This is not the problem
I once had a boyfriend who held me down on the bed and spit in my face, refusing to let me leave the house. When justifying it later, as he usually spent hours doing, he said it was his only choice since he couldn’t hit me.
Personally, I think I would have rather taken a punch.
That is what I thought about when I watched the recently viral Italian PSA called “Slap Her: Children’s Reactions”.
In the video, young boys are introduced to a girl and asked what they like about her. Later, they are asked to touch her, make funny faces at her, and eventually to slap her. Their reactions are appropriate, and all of them refuse, but their reasoning is quite interesting.
“She is pretty”, “I’m a real man”, and the ever popular “you don’t hit girls.”
This is not the problem.
Domestic violence is not an issue of men never having heard that they shouldn’t hit women before. It isn’t as if there are abusers out there who just need to hear this phrase and suddenly the problem is fixed. Everyone got the memo. This isn’t a messaging problem.
Ray Rice isn’t the product of a missed commercial viewing.
In fact, I think videos like this one are dangerously close to doing more harm than good.
This is what actually happens in the video, and the message we are subtly sending out.
Here, young boys, let me present you with a young female that you should comment on. Take notice, that they ALL comment about her looks. Not “I like that she is a person”, or “I like that she seems kind- or full of ideas- or smart-or anything except how she looks.” Now, touch her. Don’t worry about asking, because she is just a pretty girl, make everyone here feel uncomfortable and touch her. Finally, slap her. Sure, you just met her, yes you are on national television, and yes you are completely calm and not in the middle of a raging fight with her, but slap her.
Of course they say no, and of course that is a good thing. But this isn’t the problem.
The problem is so much deeper than this artificial crack, but we can see some glimpses of it during these 3 minutes and 20 seconds.
The problem is that we teach people to judge girls and women on how they look. Not just to judge, but to comment as well. The problem is we see nothing wrong with touching girls and women, as if their bodies belong to us. The problem is we don’t think of women as people, with diverse feelings, beliefs, values and decision making capabilities.
Be pretty. Let strangers touch you. Don’t get slapped.
I wasn’t pretty when I had saliva dripping down my face, nor was I pretty when I was screaming at my boyfriend 5 minutes before that. Pretty couldn’t have saved me.
I was still a person though. With dreams that were slowly dying, fears that were destroying every day of my life, and a boyfriend who knew you weren’t supposed to hit women.
This is not the problem.