Women as active agents: Female perpetrators of sexual harassment and domestic abuse.

Douglass, Melanie Dawn, D'Aguanno, Sofia and Jones, Sophie (2020) Women as active agents: Female perpetrators of sexual harassment and domestic abuse. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 14 (1). pp. 32-49. ISSN 2330-2925

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ebs0000171


Beginning with Darwin’s theory of sexual selection, evolutionary psychology has been dominated by the view that women are the “choosy sex” and, through intrasexual competition, males the “aggressive sex”. This view was supported by seminal works (e.g. Buss et al., 1990; Clark & Hatfield, 1989), which formed the basis of a considerable body of work. Moreover, they lent credence to the popular view that women are less interested in the sexual side of human relationships, instead being focused on protection and stability. Combined with the notion that males are the dominant/aggressive sex, the literature has therefore insufficiently examined female aggression. When female aggression does occur, it is often viewed as a retaliation against male aggression (i.e. self-defence), rather than an as active strategy used by a small, but not insignificant proportion of women. The focus on male aggression and female self-defence not only deprives women of agency, it also means that their victims are not taken as seriously, and rehabilitation programmes for female offenders are scarce. This paper will discuss evidence that women act aggressively, focusing on why and when women engage in sexual harassment and domestic abuse. It will seek to establish the underlying mechanisms for such strategies (e.g. the personality traits associated with increased aggression in women), which future research should explore. Moreover, because, historically, the evolutionary literature has taken a heteronormative approach, female aggression will be examined in the context of diverse human relationships.

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