Feminism 101
September 8, 2014 12:50 PM   Subscribe

Anyone got a citation (I've got a whole university library at my disposal) or a link to a nice succinct explanation of why it's not sexist to censure a man who hits a woman more strongly than a man who hits another man?

Yes, it is clearly an artifact of a sexist society that makes it (more) forgivable for men to hit other men when it is not acceptable for them to hit women or not acceptable for them to walk away from a fight. But I need an explanation of why this is not an example of sexism.

I need something that explains to someone who has no interest in philosophy, metaphysics, ding an sich, or without too much focus on definitions (is that even possible?). Frankly I'm not sure how to explain the situation without first distinguishing sexism qua sexism (prejudice + power, exercised in a context of privilege) from gender-based discrimination and I'm wondering if there are good essays out there that explain why it's not sexist to censure a man who hits a woman more strongly than a man who hits another man which manage it.

Something that avoids the nuance necessary to unpack domestic violence against men (whether perpetrated by men or by women) would be perfect, mostly because I'm hoping for something really straightforward, even at the expense of subtlety, depth and intersectionality.
posted by crush-onastick to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are you trying to respond to some sort of "equal rights means equal lefts" argument? In that case, I think there's a pretty easy response, which is "why are you so eager to justify hitting women?". But maybe that's not exactly civil discourse.

I don't think there's a straightforward way to make the argument. You might want to find something that touches on the way violence towards women is institutionalized and made a part of the structure of society. My favorite book about this is Gerda Lerner's dry historical work The Creation of Patriarchy or maybe something by bell hooks.

But you're never going to "win" at this argument. You'll need a better mode of persuasion to change a whole outlook.
posted by dis_integration at 1:00 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Domestic violence/intimate partner violence is an ongoing pattern of terrorism and abuse, not just a one-off "hitting someone." I'm not sure if pursuing that angle might be more helpful?
posted by jaguar at 1:06 PM on September 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Mod note: Folks, the question is very specifically asking for citations. Please stick to that or, at farthest, refined search terms to look for citations. Thanks.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 1:09 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you are trying to respond to an accusation of reverse sexism? I imagine certain legislation or moral beliefs perceived as protecting women more than men would be subject to that claim. Although I don't know of anything directly addressing reverse sexism in the context of domestic violence, you may have some luck searching under those terms.

Here's a succinct response to the concept as a whole. It introduces certain vocabulary and historical context, but I think you'll find that necessary to communicate this concept.
posted by equipoise at 1:13 PM on September 8, 2014

If you don't turn up anything, I'm sure there are analogues to be drawn from affirmative action.
posted by resurrexit at 1:17 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think the issue is about men versus women, it's about who has the intent and the ability to cause injury. A larger, stronger person hitting a smaller, weaker person is worse than the other way around, for reasons that shouldn't need much explanation. If two people both intent to hurt each other equally, but one is actually able to inflict that damage and the other isn't, then that's very different, and that's recognized morally and in law. In most cases, when there is a man and a woman in a couple, for a lot of reasons, the larger, stronger person is the man. I can't think of any examples of a large, strong woman hitting/punching a smaller/weaker man and anyone blowing that off as no big deal, nor can I think of it being true with a large/strong man and a small/weak man (e.g. a stereotypical "bully beating up a nerd" scenario) -- that is seen as much worse than two equally-sized/skilled men hitting each other.
posted by brainmouse at 1:21 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: It's less a claim of reverse sexism and more a question of why isn't it sexist to value the male victim less than the female victim of a male perpetrator of violence (Part of why I'd like to stay away from anything attempting to unpack the layers of domestic violence is because I think that will be too dense and involved and also because the question is not about domestic violence specifically, but violence generally). I'm not sure it's possible to answer the question without cycling back to the prejudice + power, exercised in a context of privilege = sexism explanation, but if someone has done it, I would like to see it. It's also quite likely that the answer is "it is sexist. But it's sexist not because we are exercising power and privilege to elevate the female victim, but to further denigrate the male as a means of enforcing a sexist notion of men as fighting back"--in which case, a nice cogent essay explaining how that works and why saying "this is sexist" does not convey that would also do nicely.

not sure it matters, but I'm not trying to argue with a friend or convince someone that he's right or wrong, I'm trying to clarify a thought process and can't do it with the resources I'm familiar with
posted by crush-onastick at 1:28 PM on September 8, 2014

All other things being equal (size, strength, relationship), it is pretty much definitionally sexist to apply different standards according to the sex of the victim.

In that specific case, it's benevolent sexism, or the notion that women are more fragile and helpless than men, and subsequently require greater protections.

Here's a pretty general Wikipedia article that could serve as a jumping off point to understanding hostile and benevolent sexism.

In reality, it's pretty much impossible for all other things to be equal, and the gender of the perpetrator and victim are often tied up with those issues of size, strength, and personal relationships.
posted by ernielundquist at 1:43 PM on September 8, 2014 [9 favorites]

more a question of why isn't it sexist to value the male victim less than the female victim of a male perpetrator of violence

I think it kind of is, though, if you're divorcing this from the context of domestic violence, which is a different context than, as I said, a one-off street fight. It's more akin to bullying, really.

I realize you probably don't want to get into an argument with all of MetaFilter, but maybe it would be helpful to post your thought process to the point where you're stuck? Because I'm not sure I'm really following your train of thought at all, which is making it difficult to answer.
posted by jaguar at 1:54 PM on September 8, 2014

It is for the same reason a gay man punching a straight man as he walks out of a bar would not be quickly considered a hate crime, nor treated with the extra severity of such. Male on female violence occurs in the context of social violence transcending the individual man and woman in the specific fight; a corrective is needed since women were for so long considered to be male property.
Your example entails a process similar to other laws trying to delegitimize longstanding *social* patterns of any dominant-upon-dominated person violence. Therefore you could use hate crime rationale as a good analogy -- for example

Whenever a bias-motivated crime is committed, the victim’s entire community is left feeling victimized, vulnerable,fearful,isolated, and unprotected by the law... the impact of the crime is far greater than the already terrible impact on the individual.

posted by third rail at 2:05 PM on September 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

1986 U of Wisconsin study: When Battered Women Use Violence: Husband-Abuse or Self-Defense?

1st paragraph of conclusion: A small percentage of battered women in this study reported that they initiated violence against their partners. When violence was used, it was most often seen simultaneously as fighting back and self-defense. A study asking only about the incidence of violence might have labeled much of the violence reported by these women as "husband abuse" or "mutual combat."
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 2:08 PM on September 8, 2014

Here's a report from the UN about ending violence against women with some good reasons as to why it's singled out as fundamentally different from other forms of violence in terms of public health.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:12 PM on September 8, 2014

Best answer: Here's a quote from a similar study by the Pacific Institute for Women's Health report on global violence against women:


Although men are victims of street violence, brawls, homicide, and crime, violence directed at women is a distinctly different phenomenon. Men tend to be attacked and killed by strangers or casual acquaintances, whereas women are most at risk at home from men whom they trust (Kellerman & Mercy, 1992). Violence against women is grounded in power imbalances between men and women and is caused and perpetuated by factors different than violence against men. As such, it must be analyzed and addressed differently. While women are occasionally violent against intimates, research has shown that female violence is usually in self-defense and that it is women who suffer the bulk of injury (Dobash, 1992).

posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:14 PM on September 8, 2014 [10 favorites]

I think brainmouse identifies it well. I had to read your question twice, and if I understand what you are getting at, then yes, it is about ability to cause harm. A man (men have, on average, greater upper body strength than women), hits a woman, then there is an excess of force used. It would seem to parallel a woman hitting a child.
Yes, there are sexist assumptions in it (that the woman is weaker than the man by default), as ernielundquist points to.
posted by troytroy at 2:22 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here's a quote from amnesty international on why violence against women is considered a human rights violation under international human rights law (and is essentially paraphrasing this World Health Org study from 2006 that found, in part, that domestic violence is incredibly prevalent in every society.)

"Gender-based violence stems from the failure of governments and societies to recognize the human rights of women. It is rooted in a global culture of discrimination which denies women equal rights with men and which legitimizes the appropriation of women's bodies for individual gratification or political ends. Everyday, all over the world, women face gender-specific persecution including genital mutilation, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, and domestic violence. At least one out of every three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.

Violence against women feeds off discrimination and serves to reinforce it. When women are abused in custody, raped by armed forces as "spoils of war," or terrorized by violence in the home, unequal power relations between men and women are both manifested and enforced. Violence against women is compounded by discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity, sexual identity, social status, class, and age. Such multiple forms of discrimination further restrict women's choices, increase their vulnerability to violence, and make it even harder for women to obtain justice.

States have the obligation to prevent, protect against, and punish violence against women whether perpetrated by private or public actors. States have a responsibility to uphold standards of due diligence and take steps to fulfill their responsibility to protect individuals from human rights abuses. Yet such violence is often ignored and rarely punished. Too often no one is held accountable for these crimes."

posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:31 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Look to see if a criminal defendant has ever brought a challenge to stricter sentences for domestic violence (as compared to garden-variety assault) under the equal protection clause.
posted by ewiar at 2:42 PM on September 8, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, guys--there's some useful stuff here. Potomac Avenue hit on the right tack there, pushing me toward thinking more about the morality/utility of censuring domestic violence over other violence, rather than the questioning the sexism in valuing female victims over male ones, or even the sexism in forgiving men who fight each other over men who hit women, which I think is more directly relevant.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:26 AM on September 9, 2014

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