I approached the BBC3 documentary ‘The Rise of Female Violence’ with curiosity, not really knowing what to expect. Alys Harte presents the programme and speaks to victims of domestic abuse committed by women, perpetrators of violent acts, bouncers outside nightclubs and members of all-female gangs who take part in organised crime. There is a big focus on the influence of alcohol on testosterone levels in women, leading to more aggressive behaviour. Shockingly, there is speculation that the contraceptive pill causes an even higher rise in the hormone in women.
Leeds featured heavily in the show as Izzy, one of the violent women convicted thirty times for aggressive behaviour and attacks, spent her University years here. She told Harte it became normal for her to wake up in a police cell, with no memory of how she had got there. Clearly binge drinking can bring out some awful behaviour in men and women, but the programme was concerned with the problems excessive drinking causes in women.
Another important issue raised was the differing views on domestic violence depending on whether the man or woman is the victim. We are introduced to Simon, brutally stabbed in the arm by his wife Crystal, who received a sentence of nine years for grievous bodily harm. In the domestic sphere, we might condemn this easily in court cases and the media, but when this is played out in the street, troublingly, our response is much more different. A simple social experiment revealed people generally are more likely to intervene in attacks against females in a relationship. But aggression of equal force – a single slap in the face – by a woman towards a man barely causes a second glance. Several people followed the couple when the woman had been hit to make sure she was safe and verbally condemned the man, but when the man was being abused the situation was seen as humorous by passers-by and infuriatingly no-one felt the need to help.
Many of the middle-aged women Harte spoke to had violent adolescent years. Sharing difficult childhoods, usually involving sexual abuse and neglect, they grew up in a violent household or lived with parents with criminal convictions, mental illnesses or absence of one parent or both. Perhaps we cannot excuse such violence, but with a tough background, it is understandable that such an upbringing could lead a young person down the wrong path, whether they’re female or male.
The documentary finishes with the message that young women are going to be wasting away their lives in jail if they continue to get into these pointless fights over petty issues, whether it be after the consumption of alcohol or not. I had a realisation that as a society we need to stop the damage we are doing to our bodies and change our behaviour when we drink heavily, and secondly that we cannot continue to perceive women as unlikely perpetrators of violence, simply due to their gender. I would strongly recommend The Rise of Female Violence as an eye-opening documentary with an interesting and important comment on public perceptions of violence, and the changing patterns of female behaviour in the UK.
Image: BBC Three.