At the risk of being controversial, I’m going to state a fact that is basically not up for debate.
Hitting your partner is not okay. In fact, hitting anyone is not particularly okay, but partner violence is absolutely, one hundred percent, not okay. It’s also not something most people find funny.
The sexist ‘Boyfriend Trainer’ app hasn’t yet provoked the reaction from Apple that other content has, like naked photos, because at the time of writing, the app has yet to be blocked or removed. Perhaps naked bodies are offensive but domestic violence isn’t? Perhaps it’s because it’s a joke: domestic violence isn’t funny, unless you make a joke out of it, and then it’s funny?
Or perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that it shows women beating up men. That’s not a coincidence; it’s the whole “joke.” Men are supposed to be able to handle being beaten up by a girl – after all, she’s just a girl, right? “You hit like a girl,” “you throw like a girl,” and “you run like a girl” are constantly reheated as insults; it’s not surprising if some people absorb the message that if a woman hits a man it’s not a serious thing.
Even critical coverage of the app – for instance, this piece in the Daily Telegraph – claims there is “no actual violence,” which seems a strange thing to say when the app encourages the user to “whack him” and “slap him silly.” Whacking and slapping is violence. Yes, even if you’re just a girl, and you’re doing it to a big tough man. It’s still violence.
It’s not just the trivialisation of partner violence which seems wrong; the things the user is encouraged to beat the digital boyfriend up for are crude, immature stereotypes of what men do, and of what women want them to do.
It’s not surprising that the app seems to be garnering pretty bad reviews so far; most women are not scolding nags who want to spray mace on a man if he dances with someone else, and most women do not want to hit men for leaving their clothes on the floor. (Certainly not this woman; hanging and folding is a kind of optional extra in my house.)
Despite the outrage from Men’s Rights Activists this silly app is just as sexist in its assumptions about women as it is about men. The whole premise of the joke is based around the idea that women are controlling bitches, obsessed with fidelity, housework, and control, while men are messy, lazy, and surreptitiously trying to eye up women all around you unless you keep them on a leash, like a pet. In spite of this, it’s become an excuse for misogynistic rants about feminism amongst Men’s Rights Activists; as if the same people who find this app funny are the same people who campaign against the trivialisation of violence against women.
One comment on Paul Elam’s A Voice for Men forum complains: “They would scream bloody murder if the roles were reversed in this game. But beatin up guys is 'just good fun' to them, I guess.” Another one, clearly an ardent critic of sexism, writes: “Women and their PMS, great excuse for some women to go mental.”
It might not matter much but “activists” like these don’t just campaign for men’s issues to be taken more seriously; they’ve actively campaigned against things like the re-authorisation of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in America. Elam responded to the growing feminist movement in India by complaining that India is a society in which “only women are regarded as human”; something he blames of “the effects of feminism and misandry”. He describes it as a country where “immoral women gone drunk and stupid with power, counting on the fact that the men still regard them as untouchable.” No wonder he thinks feminism has gone too far in the UK and America.
But the irony is that sexism is a cycle, and sexism against both genders feeds off itself. Sexism against men is facilitated by sexism against women; sexism against women is justified by sexism against men. So-called “jokes” like this app serve to remind us that it’s in no-one’s interests to keep perpetuating myths and stereotypes that come along with a patriarchal culture. Feminism is not a question of men versus women; it’s a question of whether you are okay with sexism or not.