When women fight

Date

Dr Michelle Johnston

Dr Michelle Jonstone on SBS's episode of <i>Insight</i> tonight.

Dr Michelle Jonstone on SBS's episode of Insight tonight.

Violent Femmes. It has the ring of the revolutionary, the artistic, possibly the admirable.

It is also the title of this week's Insight program on SBS on which I am a guest, discussing the female perpetration of violence.

For our known history, violence has overwhelmingly been the domain of the male. But listen to some of the voices on the program – a conversation predominantly between young women – and you may be disturbed to find that there is an entire subsection of female society that believes violence is an acceptable form of communication. As a tool to "teach people a lesson", to remedy an evening of boredom, to demonstrate strength, and many other motives.

A screen grab from 'Vioent Femmes' tonight's episode of <i>Insight</i> on SBS.

A screen grab from 'Vioent Femmes' tonight's episode of Insight on SBS.

I am an emergency physician in an inner-city hospital; a trauma centre that sometimes feels as though it specialises in violence, particularly that fuelled by alcohol and drugs. We see every imaginable form of violence that can be inflicted by one human upon another. And yes, we do see the result of acts committed by females against other females.

There is convincing evidence, particularly from police and judicial data, that this type of behaviour is increasing. In the emergency department, we don't keep those statistics, as our aim in data collection is to represent the victim, not the person responsible for the injuries, but tangential data suggests that one in five violent incidents that reach the hospital setting are initiated by women.

In the frontline of care we see a spectrum of injuries, mostly minor, such as bruises, abrasions, lacerations, ranging up to quite serious injuries. Often the physical injury has a disproportionately severe impact on the victim, and may be psychologically permanent in some cases. At the more horrific end, although rarely, we see devastating and disfiguring injuries – the results of glassing, burns, or other more purposeful crimes. Even unplanned violence can have potentially fatal consequences, such as the head injury from a knock to the ground resulting in an intracranial bleed.

The question that is never answered, satisfactorily at least, is why this phenomenon of female violence seems to be on the rise. There are many opinions. From my experience dealing with the immediate consequences of violence, I believe there is no single culprit to blame, but a heady mix of many modern cultural influences. Among them are a culture that celebrates and reveres violence, female role models in movies who literally "kick ass", social media inciting faceless bullying, mob mentality, loss of respect for positions of authority (as the legions of assaults on nurses, paramedics, teachers illustrate) and the liberal use of drugs and alcohol. Could this be a "masculinisation" of women? A bizarre swinging back of a lost pendulum, an unexpected direction for the evolution of feminism? The only certainty is that it is not one thing, and thus has no easy fix.

In the emergency department we are confronted by these values day in and day out. And they are worrying.

The term "Violent Femmes" was coined in popular culture by the legendary 1980s band created by Brian Ritchie and Gordon Gano in Milwaukee. Ironically, the cult band used the term as an oxymoron – the word "femmes" was a slang term for "wimps" back then. It was never meant to be an exotic, hedonistic, strong concept to aspire to. Female violence is not the pinnacle of a civilised society. I hope that the conversation that ensues from this program is far reaching.

Dr Michelle Johnston is an emergency doctor at Royal Perth Hospital. Tonight she is a guest on SBS' Insight program, Violent Femmes, a discussion about the rise in violence and fighting among girls and women. It screens at 8.30pm on SBS One.

 

28 comments

  • I don't know why anyone would be surprised that woman can be violent too - violence is the problem. There is too much violence in our society today and women are being sent that the message that violence is purely a male problem and somehow violence they commit does not count. In a society that has female police, female fire fighters and female soldiers, in a society that demands more female generals, more female politicians and more female captains of industry, that society should expect that women will appear more frequently at the other end of the spectrum. If good women have the get up and go to achieve great things, surely some bad women have the get up and go to biff someone.

    Unless you believe in overwhelming female superiority, you can't have women with all the good that men have, but little or none of the bad side.

    Commenter
    JohnA
    Date and time
    April 30, 2013, 8:11AM
    • Totally agree

      Commenter
      Mark
      Location
      oz
      Date and time
      April 30, 2013, 6:09PM
  • Hmmmm
    I wonder how the sistas who claim that women can never do any wrong ( and if they did, its only because males forced them to ) will react to this. ?
    The woman featured in the vid doesn't appear too remorseful about her preplanned confrontation and possibly criminal assault she perpetrated.

    Commenter
    LeftyRoy
    Location
    Cydnee
    Date and time
    April 30, 2013, 9:17AM
    • Who exactly is claiming that women can do no wrong? Certainly no one I know. I think it's embarassing that you would use that claim to try and derail the topic at hand. Do you do this during discourse for equality too?

      Violence is a human issue, not a gender issue. Women are capable of it as well, I'm not surprised, really. We should be taking the gender out of it and discussing how to lower violence in general.

      Commenter
      ZDM
      Date and time
      April 30, 2013, 12:32PM
    • LeftyRoy, I wonder specifically which "sistas" you are referring to? Are they the ones you have made an imaginary community out of in your own imagination, that think exactly the way you expect them to? Who are these people who assert that they never do anything wrong? They sound fascinating!

      Your framing of this discussion in terms of 'wrongness' is oversimplifying things. Of course women can be violent; they can do awful things. And, yes, we can do things 'wrong', if you like to define things in such black-and-white terms. Some people don't (myself included). I prefer to look at things in terms of context and as WHY people did these things. What is at the root and how can we address it.

      Honestly, I don't think ANY "sistas", imaginary or real, would ever deny their own humanity, which is the thing that makes all of us fallible. But i could be Wrong.

      Commenter
      Kala
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 30, 2013, 1:29PM
    • ZDN, Kala- If you are both regular readers of DL, you would know there are several who contribute ,who go to great lengths to deny that women are just as capable of violence etc.
      ( and no, I wasn't referring to either of you)
      I'm not having a go at women, just the handful of regular contributors who believe women can do no wrong.
      Only 20 responses seems to indicate that many of the usual crowd are avoiding this topic.
      I wonder why?

      Commenter
      LeftyRoy
      Location
      Cydnee
      Date and time
      May 01, 2013, 5:39AM
    • When people are repeatedly exposed to violence, engaging in that behaviour will become less and less taboo. Just look at the way Tony Abbott treats Julia Gillard and how quickly an otherwise restrained section of the public became less restrained thereafter. When men in certain communities fight, it stands to reason so too will children, and eventually women. When men tell women to cover their bodies in burqas, women will eventually fight for the right to do so. Its a simple process of learned behaviour. The biggest challenge is to stop men fighting. Minute progress there will resolve larger proportions everywhere else.

      Commenter
      Rachael
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 01, 2013, 7:32AM
  • Here's a c.r.a.z.y idea, maybe women can be violent because women are human beings with emotions and NOT repressed, petticoat-wearing, vapid, wall flowers who have the emotional range of a piece of cardboard!

    This is daily life right? I thought this site was about trying to dispel popular myths about how women should behave? Programs with titles like Violent Femmes (and articles talking about them) make me want to go and commit some very violent acts!! Spare me the bottled outrage at the idea of an angry woman!

    Commenter
    Liv
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    April 30, 2013, 10:49AM
    • CONT>
      This was an interesting reply as its foundations was in the pain wasn’t severe and the person assaulting him was not as strong. But most importantly it would not be masculine to complain, notify others or authorities.
      I kicked in with a big assault that happened to me when I was 21 and living with my first love. She decided to hit me over the head from behind with crystal ash tray. I awoke in a pool of blood lying with my head on a coffee table. I never went to the hospital because I was embarrassed and treated it myself with strips/gause and today can feel a dint in my skull. The guys asked me what I did to get wacked and I said nothing. All I did was move my pet Galah into the lounge from the back room and seed shells ended ups on the carpet and she went ballistic. All the guy's thought it was hilarious and one stated you don’t do that to the girls man, that’s how you get no dinner, sex or a slap?!
      All agreed and now I understand why men don’t tell about assaults from women and why I never told tell because I am now referred to as the Galah by the boys. But with the shoe on the other foot it would not be a laughing matter so why is violence from women universally excepted?

      Commenter
      Mark
      Location
      oz
      Date and time
      April 30, 2013, 7:09PM
  • I think people have the ability to be the most violent and damaging when the sharpness of their tongue is used to manipulate and hurt - words do hurt and the damage can last a life time and I believe is one of the major causes of depression. Phscological violence is as dangerous if not more so than physical violence.

    Commenter
    Dermot
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    April 30, 2013, 10:52AM

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