06/26/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Gender Equality: Striking a Blow for Civility?

California Bureau of Investigation Agent Lisbon is annoyed with her consultant, Mentalist Patrick Jane -- and bops him in the face. On Bones, "Jeffersonian Institute" PhD Dr. Brennan punches a rude Federal judge in the nose -- twice. Examples of strong women letting their inner Honeymooner loose, "Pow -- to the moon!," towards the "deserving" naughty Jane or the insulting judge? Or, a shortcut to displaying female dominance after years of paternalistic aggression?

Either way, two wrongs don't make a right hook. We don't have to have our representative women on TV turn into female Ricky Ricardos or Ralph Kramdens to demonstrate equality and strength. Just as it is no longer acceptable for men to hit women, it should not be acceptable for women to hit men (martial arts participants in a match and military/comic book/action heroines in battle excepted). The message otherwise becomes: a) "men are now getting their due" and b) "their due is battery." Ending the "war between the sexes" doesn't mean launching a counterattack, which can only extend or enhance the anger and resentment of those of both genders who perceive themselves as victims. Actual violence may be an alarming consequence.

Civility may not make for exciting melodrama, but physical assaults out of the boxing ring rightly should be a no-no for both men and women, no matter what the provocation, unless proferred in life-saving self-defense. Slapstick comedy (my least favorite genre) does have its place in the pantheon of entertainment, but is funniest when self-inflicted (as masterfully done by the classic Dick Van Dyke), and accompanied by a cartoon-like full recovery inviting viewers' suspension of disbelief. Punitive punching by female characters in the media today instead seems to gleefully inflict pain, reflecting a dynamic no longer acceptable either between parents and children (physical discipline), or children and children on zero tolerance playgrounds (no-fighting rules). Only on TV and in the movies does this distaff behavior remain in play.

Enough. Physical assaults are not a blow for feminism, but an attack on propriety, decorum, and respect. They're a step backward in gender equality for both men and women. Neither gender should engage in or model this behavior, which properly leads to criminal charges and civil suits in "real life". At most, a well-placed Wilde-esque snarky comeback could be entertaining and satisfying for viewers of dramatic conflicts, if a bit more challenging for a show's script writers. Our civilization has managed to literally fly to the moon without violence -- and should avoid encouraging women and men to literally 'put up their dukes'.

A better solution for writers, characters, and our society is to adopt Joan Rivers' wise phrase, "Can we talk?"