A viral video called “Slap Her” is going around Facebook. It features five young Italian boys who are introduced to a young girl named Martina. Luca Lavarone, the videographer, instructs the boys to do a number of things to Martina: say what they like about her, “caress her,” make funny faces at her, and then — finally — to “slap her hard.”
You can watch it here:
The video is getting talked up all over the Internet as cute, adorable, and heart-warming because — surprise — the five young boys don’t want to slap a pretty girl they don’t know — that they just met — in public while on camera. Somehow that demonstrates the goodness of humanity. Because actual violence against women is comparable to slapping pretty girls you don’t know — that you’ve just met — in public while on camera?
But underneath this supposedly feel-good veneer — and all the media attention about how positive its anti-violence against women message is (which is questionable in itself due to harmful gender messages) — is the disturbing middle part of the video: where the boys are told to “caress her.” Not a single boy refuses. Not a single boy asks Martina if she’s ok with them doing so. They just go ahead and touch her. They touch her despite the fact that she looks visibly uncomfortable with the situation.
While I believe violence against women absolutely needs to be addressed, it needs to be addressed intersectionally. It cannot be addressed by pushing against physical violence against women while encouraging sexual violence against women. (Not to mention its misguided message that you don’t slap women simply because of gender. Where does that leave gay boys? Trans* boys? Trans* girls? Would these boys be ok with slapping another boy if he wore pink… simply because he was not a “girl”?) And by presenting the “caress her” moment as somehow as innocuous and innocent as the “make a funny face her” moment, it’s communicating that it’s ok to touch women without their consent — which is a foundational aspect of sexual violence against women.
It’s actually rather chilling, if you think about it: these young boys wouldn’t hit a pretty girl that they don’t know — that they just met — in public while on camera — but —
But they would “caress” a pretty girl they don’t know — that they just met — in public and on camera without her consent.
Without further background information, that’s what the video communicates — and that should be alarming for anyone watching the video. Clearly we have a long ways to go to teach young people around the world that women’s bodies belong to themselves and no one has a right to touch them without permission, even if they are asked to do so by an authority figure behind a camera. They should be just as appalled by such a suggestion as if they were asked to “slap her hard.” In this video they are not, which is exactly the problem.
P.S. I am sure someone will read this and object that Martina was probably thoroughly aware of the video’s script and thus consented ahead of time to potentially being caressed. If such an objection is raised, then I must point out that she would have also been aware of the potential of being slapped — and thus rendering the whole point of the video moot other than for educational purposes. And if the video is only to educate, then it should be educating about both physical and sexual violence against women — which it failed to do.