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A Fanpage video of boys being asked to slap a girl has gone viral and is being praised for showing how children are intrinsically against violence but it falls short in three ways.
A couple of days ago, a friend of mine sent me a viral Fanpage video. With each passing frame, I saw a few little boys take turns interacting with a girl. A narrator, presumably the man behind the lens himself, tells these little boys what to do. He asks them their names and ages. They respond. Then, he asks them what they want to become when they grow up. Each has a dream of his own – footballer, saving people, chef, and what not. Then he presents to them, “Martina”. For the entire length of the video, Martina is quiet. She nods, she appreciates what the boys say when they compliment her. She smiles and giggles. Then they ask the boys what they like about the little girl.
Most responses are centred on her appearance. She is called pretty and her eyes, her shoes and her hair are appreciated. One boy tells her that he wants to be her boyfriend. The narrator then asks the boys to “caress” the girl. The boys are not reluctant. They run their hands on her cheek, or on her arm. She smiles, nods. Then the narrator tells them to make funny faces at her – they do, putting on ridiculous appearances. She smiles at some, she winces at some, and she closes her eyes with a shudder at a few others. And then – the music slows down here – the narrator asks them to slap her.
They all refuse. Some, because girls should not be slapped. One, because he does not support violence. One, because Jesus told us not to hit anyone. And one, because it’s bad. By this time, the background music has come right back on – sounding quite like the kind of music you hear in a movie when the protagonist emerges victorious. Finally, the video pans back to one boy. Kiss her, the narrator’s voice says. On the lips? Or on the cheek? The boy asks.
Let me start by asserting that I claim no expertise in filmmaking, in scriptwriting or in child psychology. All that I have to say at this point is exclusively in my capacity as a consumer of information – the commoner that was the intended target for their short film.
I appreciate, fully well, that the intended message was to show that children are inclined against violence – and that adults should take a leaf from their book. But here’s why the viral Fanpage video actually doesn’t work as effectively as it should in getting the message across.
To start with, there is a presupposition that the girl is all about her physicality. Not once do we hear her speak. The boys are asked about their ambitions, their dreams and what they want to be when they grow up. The boys are asked their names and their ages. But Martina – she is introduced as Martina. She isn’t given a chance to talk about herself, she isn’t heard, and she isn’t anything more than something fit to be seen. You may say I’m nitpicking but let’s pause for a moment here and look at this in the light of the grander scheme of things. As a global community, in many, many homes, girls don’t count. What they do, what they say, what they want to do and say – are often times not given the importance they deserve. These are voices that deserve to be heard, but are not.
There is a presupposition that the girl is all about her physicality. Not once do we hear her speak. The boys are asked about their ambitions, their dreams and what they want to be when they grow up. The boys are asked their names and their ages. But Martina – she is introduced as Martina.
Secondly, the narrator asks the boys to tell him what they like about her. Almost instantly, everyone swoops in on her appearance. Not one boy asked her to speak, or share her thoughts – what if they could have made an effort to know her mind, before judging her physically? These are the rudiments that grow into full-blown mindsets and thought processes that judge and objectify women. By welcoming these boys to judge a girl for her appearance, the video inadvertently sends out the wrong message: that it is indeed okay to objectify another human being.
Thirdly, the video shows the boys being asked to caress, to make funny faces at, and to even kiss her. What’s happened in this process is a very blatant delineation of what is acceptable as falling into watertight compartments of appropriate and inappropriate conduct. The fact, though, is that these lines are blurred. The video may have wanted to project “caressing” and “kissing” as non-violent gestures but the fact is that they amount to unwanted sexual advances if the girl or woman is non-consenting. Here, in the video, there isn’t a moment’s thought spared to the girl as her consent was concerned. Besides, doing this reinforces the fact that only actual violence is violence – and the video ignores the fact that unwanted sexual conduct is also violence.
The video may have wanted to project “caressing” and “kissing” as non-violent gestures but the fact is that they amount to unwanted sexual advances if the girl or woman is non-consenting.
All intentions aside, the video fails to deliver one very, powerful message: that women and girls are not to be perceived as anything less than men and boys. The fact of the matter is that both genders are equal. There are many differences between the genders, and nothing is confined into complete compartments. Gender roles are diverse today, and their implications are equally diverse. It can be a dangerous thing if we have skewed perceptions towards different segments of the population that each hold up a part of the sky, and until we see a shift in mindsets in our perception of men and women, their roles and their equality, it could be disparaging for the future of the world as we know it.
I’d like to leave you with Audrey Hepburn’s lines as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady: “You see, Mrs. Higgins, apart from the things one can pick up, the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated. I shall always be a common flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me like a common flower girl, and always will. But I know that I shall always be a lady to Colonel Pickering, because he always treats me like a lady, and always will.”
The ball is in your court. Everything depends on the mindset. It’s up to you to decide how to see everyone.