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Young boys saying “no” doesn’t end domestic violence

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January 9, 2015

An Italian viral video entitled “From a Slap” has been continuously showing up on my newsfeed this week with comments like “This gives me faith in humanity!” and “This is the cutest thing!”

I wish I could say I agree, but I can’t.

If you aren’t familiar with the video I’m referring to “Dalle uno Schiaffo” which roughly translates to “From a Slap” is the work of Italian news website Fanpage.it  and creator Luca Iavarone. The video, shot in a participatory documentary style, focuses on five young boys between the ages of 7 and 11 and their interactions with a young girl named Martina.

The film begins with an off-screen voice asking the boys their names, ages and what they want to be when they grow up, but once Martina is introduced things start to change.

The assumption is made when the off-screen voice introduces her that the boys do not previously know Martina, and when the introduction is made all they are given is her name.

The voice then launches into a list of questions and commands directed at the boys about Martina.

The seemingly innocent “What do you like about her?” quickly evolves into the more commanding, “Now, caress her!”, which the boys do, some more shyly than others.

Keep in mind that Martina except for making a few facial expressions hasn’t verbalized anything this entire time

The film’s climax comes when the boys are then instructed by the voice to slap Martina and they all refuse to do so. When asked why they did not they have different responses:

“Because she’s a girl!”

“I don’t want to hurt her.”

“Jesus doesn’t want us to hurt others.”

“Because I’m against violence.”

“Because I’m a man!”

Obviously the film was intended to deliver a message against domestic violence and do so in a way that simultaneously tugs at our heartstrings. I feel however that this video failed in multiple ways that maybe aren’t so obvious the first time you watch it.

  1.  What stuck out to me from the beginning was the failure to teach about consent in any form. Martina is a stranger and disregarding that the boys immediately followed the structure of compliment, make her laugh, then caress her, all without asking permission. To me it perpetuates the notion that complimenting and “talking up” women, whether you know them or not, whether they want to remain in the conversation or not, automatically then makes it okay to break a woman’s personal space and touch her in a way that you may feel effectively communicates your attraction to her, but frankly she may not want.
  2.  Equally as frightening is that Martina is not given any agency in the film what so ever. She’s reduced to something meant for the boys to objectify from the very beginning as they’re coaxed to point out which of her physical features they like best. Obviously the focus is intentionally placed on the boys so we can follow their behavior. Then we are expected to reward them at the end for not physically abusing someone they find pretty and nothing more than that since they know nothing else about Martina as a person. This then as a result teaches the boys that the only reason it is wrong to hit Martina is because she is conventionally attractive.
  3. I struggled with a lot of the responses the boys had as to why they knew it was wrong to hit Martina. Two responses that go hand in hand are “because she’s a (pretty girl)” and “because I’m a man.” Those responses in particular immediately credit strict gender roles as to why they boys did not strike her. They insinuate that one, only attractive women are worthy of respect, and two, that only “real” men do not hit women. In fact the “real’ men character is the crux for this video. It survives on the hope that viewers will make the connection that these little boys are “more of a man” than the so-called men who perpetuate violence against women” as Dr. Rebecca Hains explains. The trouble with this view is that the men who do commit acts of violence against women are no less real then the men who don’t. Again the focus is put on men and what it means to “be a man” which in this case means fulfilling the protector of women role, instead of the mere fact that you do not hit Martina because she is a person with value or as one boy put it “Because I don’t want to hurt her.”
  4. For all of the video’s focus on the harm of domestic violence it does not offer any solution to the problem. Not even so much as a statistic graces the end of the video only the words “In the kids’ world, women don’t get hit.” A nice sentiment I suppose but without a concrete solution they’re just empty words. What is Fanpage.it you may ask? Well it’s not an organization meant to raise awareness, their goal according to the webpage was to “acquire and engage.”  They say that the language the children used is not of importance because they could pick up that language anywhere such as school, parents, church etc. What is important they say is the boy’s refusal to obey the authoritative figure that was the off camera voice.

The video itself is very problematic, as Dr. Hains said it “objectifies girls, exploits boys, and trivializes domestic violence.” I stress this so much but it is more important than ever to maintain a critical eye while consuming media such as this. It’s so easy to buy into the marketing of it all. Even as a Bustle article attempted to deconstruct the issues with the video it too fell short in my opinion saying “it’s also important not to derail the conversation the video introduces.”

The bottom line is if you’re unable to deconstruct the problems within the video itself then whatever subsequent conversation about domestic violence that results would be shallow. Stopping an entire culture that perpetuates violence against women cannot be done by simply saying no when it is most easy to do so.

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