Hitting a woman is not cool and hasn't been socially acceptable in quite a few decades (see: Chris Brown/Rihanna scandal) but ever since Scarlett slapped Rhett Butler, girls slapping men has been made out to be not only okay but even ladylike, appropriate and, yes, cool. (Okay, let's be honest: Scarlett slapped just about everybody in that movie from Ashley to Rhett a couple of times and even poor Prissy "I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' no babies, Miss Scarlett!!!") Why is it acceptable for a woman to hit a man when the reverse is widely considered abhorrent? Two TV shows this week have me asking if a woman hitting a man is art or abuse.
The Slap as Art
This past week on So You Think You Can Dance, sandwiched between an emotional routine based solely around a light bulb and a fierce Paso Doble was a racy little number that played up all the popular male-female stereotypes. It would have been one more Burlesque For Family Time quickly forgotten in a sea of hair flips and leather vests except that it started with a slap. And not just a stage slap but a real, honest-to-goodness, face smack.
Video probably NSFW depending on how your boss feels about Janis Joplin.
In the tape of the two dancers practicing, a lot was made of the fact that the choreographer had to really coerce Caitlynn into being aggressive enough with the slap as it was key to the story of the dance. The training apparently worked. One of the judges, Mary Murphy, seemed a little taken aback asking, "Did you really slap him?" To which both Caitlynn and Mitchell exclaimed "YES!" The routine got rave reviews and a standing ovation from the audience.
The slap in the context of being part of the story of a couple fighting and the fight getting physical wasn't questioned. And those two did the sexiest, most gorgeous lover's brawl I've ever seen. (Which makes it sound like I've seen a lot, which in turn makes my life sound a lot more exciting than it really is. Carry on.)
The Slap as Abuse
But there was another lover's quarrel that turned physical on TV this past week, when Amber from MTV's Teen Mom slapped and then punched her boyfriend Gary in the ear and the face in front of their young daughter. Minus the bustier and exceptional choreography, it was the exact same situation except this one was a lot less sexy. Especially when the police were called and Amber was taken into custody for felony abuse. Oh and Child Protective Services was called on behalf of the couple's tiny daughter. The show ended there but anyone who's seen the headlines play out over the past couple of months knows that Amber did indeed lose custody of her daughter, at least temporarily, and is facing criminal charges.
The most disturbing part for me watching it was in a conversation the two had weeks after the punch/slap aired and Amber had just found out the police and Child Services were looking for her. Instead of apologizing, she turns it around and, in the pattern typical of abusers, yells at Gary and tells him this mess is all his fault. "Gary, I'm speaking! You need to stop! You need to learn how to respect me!" She admits, "Everything is my fault for hitting you but the thing is, Gary, what provoked those situations?"
He answers, rightly so, "I'm not having this conversation. Nothing I did should ever provoke you enough to hit me."
This enrages her and she screams, "You are nothing! You are going through nothing! I'm so sick and tired of everything you do, everything you've done, everything that ever happened between us. I'm so sick of everything! Gary, I hate you! I hate you!" He apologizes to her and says he'll try and fix it. He tells her he loves her and he's there for her but the scene ends with her storming out of the house and him crying on the bed.
What, no standing ovation?
The Slap as Self Defense
I personally have never slapped anyone, male or female. (Okay, so there was the time I punched a friend in the arm during a kickboxing drill but he told me to and it certainly wasn't done out of anger.) Even when I was in a physically threatening situation slapping or hitting didn't seem like a good or particularly productive option at the time. I don't think anyone would have faulted me for fighting back -- I didn't, something I felt guilty about for a long time. I know that I would not fault any girl (or guy) in a similar situation for fighting back.
I think the fact that I don't have that aggressive instinct is the reason that I first gravitated so strongly towards kickboxing and karate; I wanted the martial arts to be a substitute for my own lack of fire. But fire burns and I've since learned something about myself: I like my innate gentleness. I don't want to cut it out of me anymore. It isn't a weakness.
Is it different for women?
Women are weaker and smaller and therefore not as likely to hurt men when they get violent is how the reasoning usually goes. But first, I think that plenty of women have shown a propensity to be deadly violent and second, does it matter if the person isn't seriously hurt?
Have you ever slapped anyone? Do you think a woman slapping a man is cute? Is there ever a good reason to slap someone?