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.
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.