Friday 17 August 2012

Double Standard: Why is female on male abuse funny?

The following article has video clips and unfortunately clips sometimes disappear because of copyright violations or the original poster closing their account. Send me an email if something is gone and I'll try and find another clip. (see sidebar for my email address)

Last Fall I discovered the entire television series Castle posted on YouTube. Copyright violations? Not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I systematically re-watched all the episodes. Ah, it was an amusing delight to see the playful interplay between our two protagonists as their romance slowly developed over the seasons. For those not in the know, Richard Castle is a crime drama novelist who manages to pull some strings to tag along with Detective Kate Beckett under the guise of doing research for his next novel. The two of them become something of a crime solving duo with each episode being a mixture of a dramatic whodunit, a budding romance between the two of them, and a comedy as the amateur Castle works with trained professionals. (The first three seasons were quite entertaining but four had lost a bit of its originality. Now that they have finally slept together, where does the storyline go?)

A theme in the television series is that Richard Castle is rich, maybe slightly spoiled, and a bit of a mischievous little boy. Detective Beckett, a woman, must periodically reel in the impulsive Castle to stop him as an amateur from either ignoring procedure or getting himself in over his head. How does she do this?

Scene #1
In the very first episode of the show, Castle shows himself to be very intelligent and insightful and not necessarily as forthcoming with Beckett as he should be. Right in the middle of him telling Beckett about a case, he decides he wants to get a hotdog from a street vendor. Beckett, just a little miffed about him going off on a tangent, does a two finger grab of Castle's nose, a move you would probably see on a public school playground between a couple of kids. It is quite funny as Castle squirms crying "Apples." ("Apples" is his BDSM "safe word", a joke from earlier in the episode.)

N.B. Jump to 1:52 to see the part I'm talking about.

Scene #2
Beckett is talking on her cell phone. Castle leans over to put his ear up against the other side of the cell phone so he can listen in. Beckett reaches around Castle's head and seizes his ear lobe between her index finger and thumb twisting him away from the phone as he squirms in pain. She hangs up and walks away. Castle rubs his ear and says, "Next time put it on speaker."

Scene #3
Beckett and her partners burst into an apartment, the scene of a murder, only to find Castle standing over the dead body. Beckett subsequently gets angry with Castle demanding to know how he got to the crime scene before them. She keeps approaching him in a confrontational manner and Castle backs up until he runs into a wall. When he hesitates to tell her what he did, she grabs his ear forcefully and Castle starts whining in pain.

In each of the above scenes (I've found video clips of each of them), the interaction between the two characters is funny. Beckett the woman is chastising Castle the man. Beckett the woman is using force to punish the possibly irresponsible Castle. I have watched each of these scenes a number of times and as I said, it is a theme used in the series for comedy.

It occurred to me though that the opposite is not funny. Beckett the woman seizing the ear of Castle the man is funny. But if Castle the man did that to Beckett the woman we would all be appalled. It wouldn't be funny at all.


I understand that one is funny and the other is not. But why? I admit that this is the case but why is it the case? Can anybody logically explain why?

Women Getting Violent With Men
When I researched this I found all sorts of articles about violence directed towards men by women.

Jezebel - Mar 18/2009
The Double-Standard: Is Women Hitting Men Ever Okay? by Sadie Stein
An indignant reader tipped us off to a Chicago Sun-Times article that defends a woman who struck her husband after finding him with hookers. I wish I could say I'd never do that.
The truth is, I've hit boyfriends in anger.
I'm a fairly small woman striking a much larger man it's not so bad, but the fact remains that if the tables were turned, such behavior would be considered appalling.
...friends... admitted to lashing out physically at a boyfriend... it also didn't seem like the Big Deal it obviously would be were a boyfriend doing the same thing.

Marie Claire - Jan 7/2008
Women Who Hit Men By Chris Norris
According to a Penn professor who studies these things, every American man has about a 28 percent chance of being struck by a woman at some point in his life (in related news, the number of girls ages 10 to 17 arrested for aggravated assault has doubled in the last 20 years). And yet no one seems to take the phenomenon that seriously. Maybe it's because men, generally speaking, are bigger and stronger, and we assume there's a real limit to the physical damage women could actually inflict. We don't picture these scuffles resulting in bloody noses and black eyes or a trip to the station house. Furthermore, pop culture has made the idea of a pretty girl whaling on a guy a wacky comedy staple — Angelina Jolie smashing wine bottles over Brad Pitt's head in Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Cameron Diaz coldcocking Edward Burns in The Holiday were both played for laughs. But the reality of getting hit by your girlfriend isn't so sexy or hilarious.

Maroon 5
"Misery" is a 2010 song by the group Maroon 5. (Wikipedia) The video consists of a woman who tortures and possibly kills her lover, Adam Levine, the lead singer of the group. Once again I couldn't help thinking that this violence committed by a woman against a man was acceptable if not funny and the opposite would be anything but. And once again I asked myself why.

Uploaded by Maroon5VEVO on Jun 30, 2010
Maroon 5: Misery

The Explanation
The word "trope" is defined as figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression. The web site "TV Tropes" says in its About page that it is a catalog of the tricks of the trade for writing fiction. It goes on to explain:

Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means "stereotyped and trite." In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries. We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them.

On the question of female on male violence, they offered up the following explanation.

Double Standard Abuse: Female on Male aka: Abuse Is Okay When It Is Female On Male
Female-on-male violence is viewed as more acceptable in fiction than male-on-female violence. Often, a woman using physical violence on a man will be Played for Laughs; sometimes it will be Disproportionate Retribution. The key is that in most works where this trope is in effect, it would be completely impossible to imagine the same violent situation play out with the participants' genders reversed without a large dose of drama getting added into the mix. The basic Double Standard at work in this trope is sexist on both sides: no woman is strong enough to harm a man, so any man weak enough to be harmed by a woman isn't a real man, and that's funny.

There is also the belief that any man who is being abused by a woman must have done something to deserve it, because Females Are More Innocent and Closer to Earth, so they would never resort to violence unless absolutely necessary.

Note that this trope does not describe situations where violence is genuinely adequately justified, nor in situations where universal humorous abuse is delivered to the Butt Monkey or The Chew Toy by both men and women for equally flimsy reasons — that is just Comedic Sociopathy. Obviously, it likewise doesn't apply in situations where female-on-male violence is treated as a serious subject.

The above points out the comedic aspects of such violence speaking of some traditional views of the sexes:

* no woman is strong enough to harm a man

* any man weak enough to be harmed by a woman isn't a real man

* a man being abused by a woman must have done something to deserve it

The above also mentions that comedy is not to be found in serious treatments of violence. I don't think anybody was laughing during Fatal Attraction when the woman played by Glenn Close came after the man played by Michael Douglas. Whew, now that was scary.

Superbowl Commercial
The following Superbowl commercial was played for laughs and consists of the theme of female on male violence. Serious? A lot of people laughed at it. Why? I come back to the above explanation by TV Tropes.

Published on Feb 9, 2011 by crashthesuperbowl1
Love Hurts - 2011 Doritos Pepsi Max Superbowl Commercial Ad - Finalist

A Serious Look
The following video was put together by a TV station. They staged scenes of female on male violence in public then subsequently interviewed passers-by to get their reaction to witnessing this abuse. Most thought the man deserved being the target of the woman's wrath. Nobody intervened but I would say that if the man was abusing the woman, many would have jumped to her defence.

Uploaded by Clotheslinemedia on Mar 26, 2008
Reaction To Women Abusing Men In Public
A television station staged scenes where a woman abuses a man in public. Afterwards, the station interviewed passers-by and their initial reaction was that the man must have deserved it.

Final Word
I didn't write this to raise the question of domestic violence; I was merely asking the question why a female dominating a man with varying degrees of violence is considered funny. I now believe TV Tropes accurately explained it based on the traditional assumptions that "no woman is strong enough to harm a man" and "any man weak enough to be harmed by a woman isn't a real man" and "a man being abused by a woman must have done something to deserve it". Whether those assumptions are true or not is another question but those assumptions do exist in our culture. Strange? At one point we all thought the world was flat.

Detective Kate Beckett the woman twisting the ear or pulling the nose of novelist Richard Castle the man is funny but the opposite would not be funny. I know some may react negatively to any sort of violence but oddly enough people are still laughing at The Three Stooges. I have no intention of ever slapping anybody in the face whatever the circumstances but I still chuckle when Moe goes after Curly. In reality it is funnier to threaten to do something than to actually do it. Maybe this is hyperbole as a comedic device.


Google search: why is a woman hitting a man funny

Vanity Fair - Jan 2007
Why women aren't funny by Christopher Hitchens
This is an interesting piece about men and women. The author's opening idea is intriguing: a woman will wax enthusiastic about a guy by saying he's funny but what guy who's interested in a woman talks of her in terms of being funny?


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BigLittleWolf said...

I know this sort of behavior is funny to many and intended to be, but I've never found it funny. Call me crazy, but I don't care for it regardless of who does what to whom.

Go figure.

Great topic.

Anonymous said...

I think it's "funny" because men are physically stronger and therefore must be "allowing" the woman to hit them. Realistically, though, that means a man could stop the abuse by fighting back and God help him if he does. I loved "Castle" but never thought Kate's physical aggression was funny. It was often done to play up Castle's childishness, which just came across as child abuse to me.