Teen Angst

Helping adolescents deal with anger and other emotions effectively

Women and Violence: Society's Double Standard

Are we teaching young females stereotyped behavior?

Is there a double standard in society concerning the ways in which men and women should handle their anger; more specifically violent behavior? If so, why? Is it because of the traditional stereotypes that still exist in main-stream society about how women and men ought and should behave? From an early age children are exposed to media, stories, and poems depicting what is expected of each sex. Nursery Rhymes such as "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" and "What Are Little Boys Made Of?" plant the early seeds of girls being sweet as "sugar and spice" and boys being up to no good with "snakes and snails and puppy dog tails." As these stereotypes become ingrained in us at an early age, the mere thought of a woman committing a violent act (especially against a man) seems preposterous and unladylike!

Unfortunately societal expectations and stereotypes play a large role in our impressions of how people should act… and violence is no different. When women commit violent acts they are not displaying “typical behavior” because girls are made of "all things that are nice."  As a society it's time to break down the walls of stereotypes and stop setting double standards. It is past time that we realize that women can be violent and have anger issues too and often that anger can lead them to prison. 

Sadly, more and more women who are in prison system come from abusive situations.  Many women who are serving time have reported being physically, sexually and verbally abused in their life. As a result many turn to substances as a form of self-medication to cope with the psychological trauma they have experienced. The increase of women being placed in prisons may in part be attributed to growing poverty among young, unattached mothers and the ways in which society treats women. So, in essence, many of these women are lashing out violently against their past.          

As for equality, we know from research that women typically get lesser charges for the same crimes that men commit. And when women finish their prison terms, they may find themselves right back in jail; for there is a high recidivism rate amongst women. Sadly, not only are we seeing an increase in violent activity in women, but violent acts committed by female juvenile offenders are on the rise as well. 
           

So the question remains, why the increase in violent behavior? Perhaps it always been present, but more suppressed? Is there a societal double-standard held between how men and women should express their anger? I believe that women may express anger and aggression in different ways than men. I also believe that those who express anger more outwardly may not be seen as violent as males; in part due to stereotypes. 

In the UK  the domestic violence charity ManKind is working hard to explore the differences between the way men and women victims of domestic violence are treated with their #ViolenceIsViolence campaign. They released an eye opening video showing a couple in an argument and how bystanders responded to a male aggressor versus a female aggressor. And to bring it home to the US, what about singer Beyoncé Knowles’ sister Solange, who attacked her brother-in-law, Jay Z? Would things have been reported differently if Jay Z had initiated the attack? I would venture to say "yes".  Sadly, women’s violence seems to be trivialized, excused, and may even be seen as humorous, but violence is no laughing matter. 

Aggression is hostile behavior and it's not a way to work through conflict. Aggression feeds agitation, which turns into frustration and can eventually lead to anger. Anger, spewed out through aggression, is an unhealthy coping skill that can have detrimental effects on relationships and even one's physical health. So, it's time to take off the blinders and put the double standards aside. Women and men can both experience violent episodes and both should be accountable for their behavior. 

There is no cookie cutter mold of how women and men should behave; if only life were that easy. The bottom line is a simple one...  man or woman, or boy or girl, it doesn't matter... violence is not an answer to any problem. So, what are little girls made of? What are little boys made of? They are made of individuality/personality, environmental influences, genetics, and are socially influenced by the society in which we live. Now, that's what little boys and girls are made of.

Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, M.S., L.P.C., is the author of The Anger Workbook for Teens.

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