'Slap her' video: Will it stop violence towards women?

When young Italian boys are asked to slap a girl, they say 'no.' Is this video and the No More domestic violence video sending the right message? 

Fanpage.it screenshot

What happens when you ask a young boy to slap a girl?

If you haven’t seen it on your newsfeed yet, a viral Italian video from Fanpage.it addresses this question when a group of Italian boys, ages 7 to 11, are asked to slap a young girl named Martina. Their answer? A universal ‘No!’

This is the latest video designed to stop violence against women by raising the profile of the topic and prompting a wider conversation.  In this case, the implied message is that even a young boy knows it's wrong to hit girls, that violence is unacceptable behavior. Real men don't hit women. 

For many, it's the kind of video that restores one's faith in humanity. So far, the video has already received nearly 8 million views on YouTube. But 'Slap her,' and another high-profile video campaign aimed at stopping domestic violence, have drawn critics. 

Another domestic violence video campaign starts from the premise that this is an emotionally difficult topic. On Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 27, 2014) , a series of NO MORE domestic violence public service announcements aired during NFL broadcasts such as CBS, FOX, and NBC. Titled 'Speechless,' the video series featured current and former NFL players rendered speechless by the powerful emotions raised by such a painful topic. It's continues to air during televised NFL football games. 

NO MORE states on their website that these PSAs were designed to bring sexual assault and domestic violence to the forefront of people’s minds and begin a conversation that has been taboo for decades while revealing “the depth to which we are all affected by these crimes.” They began appearing shortly after the widely publicized incident involving NFL player Ray Rice who was captured on video knocking his then fiancee unconscious in a hotel elevator. The NFL was sharply criticized for its handling of the incident.

On their website, NO MORE explains the intent of its PSA series was to raise awareness about a topic that renders many "speechless."  However, critics claim that any violence is wrong, and that shouldn't be a "difficult" conversation. Is the internal struggle depicted in the videos a powerful truth, or is it framing the issue in a way that damages further progress?

Some critics of the ‘Slap her’ video say that it only perpetuates gender stereotypes, emphasizing that it’s not right to hit pretty girls, when the message should be that you should not hit anyone, regardless of their looks or gender. Rebecca Hains, author, professor, and speaker on children's media culture, points out that while it is clearly inappropriate to hit the Italian girl, the video sends the message that it is OK to “caress” her when prompted. The video "objectifies" the girl, says Ms. Hains.

This sequence is unsettling because boys should be taught that girls’ bodily autonomy is of paramount importance. Given the problems with sexual assault and other forms of violence against women that pervade our world, one of our top priorities should be teaching boys to only touch girls who wish to be touched by them, and sends message that it's OK to touch women without their consent.

According to a statement released by the World Health Organization, published in the Lancet medical journal, one in three women globally has been a victim of either physical or sexual violence by a partner. 

“Yet, despite increased global attention to violence perpetrated against women and girls, and recent advances in knowledge about how to tackle these abuses, levels of violence against women – including intimate partner violence, rape, female genital mutilation, trafficking, and forced marriages—remain unacceptably high, with serious consequences for victims’ physical and mental health,” WHO said.

With videos like ‘Slap her’ and ‘Speechless’ making the rounds, more people are engaging with the subject, at least superficially. Be it violence against women, or violence in general, such videos may trigger more discussions. Feministing, in a blog post, suggests there is a need for an open, gender-balanced approach:

“If we really want to see off domestic violence, we need to dispense with the gender stereotypes, and open up a frank – and likely uncomfortable – debate about the role that gender has to play in its continued existence.”

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