Whenever a woman commits a violent crime, everyone is set back. A maternal creature can’t have carried out such an act – it is impossible. And, when 30-year-old Naya Rivera was arrested on ‘domestic battery’ charges for allegedly assaulting her husband, Ryan Dorsey last week in Kanawha County, West Virginia, this was no exception. Not many could believe this young female actress, famous for playing a cheerleader on popular US series GLEE, could’ve been violent toward her own spouse – why are we surprised when women are violent?
It is no secret that domestic violence is historically the other way around; men commit more violent crimes than women. According to the Office for National Statistics, women are more than twice as likely to be a victim of domestic abuse than men, with an estimated 27.1 percent of UK women suffering at some point from the age of 16. That is nearly one in three women.
Violent females seem to captivate the world in a way violent men cannot; on film, in books or in real life. Women convicted of, or associated with violent crimes are condemned by the media, as it goes against what we are conditioned to believe of females – nurturing, kind and caring, a woman’s place is – of course – in the home, not hitting her boyfriend with a crowbar. Amanda Knox and her trial for the murder of Meredith Kercher in 2007 was an obsession all over the globe. A young American woman – dubbed ‘Foxy Knoxy’ – studying in a remote part of Italy, Perugia, who found herself wrapped up in the murder of her flatmate and fellow student Kercher, it’s nothing but bizarre. Knox was eventually acquitted of the murder in 2015, after a trial, appeal, re-trial, and also spending nearly four years in an Italian prison.
In February 2009, pictures surfaced of singer Rihanna beaten up and with a split-lip. This was at the hands of her (at the time) boyfriend and fellow singer Chris Brown; he got off lightly. He was charged with assault and sentenced to probation and community service. In the time since, he has released six albums and a collaborative one, his third studio album – Graffiti – in December 2009. His latest, released two months ago, has seen the singer work with artists such as Future, Usher, Gucci Mane and Kodak Black – it seems all has been forgotten. Perhaps, if this were the other way around, Rihanna wouldn’t have made music anymore, as she would have actually been held to account.
The film Gone Girl (2014) follows fictional killer Amy Dunne, a master of manipulation who plans deception and murder. She fakes her own abduction and attempts to frame her husband, Nick Dunne for her disappearance – she even artificially inseminates herself with his sperm. If she were a male would we care as much? For a woman to take this role, even in a film is unconventional. Single White Female (1992) directed by Barbet Schroeder narrates a woman, Allison, who rents out her room – after breaking off an engagement to her boyfriend Sam – to another single white female, Hedra. Hedra begins to exhibit obsessive and jealous behaviour, attempting to steal Allison’s identity and at one point even stabbing Sam in the eye with a stiletto.
Despite the portrayal of violent females in the news and onscreen, female warriors have often been recognised and celebrated. These violent women have represented strength and have been even praised for their gruesome acts. Joan of Arc, Tomoe Gozen and even the Amazons – think Gal Gadot’s depiction of Wonder Women (2017) within the Amazonian tribe. Each one considered brave, courageous, but not that dangerous? Female warriors are unapproachable myths, unlike real life and film depictions. They are a fantasy of beautiful soldiers, who didn’t fight for violence and bloodshed. But, that’s what they did?
No violence should be tolerated in any situation. But, this doesn’t change the fact we perceive women of violent crimes differently. We are surprised, shocked, even feel deceived that any woman could commit something terrible. Everyone regardless of gender should be held to account for any crime. The issue here is, people are more bothered when women are violent because it happens less often; perhaps, that’s why we are surprised.