Off the top of my head, I can think of the three movies that have a woman who punched a man in the face for a laugh. These are modern movies. Captain America, Frozen and 10 Things I Hate About You (this last one is a little old but still the third one that popped into my head). This is not a dead and gone phenomenon. If I gave it some more thought, I’m sure that many more movies would come to mind. It makes me wonder: am I the only person that thinks this sets girls up for a pretty bad expectation to be able to hit a man without consequence?
I’m not saying a man “should” hit a woman back after she has punched him. I’m not saying he “shouldn’t.” But why is a man getting hit in the first place?
In the first of the above named movies, a female officer hits a male subordinate. She does this in a movie that takes place in a time when violence was well practiced toward subordinate troops. There was a very sexist exchange, she proved her placement in the hierarchy with it. While it can be understood as possibly commonplace for that time, not many people will see that when watching the scene. This is especially true because no other person in authority hits any other subordinate in the movie. Okay, the Red Skull kills a bunch of people that were technically in his same army, but that was to establish how much of a bad guy he was. This further mucks up the intent of the first punch.
In 10 Things I Hate About You the punch comes after the man punched another man hard enough to fall on the floor. It’s arguably in defense of her boyfriend that she punches the other guys the first time. Oh yes, for those who haven’t seen this movie, she hits him twice more after he has stopped his aggression towards her boyfriend. Watch carefully.
The last one was a knee in the sack, sure, but that doesn’t change that it was physical aggression for a laugh. Why is it funny?
In Frozen, Anna stops Kristoff from going toward Hans and then punches him into the water after a brief exchange. He did almost slice her to pieces five seconds earlier when trying to cut her sister’s head off. But they did it for a laugh.
Why is it funny?
This is a question that will have different answers for everybody. The first part of the reaction that most people have is probably the same surprise that comes with any sudden punch. It’s probably the same thing that made things like this so popular:
That being said, why didn’t they just let Kristoff hit Hans? Why didn’t Cameron just bounce back and hit Joey back in the face? Is it because those instances would have made it look like the women needed to be rescued? Are we telling girls that the ability to show un-reciprocated physical aggression towards a man is what makes her not a “damsel in distress?” I will also note that these instances can’t be called domestic violence because none of the women are in intimate relationships with the men they hit. Perhaps that is what makes the difference.
But, then, why is it so hard to think of a movie where a woman is hit with the purpose of getting a laugh? (Note that there is a woman in the SNL skit above, but just one) Maybe it’s just a shortsighted media memory, but the only time I can think of physical aggression towards women in a movie is to illustrate how much of a bad guy the aggressor is. None of these women were villainous, nor were these moments portrayed that way. It was for a laugh.
So why do we think it’s funny?