No, Girls Aren’t More Abusive Than Boys

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Did you know that boys, not girls, are more often the victims of dating violence? It’s true because a study said so! Pack it up everybody, the patriarchy is over. We are now in the matriarchy. Hashtag “Men’s Rights,” etc.

Okay, so obviously that’s bullshit, but what is the study actually about? Well, it’s about something that researchers already pretty much knew and which is now being misinterpreted to be about something it’s not. That doesn’t make it a bad study, per se, but it does make it an uninteresting study with dangerous (and presumably unintended) side effects.

The study was just published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, and it is based on surveys done on more than 35,000 teenagers who reported whether they had ever been hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the previous year.

Let’s take a small step back and talk about interpersonal violence. That phrase emcompasses both dating violence, which is what this survey was about, and domestic violence, which is absolutely not what this survey is about. Those are two different things. Dating violence includes slapping, pushing, or sometimes even verbally insulting a person you are dating. It’s bad, and should absolutely never be done, but domestic violence is much worse. That’s a situation where the abuser is in a serious relationship with the victim (living together, married, sharing a child, etc) and has power over the victim that they utilize in their abuse.

I point out these distinctions because it’s simply not news that young girls tend to be equally physical as boys (or slightly more so as this study suggests). They slap, push, kick, and yell at their partners just as much or more as boys do. That is dating violence, and it’s wrong and all teens should be taught to not do it and to leave a relationship if their partner behaves that way.

Once we start talking about adults, though, in serious relationships, we start talking about domestic violence with extremely negative physical and psychological results. And at the point, all the data is very, very clear: men tend to be the abusers and women tend to be the victims. To be fair, yes, men are sometimes victims, and yes, sometimes their abusers are women. But by and large, women are the victims who have the worst results from domestic and sexual violence, at the hands of men.

Even if we just look at dating violence among teens like this study, other studies show that sure enough, boys may get hit more but girls get hurt more.

So again, I don’t want to say that this study is pointless. But it could tell us so much more if it were broken down by severity of the alleged abuse. If you slap me on the arm and I punch you in the face, we’ve both each experienced one instance of violence, but one of us is going to suffer significantly more. Not distinguishing between those things is pretty ridiculous.

To sum up, yes, teen girls are committing dating violence at unacceptable levels and we need to teach them how to have healthier relationships — just as we need to do for boys.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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  1. Yeah, when you conflate the two, things get…yeah.

    However, there is definitely a correlation between being a domestic abuser and shooting people. Also a correlation between being an incel and shooting people. Wow, who knew misogyny would correlate so well to murder? Lots of people would.

  2. AFAIK, every culture socializes male abusiveness differently from female abusiveness. I wonder if there would actually be a difference if the socializations were non-gendered.

    When the abuse is violent, males are stronger and do more damage on average. I think that tends to skew our perception of the harm.

    The bottom line is that we need to teach both boys and girls how to have healthy relationships; and how to recognize early on if they are in an unhealthy one.

    Given how many kids have no opportunity to witness a healthy relationship, I expect this to take at least 1000 years.

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