The Ethics Of… Hitting a Woman

“Real men don’t hit women”.

It’s a moral that goes back hundreds of years. Men protect their womenfolk, and any man who hits a woman is the lowest of the low – the perfect example of a coward who picks on those who can’t fight back.

Of course the entire concept is pretty damn sexist; not only assuming that women are so weak and helpless that they’d be lost without men to protect them, but also implying that this is the way things should be. A ‘real man’ does not hit women, and ‘real ladies’ aren’t capable of fighting back. So when feminism rolled through our cultural landscape over the last 100 years, it’s not surprising that this idea came under attack. Women can look after themselves, thankyou very much Mr Man.

What is surprising, but perhaps shouldn’t be, was the murky underbelly of this empowered stance – if women can look after themselves, then are they now fair game when it comes to knuckle sandwiches? Not that you’d go around beating up on women just for fun (though there were no shortage of traditionalists who thought that’s exactly what early feminists needed) but if we’re arguing for gender equality here, then surely it cuts both ways?

And so, we find a new norm emerging when these issues are discussed: If a woman hits me, then she can expect to be treated like a man who hit me – ie. I’ll beat the ever-loving crap out of her.

There is no better demonstration of this philosophy in practice than the infamous Bus Driver Uppercut video that went around the internet a year or two ago. For those with a strong stomach, here it is:

For those who’d rather not, the basic summary is that a female passenger on the bus is arguing with the male driver, and starts hitting him around the head and shoulders (enthusiastically, if not very hard). The bus driver endures for a few seconds before getting up and delivering the single most terrifying uppercut I’ve ever seen. The woman literally leaves the ground. When passengers naturally freak out he yells “I don’t care! She wannabe a man, I’ll treat her like a man!”.

The woman apparently walked away in one piece, and that, combined with the fact that she clearly started the physical violence, was enough for most of the internet to declare it the greatest example of ‘Justice Porn’ they’d ever seen. Even generally liberal forums like Reddit voted it through the roof, celebrating it as a prime example of ‘true feminism’ – if a woman starts a fight with a man, she best be prepared to be treated like a man.

Naturally, this was met with more than a few feminists claiming that this was just another example of systemic violence against women, and all part of the Patriarchy’s campaign to suppress any woman they couldn’t own or control. And to absolutely no one’s surprise, these feminists were immediately howled down by Men’s Rights Movement (MRM) advocates, claiming that it is in fact the feminists who want to oppress men, and that this was another example of them not only excusing but celebrating violence by women against men.

By the time you just give up and bail on the conversation, you’re being forced to choose between feminism either being a pan-global conspiracy to degrade, marginalise and enslave men (making it the world’s second least successful conspiracy ever, close behind the CIA’s attempt to destabilise Australian mining by funding the Greens), or an underground movement of freedom fighters that are the only thing standing between the modern woman and compulsory pregnancy programs. Not exactly fertile ground for a constructive conversation, especially since crazy people tend to be LOUD.

Now sure, there are a few mitigating questions in this particular case; quite apart from anything else, the man in question here took over-reaction to stunning new heights with that punch – so much so that he was subsequently charged with assault (the woman was also charged). Considering the difference in size between the two of them he could have defused the situation simply by picking her up and depositing her out the door. Alternatively he could call the police and just had her arrested, but instead he let his pride own him and became a criminal himself.

But quite apart from these side debates (which I’ll get to during my upcoming Month of Violence series), did he have the right to defend himself in the way that he did? Is this gender equality in action? Are feminists hypocritical if they argue otherwise?

On the face of it the answer is simple – if women want to be treated equally, they can’t expect that to only involve things they like. You can’t refuse the stereotype that women need men for protection, without being willing (or able) to take the flip-side responsibility that comes with it – that you’re now fair game for a punching. You cannot demand a freedom without accepting the responsibility that comes with it. To do so is blatantly un-equal and therefore anti-feminist.

But this approach completely misunderstands what ‘equality’ means in this context.

Regardless of what various right-wing talkshow hosts may tell you, feminism is not about treating everyone as if they are exactly the same in every way (though ironically enough, that’s a decent description of right-wing thinking). Trying to force a one-size-fits all approach on every person, from every walk of life is just as stupid as it sounds and would lead to all kinds of mess – a 40kg woman is going to have a really bad time if she’s given the same lifting duties as 100kg of manly muscle.  Pretending she won’t is only going to end in a herniated disc and a Workcover claim.

No, what we’re talking about with gender equality, or racial equality, or sexual equality, or even animal equality, is ‘equal consideration of interests’; the idea that every individual has interests (everything from a need to eat and desire for companionship, right up to the desire for a fulfilling career, or preference in walking speed) and that those interests should be judged based on their comparative merit, NOT on who holds them.

If a person is starving and I have more than enough food for both of us, does it matter who they are? Is their need, and my responsibility to aid them, altered in any way by their race, social status, gender or income? Of course not. On the other hand, is the reason they’re starving in the first place relevant? Hell yes. Is the question as to how many other people are out there who I could help instead relevant? Yep. And if it turns out there isn’t actually enough food for both of us, should I re-think whether I help them out or not? Of course I would, and should.

This is the ethical guts of feminism and every other equality-based movement out there; not to force everyone to be treated the same under all circumstances, but rather to ensure that the needs and interests or every individual are addressed on their own objective merit, NOT on the demographics of that individual.

So is it fine to smack a women about or not? Well it turns out that’s the wrong question, because gender is irrelevant to the decision. All that matters is whether or not you can justify the act, based on the specific circumstances you’re facing, and that has nothing to do with configuration of the other person’s genitals.

If someone is coming at you with a chair, you have nowhere to escape to, and no chance of talking them down, then you’ve got a pretty solid case for punching that person until they stop. If, on the other hand, your opponent is half your weight, both floats and stings like a butterfly, and you have half a dozen ways out of the situation, then no, laying them out with the strongest punch you can muster is totally out of order you utter psycho.

It doesn’t matter what that person said to you, whether they’re 25, 85 or 10, black, caucasian, male or female, rich or poor – it’s not who they are that makes you a coward for hitting them; it’s the fact that you didn’t need to.

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6 thoughts on “The Ethics Of… Hitting a Woman

  1. Marry me. And you. Marry you too. Ethics of marriage as a celebration of an awesome person.

  2. There is stand up comedian Bill Burr who raised your initial question about not being able to hit women. That with men there is a line you can’t cross before you get belted, but there is no consequence for a woman who wants to be an asshole. He jokes “Do you know what kind of person I’d become if it was socially unacceptable to hit me?”. lol I agree of course with your conclusion. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

  3. That IBTimes article you linked actively seems to deny that she hit the bus driver first, refers to “taunting” and is generally entirely on her side… Apparently the author of THAT article didn’t actually watch the video.
    I liked the article on the whole, by the way. It felt a bit like you started deviating from the point at the end, but it was nice to read a coherent collection of thoughts on the matter.

    • Hi Tias, thanks for the comment! Yeah I got the feeling that the article was a bit ideologically skewed, but it was the best coverage of the incident I could find (I tend to to the hyperlinking last and tends to be rather rushed, so quality may vary).

      Thanks for the kind words! Yeah I tend to stray around the topic now and then after ideas I personally find interesting, then have to try and desperately bring it all together in the last couple of paragraphs, heh.

  4. Pingback: The Ethics Of… The Youth of Today | The Ethics Of

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