Women Are Aggressors in Household Violence, Too
Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett
December 4, 2011
(WOMENS ENEWS)– Times are changing. Girls aren’t so “girly”
Perhaps it began with early female action figures. Perhaps with
“Charlie’s Angels.” Or maybe with scores of elementary girls
playing soccer, or with older girls playing contact sports at elite
Most likely we will never know exactly how or when it became okay to
talk about female aggression–female-to-female aggression and
female-to-male aggression. Whatever its origins, this new narrative is
challenging the once omnipresent scenario of the male violent
aggressor–passive female victim scenario. It is now increasingly
acceptable to talk openly about female aggression and to conduct
serious research on this topic.
We now know that women-on-women aggression is far from rare and that women are often the initiators of male-female aggression. Surveys of U.S. households have found rates of wife-to-husband violence
“remarkably similar” to those of husband-to-wife violence.
And an early cross-cultural survey did not find that men were
significantly more aggressive than women.
Aggression, as opposed to anger, conveys an intent to hurt or harm and
can be expressed physically, verbally or by withdrawing. There is
general agreement that men exhibit higher levels of physical
aggression than women, but the differences are small to moderate.
After a thorough review of the literature on who initiates violence in
couples, Murray Straus, of the University of New Hampshire, reports:
“It is painful to have to recognize the high rate of domestic assaults by women. All six major studies which have investigated this topic found that women initiate violence in a large proportion of the
For example, of the 495 couples in a 1985 National Family Violence
Survey for whom one or more assaults were reported by a female
respondent, the man was the only violent partner in 25. 9 percent of
the cases, the woman was the only one to be violent in 25. 5 percent
of the cases and both were violent in 48.6 percent of the cases. Of
446 women who reported that they were involved in violent
relationships, their partners struck the first blow in 42 percent of
the cases. The women hit first in 53 percent of the cases, and they
could not remember who hit first in the remaining cases.
The great difference here is that women are far more often seriously
hurt or killed than men. A woman may start a fight with a slap, which
is mildly painful to the man, but he retaliates by punching her and
throwing her against the wall, breaking her jaw.
But it is important to recognize that although men are predominantly
the murderers, rapists and batterers in human society, relatively few
men ever perpetrate these acts. If you discount the extremely violent
behavior of those few, the behavior of most men resembles that of most