Is it ever okay for a man to hit a woman?
I punched a girl in the face once. I was 16 and a 14 year old female friend of mine wanted some information from me. What we were arguing over is lost to history, as this event was 30 years ago. She grew more and more agitated that I wouldn’t tell her what she wanted to know and she began punching me in the shoulder. I told her to stop again and again. She ignored me, repeated, “Tell meeeee!” through clenched teeth while pounding on my shoulder. I refused.
Then she punched me in the face. I instantly reacted, punching her in the jaw and sending her to the ground. She stood with her hand on her jaw and her eyes wide as if she couldn’t believe I would hit her. I didn’t plan on hitting her, but when she escalated, I reacted. We made up afterwards. And that was the last time I’ve ever hit a female.
Was I justified?
I thought about the incident because of the news in recent weeks. ESPN host Stephen Smith was suspended for a week after making comments that implied Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice might have been provoked into knocking out his fiancé at a casino earlier this year. Rice went on to receive a slap on the wrist from the NFL (two game suspension) while marrying his fiancé. ESPN’s Michelle Beadle blasted Smith on Twitter, accusing Smith of blaming the victim.
ESPN host, Max Kellerman, was also suspended after he related a 20 year old story on-air of a time when he and his wife were arguing while drunk and she slapped him and he slapped her back.
(Of course I cringe every time someone is suspended or fired over voicing an unpopular opinion or flat out saying something dumb. We’re headed for a country where everyone can only voice popular opinions. Everyone must ascribe to the same views, or else. )
While the batterer and victim relationship gets a lot of attention and rightly so, there are many other couples that are mutually violent. Caustic words and years of contempt boil over to fisticuffs. I’ve not only seen it, but more than once I’ve had to break up physical altercations between married friends of mine. So I know that some relationships are mutually violent where it’s hard to tell who is the aggressor.
ESPN’s Steve Smith horrified viewers because no one can really believe that a woman provoked her boyfriend to knock her unconscious. While I’m not in Smith’s head, perhaps what he was getting at in his awkward comments were the couples I alluded to earlier, not Ray Rice’s situation specifically. He’s probably witnessed violent couples. And no one is saying that battering victims deserve what happens to them. But many violent couples veer from the “normal” male-abuser and female-victim scenario.
But what about the idea of hitting back? If you hear about a woman being struck by her husband and the woman hits him back, most of us would cheer. But if a man is struck by a woman, does he have the right to hit her back? Would we cheer that?
The video of Solange Knowles violently attacking rapper Jay-Z in an elevator went viral earlier this year. In the video, Jay-Z fends off her attacks without attacking her. What if he had fought back? Where would public sentiment lie?
When the video first hit the news, Whoopi Goldberg said on “The View” that Jay-Z would’ve been justified in hitting back. Social media exploded in protest. Far from backing down, Goldberg recorded a video saying: “Hey, I know everyone is freaking out like I said that they would when I said if someone hits you, you have the right to hit them back. I didn’t say Jay Z should have hit Solange. I said if you hit a man, that man has the right to hit you back. That’s what I said. I stand by that.
If you hit anybody, they have the right to hit you back. This idea that men aren’t supposed to hit women, if you slap a man he has the right to slap you back. Now, not everyone is going to agree and I’m okay with that. But that’s how I feel. That’s why I don’t slap anybody.”
I like what Whoopi had to say. Not because I want people to fight more. But when you strike someone, all bets are off. Violence changes the equation and more often than not, it begets more violence. To think that another has to stand there and take it is fantasyland.
But do I want a man hitting his wife back? I’m not going to say that. If my girlfriend were to slap me in the face, I believe I’d respond by grabbing my keys and jetting to avoid escalation. I think a relationship is forever changed once a fight turns physical and there’s no way I want to be in that kind of relationship.
But when you initiate violence, all bets are off. Of course, we should all try to avoid physicality. We’re talking, thinking creatures now, not Cro-Magnons. But when you hit a person, you’ve changed the terms of the argument. It’s a crapshoot. That person may hit you back. Or he or she may go get a weapon and escalate the violence. Or they may get accomplices and jump you later on. Violence begets violence whether it’s on the playground between two kids, in the bedroom between adults or on the world stage between warring factions.
Was I justified in hitting my female friend? At the time I felt so. Like I said earlier, I would walk away from something like that as an adult. When it comes to a man hitting a woman, the end result is going to be bad for the man. There’s definitely a double standard here. But there’s no upside. It may not be fair that a man hitting a woman in any context is deemed worse than a woman hitting a man. But that’s the way it is. Jay-Z made the right call. (Especially since had he punched Solange, Beyonce would’ve probably jumped on his back.) Grab your keys and go because hitting back is a losing proposition.