Right now a video is going viral of some little Italian boys who were asked to caress a girl and, without exception, all of them did. Then the boys were asked to slap the girl and they all refused. It’s been held up as an inspiring example of how to stop violence against women.
But before you hit ‘share’ or begin praising this video, it’s time to stop and think.
Because what the message needs to be right now is this: just because you didn’t slap a girl doesn’t mean you respected her.
Not hitting a girl, does not mean you respect her.
In fact, these boys don’t need medals. What they need is a lot more help and support from the adults around them in understanding communication, boundaries and the basics of consent.
After all, not one of these kids actually asked the girl if she was OK with being sexually caressed. They just went right ahead.
The viral video in question (post continues below).
There is actually a lot that’s wrong with this video, and I’m going to go so far as to say that this clip pretty much encapsulates all the mistakes we currently make when educating boys about violence against women.
We assume that as long as we teach boys the basic “don’t hit girls” (a line which also runs the risk of reinforcing the view that girls are inherently feeble) that we have then done our job in teaching respect.
And we assume that as long as a boy doesn’t physically assault a girl, that he will then automatically know the ins and outs of communication, respect, boundaries, physical autonomy and consent.
This clip is problematic on other levels too: the way the videographer trains the boys to objectify the girl; the way the narrator emphasises the girl’s beauty and appeal as the intrinsic basis of her value; the way the boys then explain that they wouldn’t hit her because “she’s pretty”, and so on.
One of the boys explains why he likes the girl in the video.
The fact is that, domestic violence has very little in common with hitting a strange beautiful girl on a busy promenade with a large audience and camera operator standing around watching.
Perhaps if these boys had been taught from an evidence based, ethics perspective, things may have gone very very differently. Instead of just teaching boys the EXTREMELY basic “don’t hit girls” mantra, these boys COULD have been taught that before you touch anyone- in either a good way or a bad way- you should ask them if they are OK with it first. They could have been taught that what makes a girl special is not the fact that she is beautiful, but the fact that she is a human being- which makes her equal to you.
Another scene from the video.
And imagine the difference in the results if the boys had asked “is it OK for me to touch your hair and face?” The girl might have said “Yes”. Or she might have said “No”. Or she might have said something else altogether like “No, but I’d be happy to thumb wrestle if you wanted?”
From this, the boys might have learnt that girls have individual wants, and opinions and desires of their own. The girl might have learnt that she has the right to control how and when other people touch her body. And they both might have learnt that through good communication, entirely new and unexpected possibilities sometimes present themselves.
The video is just one example of why we need to teach boys about consent.
The reality is that it’s simply not sufficient to teach boys that it’s wrong to slap girl. Nor is it helpful to offer girls up as precious, beautiful, and available objects when trying to teach boys about respect. Instead we need to teach them how to open up a dialogue which leads to ethical, negotiated interaction and we need to continue to teach young people about good communication, equality, boundaries and consent.
So by all means talk about this video and discuss it on social media. The best thing we can do is to talk more about violence against women. But before you rush in to unquestioningly praise it, STOP. And THINK. Because this is not an inspiring example of boys respecting girls. It’s an example of how far we still all have to go.