Social Conditioning: Women & Violence, Part I – Tammy Yard-McCracken, Pys.D.

An opening disclaimer is important: research, hard science, is difficult to find on this topic. Ethics as they are on human research prevents us from setting up attacks on a randomized sampling pool of unsuspecting, uninformed women. The ethical guidelines on human research are there for a reason. The result? What follows is based on anecdotal evidence, personal reports, my experiences and campfire stories passed along by people I respect. There will be bias in these words.

Setting the Context

A few years ago the news reported an 18-year-old woman fatally shooting a male intruder. She was at home with her infant when the home invasion began. She barricaded the door, called 911 and 20 minutes later, two assailants finally made entry. Just before they broke through her barricade, she asked the 911 Operator if it was okay if she shot them if they came through the door. Dispatch couldn’t “advise”, but when they made it inside her home, she fired and killed one. The other one took off (Gast, 2012).

Side Note: the dispatcher was not new on the job. She crafted her words carefully to avoid giving advice while telling the frightened woman to do what was necessary to protect “that baby”. Good on her.

A few weeks later a mom in her late thirties hid in a closet with her 9-year-old twins after calling her husband to say she thought someone was trying to break into the house. The intruder made entry, rummaged through personal belongings, and eventually opened the closet door. She fired. 5 times (Reese, 2013). As the events unfold the husband is calling 911 while he keeps his frightened spouse on the phone. He is recorded by the 911 Operator saying:

“She shot him. She’s shooting him, she’s shooting him…again.”

“I heard him pleading…He was screaming.”

These are examples of armed responses to violent action and imminent threat. Look past the use of a firearm and look at the behavior of these women. Retreat. Hide. Call for help. Wait. Ask for permission to act.

There is a decent correlation between the rate of adrenalization and gender. Women adrenalize more slowly than men as a whole, giving women time to plan before the higher level thinking skills go off line. Tobi Beck (Beck, 1992) gives credence to it in the book, The Armored Rose, and those anecdotal and personal experiences I was talking about back her up. If the correlation has a biological underpinning, it may partially explain the WHY both women delayed in using lethal force. It does not adequately explain the WHAT in their tactical choices. These women were armed and they chose to:

  • Barricade/buy time
  • Call someone for direction
  • Ask for permission to act
  • Retreat
  • Hide
  • Wait

Here are a few more.

Mother of two walking to her car. Sunday afternoon, sunny day, “good neighborhood”. Two men are in the area of her vehicle. One smiles, is this your car? Can I ask you a question about it? She smiles back, even though she doesn’t feel friendly and says she’s in a hurry but “what’s your question?”

Gun drawn, kidnapped and carjacked. Twelve hours later in a sudden stroke of something resembling a conscience one of them let’s her escape.

18-year-old woman trying to untangle herself with polite smiles and excuses about being poor dating material gets pulled down on his knee. Unnecessarily strong grip holds her there. Sit here, be my good luck charm in the poker game, baby. Forcing a smile, she complies and then leaves as soon as she can do it without making a scene. Quietly tries to slip out of the party and gets to her car. He’s there too, asks for a ride home. She knows something isn’t right but he’s stranded, his buddy is passed out drunk and he’s gotta’ get up early for work.

Gives her directions to a remote neighborhood and rapes her.

One more (although there are thousands of these to be had). Pumping gas in her personal vehicle mid-morning after her run as an elementary school bus driver, a distressed woman approaches. The woman has a black eye and looks a little frantic. I’m so sorry, I know I look horrible. I’m running. My boyfriend beat me and I’m trying to get away. I have a bus ticket but can’t get to the station – I almost have enough for the cab. I need, like 5 bucks…can you help?

Suspicious, but doesn’t want to be one of those people who looks away. A sister needs help. Nods and reaches into the car for her purse. Something hard slams into the side of her face and knocks her to the ground. The forlorn female in distress grabs the purse and takes off.

How and Why It Matters

These three incidents share commonalities and together with the two home invasions, the five cases help to highlight social scripts and cultural rules that drive female behavior in most post-modern societies.

  • Defer
  • Wait
  • Be polite
  • Smile (when she doesn’t feel like it)
  • Appear cooperative
  • Be helpful and compassionate
  • Subjugate personal need and intuition to someone else when the two conflict

Bullet list #1 + Bullet list # 2 =

  • Physical/Violent Action requires permission from an outside authority
  • Deflect, defer, wait, buy time, retreat
  • Be polite even when it isn’t warranted
  • Smile (you’re so much prettier that way, anyway)
  • Be helpful
  • Be cooperative
  • Be compassionate
  • Be quiet (and hide)
  • Everyone else’s needs/expectations are more important

Welcome to the Cliff Notes review of How To Be Female in Western Society, 101.

Martially trained women, if you are reading this, a part of you may look at the above list and argue. “No, not me. I know better.” Intellectual awareness and physical training will not override a couple decades of social programming if you refuse to acknowledge it lives in your thinking. If you won’t consider it, if you are certain none of the bullet points could possibly apply to you, it is a dangerous blind spot.

Force professionals, you may be tempted look at these examples with an eye toward identifying all the places each of these women screwed up.  You are ticking off the behaviors that made her the perfect mark and the voice in your head may say, “she should have known better”.

And that’s the point. The behaviors and underlying beliefs that make a female an easy target are created by the social rules and expectations she has been marinating in from moment of her birth. This isn’t news and people like Gavin DeBecker have been writing about it for years (DeBecker, 1997).  

End Part I.


Beck, T. (1992). The armored rose, the physiology and psychology of women fighting in the SCA.  Beckenham Publications, Avon IN.

Brizendine, L. (2006) The female brain.  Morgan Publishing,

DeBecker, G. (1997). The gift of fear. Dell Publishing, NY, New York.

Gast, P. (2012) Oklahoma mom-calling 911 asks if shooting an intruder is allowed. Retrieved from

Reese. R. (2013). Georgia mom shoots home invader, hiding with her children. Retrieved from

Wong, Q. (2013). Gender and emotion in everyday event memory. Memory. 2013;21(4):503-11. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2012.743568. Epub 2012 Nov 28.


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