If you’ve been online anywhere in the last week or so, you’ve probably come across this video:
Adorable Italian boys are introduced to a beautiful young woman, and ultimately told to slap her. Because the world is not entirely awful, the boys refuse.
That doesn’t mean this video is beyond criticism.
I think it had good intentions and that we lost some context (hitting women with flowers wha?) bringing it from Italian culture to our own. That said, it’s still loaded with problems.
The girl in the video is clearly a couple years older most of the boys interviewed. She’s tall, slim, beautiful, made-up, and silent. The unseen narrator asks the boys what they like about her; they respond her eyes, her hair, her hands, or “everything!” She smiles and giggles obligingly at them. Feeling skeeved out yet?
You will now! Because the narrator next instructs them to “caress” the girl. The boys hesitate, but awkwardly obey, and maybe it’s just me, but the girl looks like she wants this whole thing to be over soon.
Eventually, we get to the main event: the narrator tells the boys to slap her, hard.
And they refuse! The music swells, the boys smile adorably. The narrator asks them why they won’t slap her.
First two answers out of their mouths (or maybe first answers chosen by the editors, not sure which is more disheartening): “because she’s a girl.”
Cue sad trombone.
Other answers range from “I’m against violence” to “I’m a man” to “I don’t want to hurt her.” Only three of the answers correspond to the right answer, which is “because it’s wrong to hit.” Not “it’s wrong to hit women,” not “it’s wrong to hit girls,” just “it’s wrong to hit.”
The young woman remains silent through the whole thing.
This is probably where macho Italian culture comes into play because the final reason they give for not hitting the young woman is “because I’m a man,” the underlying message being something along the lines of “real men don’t hit women.” But since this video was intentionally designed to go viral, one would hope that the producers aim higher than to simply shame the local men watching into behaving better. Considering one of the first things we teach our children is “don’t hit,” a global message saying the same doesn’t seem like too tall an order.
In her article, Ijeoma Olou sums it up perfectly:
“In this video they brought a young woman in front of boys, had her appraised like an object, instructed the men to violate her personal space — all while she remained smiling and silent.”
“You don’t hit women — not because they are women, not because they are “delicate”, not because they are beautiful, not because they are nice, not because they are “yours. You don’t hit women because you don’t hit people and women are people.”
What if the girl had been unattractive, or argumentative, or dismissive? What if the producers hadn’t built up the girl’s value as an object of affection before issuing the order to hurt her?
And did the boys go for the kiss? Did she let them? How much agency did she really have in the production of this video?
Of course I’m glad the issue of domestic violence has been raised, but when it comes to actually making a difference and raising awareness, I think the discussion that follows will ultimately have more value.