Why “Slap Her” Video by Fanpage.it and Ciaopeople Media Group is Important

If something begins, reignites, or furthers a conversation does it have merit?

Still shot from  Italian video journalist Luca Lavarone's "From a slap" PSA video.

Still shot from Italian video journalist Luca Lavarone’s “From a slap” PSA video.

The million of views of “Dalle uno schiaffo” or “From a Slap” in the days following its release ought to count for something. If nothing else, perhaps it is a demonstration of the yearning people around the world share for truly meaningful messages about domestic violence and the value women and girls ought to hold in society.

"Martina" of the "From a slap" video by Fanpage.it.

“Martina” of the “From a slap” video by Fanpage.it.

In the short video we see six young boys introduce themselves, state their age, say what they want to be when they grow up and why they want to do these careers. A few moments later a girl named “Martina” enters the frame, but we aren’t given any facts about “Martina” that humanize her to the boys or to the viewer. She never speaks, except once to say “Grazie” when one of the boys tells her she is a ‘very pretty girl.’ Her sole purpose is to be a pretty object placed before the boys in this “social experiment” from Ciaopeople Media Group that runs Fanpage.it, an online newspaper that had Italian video journalist Luca Lavarone produce the video to raise awareness toward the epidemic violence Italian women face in intimate relationships.

 

 

With startling article titles like “Watch a Grown Man Ask a Little Boy to Hit a Girl” (TIME) the video continues to circle the Internet. It is being called a “heartwarming tearjerker” and a “remarkable PSA” . Not only does AdWeek think the video is remarkable, writer Roo Ciambriello says the video “contains a powerful, effective message addressing a serious problem.”

Except that it doesn’t, as the main messages it contains oversimplify the complex issue of domestic violence. But maybe that is expecting too much from a video whose sole purpose was to highlight an issue, not solve it. “From a slap” is the perfect kind of viral video ad agencies create and stage to earn those coveted clicks and press mentions ahead of the creative award season, all the while knowing the vast majority of the public isn’t going to and doesn’t want to think too deeply about any one issue (outside of bacon and kittens). Much of the messaging in “From a slap” is completely contrary to what most violence prevention programs teach. It ignores consent, white washes Italian domestic violence and trivializes a desperately serious issue not only for the girls and women of Italy, but for female around the globe.

We need to be critical of and think critically on several facts here:

1. For the purposes of this video “Martina” is an object, not a person. That is a problem. The first step in violence towards a person is to remove their humanity (Jean Kilbourne).

2. The boys never ask for “Martina’s” consent to touch her.

3. “Martina” fits the Beauty Myth, and while non-beautiful girls are no less likely to be a victim of domestic violence than beautiful girls, the boys instantly give the attractive “Martina” a higher social rank than they would a girl who is less physically beautiful. To the boys, her beauty gives her value. The message should be that “Martina” being a human is what gives her value.

4. The boys have just met this girl on the street, yet domestic violence takes place between intimate partners and usually in the privacy of the home. It is different to ask a boy to slap a girl he just met who has not “wronged” him than it is to ask a boy to slap a girl he is already frustrated with, intimidated by, or angry at.

5. There is no information at the end of the video for Italian domestic violence shelters, help lines, anti-violence programs or educational resources. (There are resources at the end of this blog post.)

6. Research tells us that domestic violence is cyclical and the more violence a boy grows up with, the more likely it is he grows up to be violent in his own relationships. But we never see the parents’ reactions to the boys or “Martina” and we never hear them explain why their boys have been taught to not hit girls. It would have been particularly moving to hear the fathers explain why their sons have been taught this message.

7. The voice behind the camera sexualizes both the boy(s) and girl in the final frame when we read his command “Kiss her!” Our gallant little knight who had just refused to hit the girl does not turn to the girl to ask her consent to a kiss…..instead the boy keeps his impish gaze on the owner of the male voice and without him even thinking if he should ask the girl, the boy ask the man, “Can I kiss her on the mouth or the cheek?” Fade to black. And thud. The final frame of this video undoes the previous three and a half minutes as we go from the warm fuzzies we were feeling over these six adorable boys who tell the cameramen “No, I will not hit a girl, not even with a flower” to what should be a gut-churning “boys will be boys” response to a “remarkable PSA” ending with the very problematic consent issue of touching a girl in a sexual manner without her consent. Because she wants it. She was asking for it. I want it, I don’t need her permission. Riesci a crederci! Incredibile!

But Luca Lavarone wasn’t making a documentary on Italian domestic violence or how to teach consent to kids. He conducted and made public a social experiment meant to get people talking. He succeeded, and for that reason alone his efforts should be praised even with the video’s imperfections taken into consideration.

Remember – domestic violence festers in silence, shame, and obscurity. Lavarone has the world talking – THIS is important. Domestic violence takes place (almost always) behind closed doors and comes with social stigma and blame attached for the victim. For families and women with domestic violence in their past and present, you know exactly what this looks and feels like. While many American journalists and bloggers have been hypercritical of the video, I’d like to hear the voices of Italian women, specifically those who help the abused and those who have been abused. I’m willing to bet they and the families who survive the women murdered by their partners appreciate the conversation taking place around these dangerous situations.

So let’s keep talking.

And let’s consider……

Maybe “Martina” not having a back story could have been intentional because “Martina” isn’t any specific girl, she is there to represent “all girls“. “Martina” is “every girl” and serves as the potential victim despite being found beautiful and lovely by the boys, a position far too many women will find hauntingly familiar. Domestic violence victims are adored and loved, at first. Likewise these boys aren’t really specific boys, they are meant to represent a cross section of “all men” who could be prone to perpetrate – and perpetuate – domestic violence. A fire fighter, a police man, a pizza maker, a baker.

Let’s also note, none of the boys said “When I grow up, I want to be an abuser of women”. That’s ridiculous, right? No, it isn’t. Most boys don’t want to grow up to hurt the people they love but somewhere along the way they see might see violence set as the example set at home, they see it in the media coupled with the persistent objectification of women, they grow to understand violence and brute physical strength are tied to the cultural definition of masculinity, they see peers be abusive to girlfriends and are not taught to stand up to it, and so on. But no little boy says, “When I am a man I want to beat my wife until she is bloody, broken, and dead.”

While domestic violence doesn’t usually take place on the street and by definition wouldn’t take place between strangers, the request for the boys to caress “Martina’s” cheek then quickly followed by the order “Slap her!”/”Slap her hard!” has people upset, and rightly so. Again, important to note that while this video is likely staged, not a single boy asked for the girl’s permission to touch her face for the caress nor did the girl assert her personal boundaries. Consent is such an important concept to teach our boys and girls, and the video did not show this – but maybe that is part of Lavarone’s point. Perhaps Luca Lavarone wanted that to be part of the conversation he ignited. After all, we need to remember that we don’t know Lavarone’s personal history with domestic violence in a country where 30% of women experience it and thousands lose their lives to it.

And it is the caress/slap request that has me believing we are really losing something in translation as different cultures have different practices when it comes to physical contact. Part of me thinks for us non-Italians, we are missing or misunderstanding an Italian cultural reference to the caress/slap moment. I believe the intended message with the caress/slap was: A person uses their open hand for a caress just like you do an open palm or back-handed slap across the face or upside the head. What you do with that hand can be loving or hurtful. These actions are very different and yet similar. A boy who gives a caress could just as likely deliver a slap. Unless he is taught not to.

Another impression I had was that I felt a sense of trust between “Martina” and the cameraman/voice behind the camera. She made eye contact with that person when she was amused or surprised, like they were sharing a joke at the boys’ expense. There was an air of familiarity between the girl and whoever is behind the camera and it seemed she knew what to expect, what the boys would be asked. She stood in place calmly and confidently. And when the voice commanded “Slap her!”/”Slap her hard!” the expressions “Martina” made were very telling, but she never broke her gaze from the boys as they made their decisions whether or not to slap her. In fact, when you watch the video again pay very close attention to her face in those moments. You see her connect with the emotional struggle she witnesses within each boy – do I listen to the grown up or do I refuse and do what I know to be right? In those moments, we see our humanity. It is actually quite beautiful and reveals that as children we are very adept at loving ourselves and each other.

And the boys (possibly scripted to) refuse! Each boy has a different reaction and reason as one by one they all refuse. Important to note, we never hear “Martina’s” reaction to the commands “Slap her!” and “Slap her hard!” I’m hoping she would have said something like, “Oh HELL no. NO ONE uses violence to control me!” because her parents taught her that message just as they teach their little Italian boys to “not hit girls”. I’m also hoping the parents of Italy teach their girls not to hit the boys they love, as domestic violence is a lopsided but two-way street.

When told to slap the girl the reactions of the two littlest boys (ages seven and eight) reveal why this video is important. Even if these were a child actors and even if the video is by and large staged, the emotion behind their soulful eyes is real and anyone familiar with children can read what each is thinking: The littlest one smiles and shifts his weight in an uncomfortable moment of disbelief because he knows what the grown up is ordering him to do is wrong. He tucks his chin and turns his head slightly to the side as he thinks, “Nooooo, what you are telling me to do is wrong. I am not going to listen, even if you think I’m naughty for not listening.” After all, we teach our kids to listen to and trust adults, right? The other boy’s lips part as his mouth opens in shock and his eyes glisten with emotion. THAT is important because until we teach our boys via culture and/or personal experience to control and intimidate females via domestic violence, they know it to be wrong. We see they are surprised and shocked by it.

Perhaps we are left to question ourselves how it is we desensitize them to it?

While their initial “No’s” were softly spoken, with clarity each boy states why he will not hit the girl standing before him. The implied message is these young boys have been raised right, to know that men do not hit women and that somewhere there is an adult teaching him that. I think THAT is an important message here — children need to be taught domestic violence (all violence, yes?) is wrong and that violence is least acceptable in our intimate relationships. For my American friends, I’m assuming most of us have no idea how Italian society and families approach this and perhaps teaching boys not to be violent to girls (or anyone) is a new concept to Italians to address while raising families. We need to remember, Italians were the intended target audience for this video.

The emotional scenes finish with a stark black and white screen that reads ‘In the kids’ world, women don’t get hit.’ And anyone familiar with domestic violence knows it is anything but black and white. It is not a simple mess people find themselves in and it is not a simple mess to clean up. The UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, said after a visit to Italy in 2012 that there was an “urgent need” to tackle the issue of domestic violence in Italian society. Manjoo reported, “Most manifestations of violence are under-reported in the context of a family-oriented and patriarchal society where domestic violence is not always perceived as a crime, there is economic dependency, and there are perceptions that the state response to such complaints will not be appropriate or helpful.”

Couple that with the excellent point made by Mic’s Elizabeth Plank about the white washing of domestic violence in the video, “But it’s immigrant and undocumented women who are especially vulnerable in Italy, and they won’t be safe until they are part of the national conversation about the issue. No one is protected from domestic violence, but to erase the experiences of those who are most at risk can be damaging for the cause.”

So, what’s the verdict on the video everyone is talking about this week? Problematic? Yes. Most definitely yes. But should this video be condemned with the vitriol it is getting from some? I don’t disagree with the critical conversation around this video, but we need to take a deep breath and a step back see it for what it is: a marketing gimmick that is misinformed and only touches the tip of the iceberg that is the very important epidemic of gendered violence in Italy. And what do we know about icebergs? The most dangerous portions are under the water, where people aren’t looking.

This week, the world is looking under the waters. THAT MATTERS.

We should not turn to advertising agencies and video journalists to solve deeply troubling societal ills. We should count on them to contribute to and disseminate the conversation. Perhaps the whole point of this video, and why it IS SO IMPORTANT and should not be ignored, it that is has all of us now pulled into the conversation. Well done, Luca Lavarone.

Now it is our turn to do the meaningful work. Be not silent.

 

For information on domestic violence and how to get help for a domestic violence situation in Italy:

Italy’s National Women’s Helpline ‘Antiviolenza Donna’: Call (1522)   Help is free of charge and available 24/7

Italy’s National Association DiRe “Women in Network Against Violence”

Italy’s D.i.Re Cerca Il Antiviolenza Piu Vincino A Te (map of centers throughout Italy)

Information on violence against women in Italy from WAVE – Women Against Violence in Europe

The Pixel Project: Abusive Relationships and the Escape Checklist

Domestic Violence / Incest / Rape Help and Intervention for Women in Countries Around the Globe from Pixel Project

Helplines for the 28 EU Countries from WAVE

United States National Domestic Violence Hotline 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) Help is free of charge and available 24/7

 

 

Melissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween”. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com. Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can read her blog at: http://pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).

Comments

  1. Hi, Melissa! I was alerted to your post by a pingback on my blog post at http://rebeccahains.com/2015/01/06/slap-her-fanpage-it-video-objectifies-girls-exploits-boys-and-trivializes-domestic-violence/ . I’m intrigued that you agree with and echo 90% of my post, but characterize the methodical critical analysis I’ve written as vitriolic. How odd! It strikes me that perhaps you’re just unfamiliar with the standard academic approach to media criticism and critical media literacy.

    I’d gently encourage you to read more in that area and continue to grow and learn in your position as a lay advocate of media literacy and girl empowerment. Keep up the great work, and thank you for reading my post!

    • Melissa Atkins Wardy says:

      Rebecca –
      It is not that I am unfamiliar with the standard academic approach to media criticism and critical media literacy, rather your post made some important points but overall I found it to be exceptionally critical of a piece of media created with what seem to be good intentions by someone who is neither an expert on domestic violence nor an academic in the field. And yes, it was also created for beneficial purposes for Ciaopeople Media Group and Fanpage.it. If the video reflects the general public’s understanding of domestic violence and how we stop it, perhaps it is best not to highly criticize those people but instead move to the middle in order to reach a place of understanding. Most certainly we should think critically on the procedure and platform, but that doesn’t mean we need to throw away the product, even if the final product is flawed. I think we learn best from our mistakes and in the consulting work I do with media content creators I find most of them to be more caring about the issues than they get credit for.

      As I said, your post made some very important points, but you left out equally important points such as cultural differences that might be at play and you never really seemed to consider the journalist’s perspective. If we are hypercritical of all ‘lay advocates’ we risk the crucial momentum videos such as this inspire: conversation by *millions* around a desperately important topic to the women of Italy and to women and girls around the world.

      Sometimes us ‘lay’ people have very important things to say, as academics cannot cover it all nor do they always connect well with all people. Clearly, this video is connecting with millions of viewers and I chose to draw out those connections instead of writing an academic critical analysis of why I hated everything in the video so much.

      Nowhere did I say I agreed with 90% of your post and I do not think our posts are echoes of each other, outside of our mutual points on the topic of consent. I very much agreed with what you wrote on consent via the boys and the lack of agency we see from “Martina”.

      Vitriolic – harsh words – in your words: “I find it sickening” x2 / “I find it outrageous that through this line of questioning” / “That’s really gross.” / “absolutely disgusting” / “it actually does more harm than good” / “How awful!” /

      Let’s make room for all voices, Rebecca, even those that are flawed and especially those outside the academic community. Different perspectives bring different value to the conversation, and around the issue of violence against women, ongoing and meaningful conversation is critical to raising awareness and creating meaningful change. All of this stands to saves so lives, so I found it less important to blog about all that was wrong with the video and instead chose to focus on how we can move forward.

      In your post you say ‘What a shame that they exploited children to create a video on a subject they have so little knowledge on’……and while I see your point, the people behind this video are from a country where 30% of the women fall victim to domestic violence. I’m not so ready to make the giant assumption that you did these people have no idea what they are talking about. Not all knowledge comes from the classroom, Professor. It is quite possible Luca Lavarone, the families of the children involved, or people at Ciaopeople Media and Fanpage do have connections to this terrible epidemic of violence against women in Italy. They may not be experts on the subject, but I think the world will be okay with a few less experts and a few more people who get others caring, talking, engaged, and moving.

      Also? ‘Lay advocate’? I am neither unqualified nor do I lack knowledge on the topics I write about. May I gently encourage you to be less condescending and more respectful towards people’s backgrounds that differ from your own?

      • Ah, I understand–you’re concerned that by being blunt about the failures of media creators, you could alienate potential consulting clients. This is certainly a legitimate concern.

        Stating that it sickens and disgusts me to see a girl treated as an object hardly constitutes vitriol, but then if you misread my comment as a condescending one, I guess you might also misread my analysis as vitriolic. I think you have a lot to offer and didn’t mean to offend you by mentioning your position as a lay advocate. I’m simply underscoring that I’m writing from an academic perspective which might be misunderstood by self-trained media critics outside the academy, however brilliant they might be.

        Anyhow, I don’t think we should be giving out cookies to companies like Ciaomedia just because they made an effort. We have to assess the outcome, as well–and the consensus from those I’ve consulted with expertise in domestic violence is that the video indeed does more harm than good.

        Anyhow, I applaud you for extending this important conversation and delving into matters like the translation and cultural differences that were beyond the scope of my piece. My community and I have been discussing the cultural differences and translation issues for the past couple days, and it’s really fascinating stuff. Have a good night, and thanks again for reading.

        • Melissa Atkins Wardy says:

          That’s quite the jump, Rebecca. Quite to the contrary, I have a well-known track record of being blunt with media content creators. That includes those I work with and those I do not. Ciaopeople Media Group nor any of their subsidiaries are clients of mine and I do not worry about ‘alienating potential clients’.

          Take care, Rebecca.

  2. OUTSTANDING analysis. This post goes so in depth to examine all the aspects of the video as well as taking into consideration cultural differences that affect how an American audience perceives it. I very much enjoyed reading it.

    The things that stood out most to me were the issue of CONSENT and the fact that the GIRL’S voice is never heard. Her perspective is absent. That is glaring and upsetting to me. Thank you for bringing that up!

    • Melissa Atkins Wardy says:

      Thanks Robyn!

    • Robyn that’s what bothered me. And while I realize that there might be a language barrier with the word caress it still bothered me.

      I wonder if the girls voice not being heard was intentional- as if they wanted her represent every woman or saying that it doesn’t matter what she does or doesn’t do violence is never ok.

  3. I watched this video a week or so ago and shared it on my wall without really chewing on it first, though certain things did make me uncomfortable (like the lack of consent in the “caress her” and “kiss her” parts). Thank you for unpacking it from multiple perspectives so well. I agree that it is important to create the conversation, even if the media is problematic. Maybe *especially* when the media is problematic…

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