Objectification and consent among children

Several of my friends have posted the now-viral video of the young Italian boys and their response to violence against a peer:

Many descriptions I’ve read have used words like “refreshing” or “heartwarming” to describe the young children’s reactions to the directive to slap the girl, named Martina, whom they have just met. Neither of these words came to my mind at any point during the video.

My thoughts:

a) The boys were asked what they liked about Martina. Presumably, none of them had met prior to the video, so the boys chose physical attributes: eyes, hair, all of her. One boy professed his desire to be her boyfriend, based solely on her looks. This may seem sweet because they are kids, but this introduction reinforces the notion that a woman’s most important attributes are those that can easily be seen. In a word: objectification.

ii) The boys are initially reluctant to caress Martina, but all of them follow through on the directive. None of them asked the girl if it was alright to touch her arm or (more intimately) her face. Seeing as sexual assault and street harassment are ongoing problems around the world, consent is a concept it is never too early to address. I teach my students to ask before every hug from a peer, before offering a helping hand with a walker or a wheelchair. I challenge parents who share and post this video to have an age-appropriate conversation with their children about whether or not it was appropriate for the boys to touch the girl on the face without her permission (hint: it isn’t).

3) Several of the boys refuse to hit Martina simply because she is a girl. This may seem noble, but it serves to reinforce, rather than deconstruct, gender stereotypes. One boy says he is against violence; another says that Jesus doesn’t want us to hit others. These two boys demonstrate at least a basic generalized aversion to violence against all people, but the other boys reassert their masculinity in the way they refuse to strike her. It’s called benevolent sexism.

D) During this entire video, Martina never utters a word. In their attempt to make a point about violence against women, Fanpage.it (the Italian producers of the short video) completely objectify a young girl. They give her no voice, no autonomy, no active role. They use her as a prop. And out of all the wrongness crammed into that three minutes and nineteen seconds of video, this is the one that makes me the most upset. Violence against women occurs because of the objectification of women, because women are silenced. Rather than tear down the structures that perpetuate violence, this video reinforces them on multiple levels.

What would the videographers have done if one of the boys had actually followed through on the directive to hit Martina?

Heartwarming–you’re doing it wrong.




  1. I wonder if they they included the “make a face” part to remind us that they’re just boys. And they are just boys. But if they’re not too young for the “don’t hit women” talk, perhaps they’re not too young for lessons about respect being more than the benevolent waving of the Magic Penis™ talk, too.


  2. I’m also curious what would happen if:

    – the boys asked her if she wanted to be hit

    – they had reversed the scenario

    – the boys were told that the girl had done something really (but believable for young boys) bad


    1. Curiouser and curiouser. Some of the reddit comments were much more blunt in their asking in these directions (I have to remind myself not to read the comments *shudder*), but you thankfully avoided venturing into Lewis’ Law territory.

      For older children (teens, I suppose) the consent talk could definitely include consent to hit, but that is not within my realm of experience, as I have never dabbled or been introduced to kink or BDSM. I am not even sure how to properly label or identify it. As far as my own students, we pretty much follow the rule that the only time you strike someone is never.

      Among the children in my own life, I can imagine this breakdown: some girls would refuse to hit the boys because of an aversion to violence in general terms, some would take the opportunity to hit the boys, and some would say that if boys can’t hit girls then girls can’t hit boys. Their reasoning would likely be influenced by their experiences at home and at school, all of which rely heavily on the amount of communication they have with the adults in their lives. As always, my students’ experiences are complicated by the added disability and language factor.

      Your third scenario is something I had not considered, but it raises an important question for me: when children know they are being watched or are put on the spot in a staged situation, they often behave differently than they would if they think they are not being observed. Would these same boys still refuse to slap Martina in a more naturally constructed scenario? Do their actions match their belief systems? If they were playing a game of soccer in a nearby lot and Martina cheated, would they still think that girls should not be hit “even with a flower”?


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