Calgary Herald

Thursday 20 April 2000

Research shows women can be as beastly as men

Ilana Mercer, Calgary Herald

The clodhopper's traipse across the Middle East that Prime Minister Jean Chretien performed was replete with the seasoned word salads and assorted political malapropisms. One of the PM's less vexing statements, I guess, was his call to stop honour killings in the area. I grew up not far from a Palestinian village called Tira. My stepfather, a Jewish doctor whose life's work was in these villages, was called on routinely and clandestinely to repair ruptured hymens to prevent the murder of an "unchaste" girl by the males in her family.

Like all violence against women, to Chretien, this brutality is but another example of the patriarchy at work. Or is it? The PM's administration certainly holds fast to this outsized construct, preferring to blame alleged violence against women in Canada on the patriarchy, rather than put it down, such that it is, to measurable and documented causal factors.

Chretien's handmaidens at Status of Women have an eye's view on violence in relationships, which admits only of woman as oppressed, male as oppressor.

The Zeitgeist concurs.

While it is agreed women can be as smart, as ambitious, even as lusty as men, when the baser instincts are concerned, men and women somehow part company.

Female aggression is only ever in self-defence, and female Medea-like impulses solely the result of PMS, battered woman syndrome, post-partum depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or whatever the fashionable excuse happens to be.

Harking back to the extreme example of honour killings: a clampdown on such crime would have to target village women with their executioner men. For when studying female aggression in the Palestinian Authority, anthropologist Ilsa Glaser observed that "women acted as instigators and collaborators in these murders, unleashing a torrent of gossip that spurred the accusations."

I am not here suggesting preparing the grounds for murder is tantamount to taking a life, but the fact remains women are in on the act. What is true, though, is women's aggression is different to that of men, which explains why it's so easy to misconstrue.

From an early age, women opt for underhanded and manipulative strategies, such as bullying, name calling, excommunicating and gossiping, to achieve their ends.

With Karla Homolka, you stare into the maw of evil. Yet, Homolka hasn't quite graduated in public opinion, or at least in the media, to murderess and rapist. One reporter has even offered her up as a "killer's helper."

The woman who combined with feral gusto an active social life with the dedicated activity of abduction, murder and rape has not even received the kind of treatment befitting a dangerous sex offender. This is because she is not considered one. Homolka is a recipient of a jailhouse protocol called "Improving Your Inner Self." By her own admission, this New Age fatuity has helped her "get rid of mistrust, self-doubt and misplaced guilt."

The reason this monster gets to grow her already-gargantuan sense of self while incarcerated is because the consensus in North American psychological circles is that pharaphilias (sexual disorders) in women are practically non-existent. Thus, Homolka is not considered a sadist or a sexual deviant and her recidivism is deemed unlikely. Clearly, it is going to take some time for perceptions to alter, but research has begun to unveil sexual deviance in women, indicating paraphilias might be far more prevalent than previously thought.

Nowhere are the myths about female pacifism more robust than in family violence orthodoxy. According to Ferrel Christensen, Ph.D., of the department of philosophy at the University of Alberta, there are "over a hundred sociological surveys conducted with mathematical randomness" that show systematically that "women assault their partners as often as, or more often than, men do."

The fact women are more likely to be injured in domestic altercations points to differences in physical strength between men and women, not in culpability.

Finally, evolutionary insight is at hand from the scholar Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. In her book Mother Nature: A history of mothers, infants and natural selection, Hrdy shows the maternal instinct, which supposedly elevates women above men, is not as natural as mother's milk.

In primate species, mothers are known to reward males who kill their young by soliciting copulations with them. And there are many conditions in the wild under which mothers abandon and cannibalize the young.

If, like me, you are not fond of extrapolating from mice to men, then Hrdy supplies human parallels of "sex-selective infanticide in several of the world's cultures."

Here, as in the Palestinian territory, women are willing participants.

Ilana Mercer's column appears Thursdays. Contact her at

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