(WOMENSENEWS)– Times are changing. Girls aren’t so "girly" anymore.

Perhaps it began with early female action figures. Perhaps with "Charlie’s Angels." Or maybe with scores of elementary girls playing soccer, or with older girls playing contact sports at elite levels.

Most likely we will never know exactly how or when it became okay to talk about female aggression–female-to-female aggression and female-to-male aggression. Whatever its origins, this new narrative is challenging the once omnipresent scenario of the male violent aggressor–passive female victim scenario. It is now increasingly acceptable to talk openly about female aggression and to conduct serious research on this topic.

The Truth about Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes about Our ChildrenWe now know that women-on-women aggression is far from rare and that women are often the initiators of male-female aggression. Surveys of U.S. households have found rates of wife-to-husband violence "remarkably similar" to those of husband-to-wife violence. And an early cross-cultural survey did not find that men were significantly more aggressive than women.

Aggression, as opposed to anger, conveys an intent to hurt or harm and can be expressed physically, verbally or by withdrawing. There is general agreement that men exhibit higher levels of physical aggression than women, but the differences are small to moderate. After a thorough review of the literature on who initiates violence in couples, Murray Straus, of the University of New Hampshire, reports: "It is painful to have to recognize the high rate of domestic assaults by women. All six major studies which have investigated this topic found that women initiate violence in a large proportion of the cases."

Research Example

love is not abuseFor example, of the 495 couples in a 1985 National Family Violence Survey for whom one or more assaults were reported by a female respondent, the man was the only violent partner in 25. 9 percent of the cases, the woman was the only one to be violent in 25. 5 percent of the cases and both were violent in 48.6 percent of the cases. Of 446 women who reported that they were involved in violent relationships, their partners struck the first blow in 42 percent of the cases. The women hit first in 53 percent of the cases, and they could not remember who hit first in the remaining cases.

The great difference here is that women are far more often seriously hurt or killed than men. A woman may start a fight with a slap, which is mildly painful to the man, but he retaliates by punching her and throwing her against the wall, breaking her jaw.

But it is important to recognize that although men are predominantly the murderers, rapists and batterers in human society, relatively few men ever perpetrate these acts. If you discount the extremely violent behavior of those few, the behavior of most men resembles that of most women.

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Excerpted from "The Truth About Girls and Boys" by Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett. Copyright copyright 2011 Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett. Used by arrangement with Columbia University Press.

Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett are also authors of "Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children and Our Jobs" (Basic Books 2004). Barnett is senior scientist at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University and Rivers is a professor of journalism at Boston University.

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