Should A Man Ever Hit a Woman? Well, It Depends.

The web is abuzz over this viral video, in which a young woman, aided by a videocam-wielding minion, goes to excessive lengths to provoke a young man of significant size:

The question being debated: Is it ever ethical for a man to strike a woman?

If you are a feminist, or accept the premises of feminism, this question has to be folded into the question of whether a man should ever strike a smaller, weaker, more vulnerable man. The idea that a man should never strike a woman is rooted in chivalry and the special status women were once accorded due to their child-bearing function to the species, making them relatively more valuable to society and, for example, justifying excusing them  from military combat. It proved impossible to maintain these traditions of keeping women as a special and separate breed of human without also accepting the accompanying biases and discrimination that such status appears to support. If women have to be protected and pampered, then they must be less capable, weak, and untrustworthy. Feminism has rejected that trade-off, for sound reasons. But women cannot claim equality and special status at the same time.

Thus, if this woman is threatening me…

Joanna Thomas

or this one…

Strong woman

and I can’t outrun her, I’m going to try to break her nose to slow her down. Don’t tell me that’s not chivalrous; it’s self-defense. Similarly, I don’t think relative genders have anything to do with the right to self-preservation if this relationship turns violent:

huge woman2


Now let’s consider the situation in the video. The aggressor-female is not physically imposing, but she is engaging in egregious bullying behavior, taunting the man, violating his personal space, and engaging in assault. Not only that, but her accomplice is sticking a video in the victim’s face, essentially daring him to respond with excessive force. Should he walk away? Yes, just as he should walk away if this were an aggressive, offensive little man doing the same thing, because avoiding violence is the most ethical course if nothing of substance is being surrendered in the process. He is not ethically obligated to walk away however: chew on this one, “stand your ground”  opponents. Why should anyone be required to yield to someone who abuses, provokes and humiliates him like this, while using the cultural bias against a man striking a woman as a shield for threatening behavior?

Once she touches, him, however, the man is within his rights to protect himself. If that means knocking her down, or out, so be it. He has to be careful not to use excessive force, and juries might not be rational in this sort of confrontation. The law might well find fault with an ethical response here. But if there was ever a bully who deserved to have her lights punched out, this woman is it.

So the answer to the question, “Is it ever ethical for a man to strike a woman?” is unequivocally yes.

This video is a perfect case in point.


Spark, Pointer, Source: The Blaze


92 thoughts on “Should A Man Ever Hit a Woman? Well, It Depends.

  1. 3rd attempt to explain why for me the ‘walk away’ option is the only ethical option (I’ll keep coming back to this until Jack says stop or people stop asking me or until I’m understood, or until I see the light. I don’t expect to be agreed with, only understood. If I’m saying something worth reading. That’s as much as I hope for)

    Scraping aside British idiom and just concentrating on the mechanics in absolute isolation. Looking at the video and all the possible scenarios and ethical set ups that might form a backdrop.

    I submit that there is an agreement to live together peaceably settling all disputes according to ethical principle, law and customary politeness. Once made that is as ethically binding as any contract. And it is made, implicitly.

    In my version of politeness there is an additional obligation to a high degree of Tolerance and proportional treatment of ‘outsiders’ – people who are not bound by politeness. So much so that intentional common assault is not proportional to actual substantive violence. Nor is insult or giving ground or submitting to indignity similarly proportional to violence, these are not rights in my system and there is no basic ethic i can think of why they should be. I can explain the peculiar advantages of this system of additional voluntary contractual duties and rights if everyone sticks to them but i wont here. Just take it for granted for now.

    In the video the peace, and therefore the agreement, are broken by the main offender by means of repeated humiliating insult and provocation. She is impolite.. The moral agent, the man, has a problem. How is he to act ethically?

    He is still bound by his contract to be Tolerant. He need not Tolerate such insults from her both because they are excessive and because she voiluntarily broke the agreement, but the degree of his action is limited by his duty to society as a whole and thus by contractual proportionality. He may not act disproportionately because ‘we don’t do that kind of thing’. He may not kill or torture the woman for ethical reasons. In my version of politeness nor may he hit her, nor use violence to restrain her. If she was actually substantively violent herself that would be different. Self defence would enter the options list. But her assaults are only ‘common’ touching, minimal, pathetic. Not substantive. there is effectively no attack to defend against except insult.

    And thus he must walk away. Ostracising the woman is all he can do. He could stay and trade insults but that is hardly appealing. He has no other ethical option. In the Britain I thought I lived in up to now that would also be an admirable act and the nuclear option as far as the woman’s fate socially goes.

    I think my error, if any, was confusing a particular cultural view of contractual politeness that I have always had, with ethics in absolute terms. But then so did everyone else. It’s just that your code of politeness doesn’t constrain you much but does allow a lot of ‘dignity’ to individuals. You’ve culturally chosen a system that’s light on additional contractual duties, high on contractual rights. I think.

    I ponder that at whatever level there is always such an impliciit agreement in any real society and that the exact nature of politeness set culturally may add to basic ethics by contract. Thus rendering the original question in the Post eternally moot in practice. It all depends. On the prior agreement.

    This willl be anathema to Jack Marshall but there it is.


    • 3rd attempt in more economical language.

      Shift the scene of the action to the sports field. If an opponent gives our guy a ‘sledging’ rising up to a face to face barging provocation I think it must be allowed that his only ethical action is to walk away. If so, just imagine my Britain as a very large sportsfield. Everyone has agreed to a set of rules above and beyond basic ethics. They are ethically binding because each citizen has implicitly given his or her word to abide by them and uphold the ‘good order of the game’, in the civic case the general peace, placing self interest (including of personal dignity) as secondary.

      Phew! There, finally, i think.

      And I’ll bet Jack will still hate it.

      • Jack won’t hate it. You’ve made an argument and supported it. You’ve weighed certain considerations and essentially established the first principles which lead to differing conclusions. Granted you didn’t need to repeat yourself so much. You’ll discover responses come much more delayed after Jack posts more recent topics.

        We disagree on those first principles and can now discuss them. Stay tuned.

        • I’ll stay tuned. To give a clue. I find that what was called ‘dignity’ in our discussions above is perhaps called ‘autonomy’ in the technical ethical treatments of self defence.

      • I like the explanation—I dislike the phenomenon. In such cultures, the strong, the unethical, the bullies, the sociopathic, will game the system, and depend on non-confrontation to get the upper hand, to the detriment of fairness and justice.I have written here several times about the citizen’s duty of confrontation, to oppose wrongdoers so that it is understood that wrongdoing won’t be easy or pleasant. I knew this was a very American cultural norm; I didn’t know that it was so non-British.

        • Jack,

          I don’t know if this is a non-British value as much as a non-Bruce value. I spent quite a lot of time with retired British mercenaries in South Africa (long story that is not pertinent) that were perfectly polite as long as there was no incursion into their personal space. Granted, mercenaries are a very self selecting group of people, but as I noted, as a group, they were very polite.

            • Actually pretty boring. In the early to mid 90’s I split my time there doing mission work and bow hunting. Many of the professional hunters that I encountered in the Southern part of Africa had originally come there as mercenaries in the Angola wars, then the Mozambique wars, then the Zim wars and then stayed there (as I almost did).

        • I spent 30 years in the National Health Service so I may have picked up a particularly strong version of this ethical variant.
          For example, I believe that an NHS nurse continues care though the patient shouts racist and every other kind of abuse. That is the patient is presumed to be coping with fear and pain by getting angry.
          Or it may be that the remainder of my countrymen can’t remember what ‘British’ is or why we stacked the rules of the games, the code of sportsmanship and law that we spread round the world in the way we did.
          We’re supposed to confront offenders, but with an example of character not force, perhaps. Back off and let the ref decide. For the good of the game.

            • Please remember that P.M. Lawrence the ‘1st Brit’ on this blog thinks I’m talking tosh, possibly.

              With a social contract of poiliteness in place it is perhaps more likely than you may think that a referee panel (of the offender, bystander and offendee) may be assembled instantly as the need arises. I think maybe the chances improve if the contract is easiiy understood, easily applied, valuable to both parties and breached unintentionally or unwisely. Politeness or good sportsmanship as a code is easier to apply than ethics or law. Experts at applying the code are on hand for free too. They are sometimes called old people.

              Before you fall over laughing in incredulity, I have seen this done in minor road traffic accidents, moving quickly from shock to anger to a hand shake, and heard of it in the case of street robbery (“if you’re taking the phone at least leave me the SIM card, mate” the SIM card was left.). No one likes to think of themselves as a bad sport, or stupid or ungrateful or rude or evii.

              A extreme example came up recently of the Woolwich Angel who debated two murderers, at the scene, in the street, straight after the crime. She got no admission of culpability in 10-20 minutes talking, but she did make them admit that they hadn’t been entirely clever and got some form of undertaking not to murder again at random until the Police arrived. A complex and odd case but perhaps instructive. She was polite to them, you see. And got them reflecting on what they had done, on a common standard, in this case the standard of good sense..

              (The two men brutally killed and hacked up the body of an off duty soldieir (Mr. Lee Rigby) in broad daylight, in Woolwich, London ‘for Islam’. Most bystanders behaved very badly indeed, three women stepped right up – but not your way. A terrible crime, a shameful crime, a strange crime. I’m a little reluctant to mention it. I’m afraid I have no good source but this should cover the basics)

              • This reminds me of pacifist Philip Berrigan, who risibly argued that WW II might have been averted by passive resistance, citing Gandhi. Gandhi had the advantage of dealing with the British. Hitler would have reduced a Gandhi to a grease spot and never blinked.

                • I do not claim that every wrong doer can be confronted with politeness successfully. It would not work with any rational agent that has an interest set that is entirely antagonistic. And I’ll accept that people can act perversely with regard to their interests at times.
                  But most disputes arise in shared life between reasonable people where the game is ‘non-zero summed’.

                  I do claim that a suitabie contract can limit the number of disputes that go all the way to consideration of basic ethics or law and beyond that to trial by social force or actual combat (that’s partly the point of contracts of any kind I would think).
                  I do also believe that there often is a suitable contract in place (Polite/sportsmanlike) which is advantageous to all, and commonly admired. Also I believe that the virtue of good faith in contract keeping is commonly highly valued, and lack of that virtue a common cause of shame. Thus disputing that contract verbally is simultaneously likely to be accepted by the wrongdoer, likely to give victory to the good and bring true remorse to the culprit.
                  I’ve given some examples. I’ll now add all the successes of Mr Ghandi and all peaceful equitable international dispute resolution and a similar fraction of all informal local dispute resolution.

                  And so in Britain (my Britain anyway) the man may not hit the woman and his only ethical option, that is also tenable, is to walk away. To escalate the confrontation from Battery to outright violence with potential broken bones, black eyes and split lips would be disproportionate and unnecessary and thus unsporting and impolite.

        • I checked some British law and a few cases around this question of self defence and it does seem to me that my position is not entirely Isolated. While I was searching I was lead via wikipedia to the authors George Fletcher and Robert Schopp. Reading around them i came across ‘Right need never give way to Wrong’ and the hypothetical case of shooting a robber stealing apples from your orchard. The root of that ethic is said to be Kant. And that idea of absolute right to be defended absolutely is said to be an influence in American law, concentrating on exact natural rights. Whereas, perhaps, British law mostly defines what others may not do to a citizen rather than what rights the citizen has. And British philosophy is more likely to go to Hobbes than Kant.
          Are these possible roots of the difference between American and Bruceish/British views on this?

            • Yes, I see that, of course. Doh!

              The habitually self-reliant person is both tough and good. He/she has to be to survive. So the ‘good guy’ will often prevail in the use of force, its not an 80/20 match with the odds on the wrong doer any more. More like 75/25 favouring the ‘good guy’. The quick drive to confrontatioin option is then better than slow cautious polite de-escalation. Confrontations that don’t result in a ‘victory by default’ can’t be avoided forever in any case.

              There would be casualties: innocent intruders, immoderate pre-emptive self defence victims, misunderstandings and so on. Also ‘Good guys’ and Pre-habituation ‘apprentice good guys’ would experience high morbidity/mortality, in selecting for and developing the toughest characters. I would think.

              If so, then that’s why you lot are so wedded to your way of thinking. And why I’m wedded to mine.

              Hmmm… If I ever come stateside I will phone ahead and carry a big white flag when I intend as little as stepping on someones driveway. To avoid accidents.
              Thanks for the discussion, I guess that wraps it up.

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