock her lights out’ mentality. That’s not equality; that’s petulant cruelty.”
Gender equality does not excuse a man who hits a woman. Or a woman who hits a man. Violence is an issue of its own, and one that shouldn’t be condoned except perhaps under extreme circumstances. “She hit me first” definitely doesn’t count.