If you haven’t seen this video, take a minute to watch it. Go ahead, we’ll wait.
So, my social media feeds were inundated with this video the last couple of days and it was accompanied with unmitigated adulation. After scrolling past it when the first few friends shared it, curiosity finally got the better of me and I had to see what all the fuss was about. Not feeling the enthusiastic warm fuzzies everyone else seemed to experience at the end, I watched it again. Yeah, it didn’t get better. When I watched the video, I was overcome with a feeling of unease, not adoration.
I want to make it clear, right out of the gate, that my frustration with the video is not directed at the children involved. I place the blame for that which I consider problematic squarely on the shoulders of the adults overseeing this “project”. So, with that said, where do I begin?
The video begins with each boy, one by one, being asked their name, their age, what they want to be when they grow up and why. A girl is brought in, and we, along with the boys, learn her name, “Martina”. The boys are asked, “What do you like about her”. The answers include, “her hair”, “her eyes”, “you’re a pretty girl”, and “I’d like to be your boyfriend”. The first instruction they are given is to caress her. The initial look that passed over Martina’s face when the request was spoken looked, to me, at minimum, uncomfortable. One by one, the boys are shown, caught somewhere between apprehension and excitement, running a hand down her arm, or caressing her face. The boys are then instructed to make a funny face for Martina, to which they each oblige and, yet, Martina’s reactions aren’t shown any more than in passing. Then—BUM BUM BUUUUM–we hear the director demand that they slap the girl. “Slap her hard”. The boys react like they’ve just heard the DJ scratch the record to total silence. This face sums it up.
All of the boys refuse to hit Martina. They are then asked why they refuse. They say, “you don’t hit girls”, “I don’t want to hurt her”, “I can’t hit her because she is pretty and she is a girl”, “girls shouldn’t be hit with a flower”, and (my favorite answer), “I’m against violence”, but the closing quote, the answer that tied the ribbon on this adorable little package is, “because I’m a man”. The closing quote on the screen is, “In a kids world, women don’t get hit”.
Are the kids adorable? Absofuckinglutely. I watch it and I know the boys names, ages, future goals and their reasons for that goal. I can say from what we see and hear from them, that these boys seem sweet, precocious, happy, and intelligent. I know Martina’s name. That is all. She isn’t asked any questions and if she ever uttered a word in this process, it wasn’t deemed worthy of inclusion. It’s hard not to notice that, as far as the video’s producers were concerned, Martina’s worth begins and ends with her appearance. Her name is Martina and she is pretty. That’s all we need to know. The boys are asked what they like about her, as if she is a new toy. They all respond only with comments about her physical appearance. Martina still isn’t invited to speak, to reciprocate, or respond. Then comes the one part that really made me double take, when they are asked to caress her. Now, let me preface this by saying, I am not insinuating or accusing these children of any acts of impropriety. I think their response/interactions were completely innocent. What I do take issue with, however, is the adults involved that seemed to treat Martina with the same amount of regard one would a cardboard cutout and encouraged the other children to do the same.
It could be assumed, I suppose, that Martina did consent to being touched, even though she looked as surprised as the boys, if not more, when the instruction,”caress her”, was stated. Some may say it is nitpicking, but, in my opinion, teaching our children about bodily autonomy, their own and others, and consent is of paramount importance. For me, consent is a concept, the importance of which, I cannot stress enough. Our daughters shouldn’t accept being treated as pretty objects that should accept uninvited, unwelcome, and/or unwanted touching. I want my sons to respect the bodily autonomy of females, the way they would their male peers. Simply put, the adult urging the boys to touch Martina, in the absence of any input or permission from Martina rubbed me the wrong way.
When they are asked to make funny faces, we see Martina’s response as barely more than a passing glance in each shot. It gets to the BIG FINISH, when the boys are told to slap her, we get a quick glimpse of her balking, standing next to one of the boys, then it is mostly full shots of the boys reacting and responding, in refusal, though there are momentary glances of her in a few shots.
The takeaway from this video is the same old tired bullshit, that girls and women aren’t worthy of respect and freedom from violence because of our humanity, but because our bodies are made of whispers and butterfly wings that should not be mishandled, unless, maybe, you don’t meet the minimum conventional standard of beauty. Let me reiterate, I don’t think the message perpetuated here is the fault of the children. They just showed up for a casting, answered questions, and followed cues. The message is the vision and intent of the adults behind the scenes. Sure, we could say “don’t hit women” is a good message. I mean, you can’t say it’s bad. I’d just prefer that there be some context other than, “women are pretty and shouldn’t be hit”. I rather liked the answer, “I don’t believe in violence”. I don’t know why that didn’t make it as the moral of the story, since hitting should be a no-no, regardless of gender. I also don’t like the way the video reduces Martina to a glorified prop. The point the video attempted to make would have seemed more authentic if we, the audience, were given an opportunity to know Martina the way we were introduced to the boys. There was no attempt, whatsoever, to humanize her for us or for the boys being instructed to interact with her. The direction given to the boys, to say what they like about her, to touch her, to slap her, didn’t treat Martina as a person. She wasn’t invited to engage. She was dehumanized, if anything. She was only a prop. A pretty prop.
Look, gender politics be damned. Just teach children not to hit, period. Don’t teach girls that they are delicate flowers that need protecting. Give them a voice. Tell them they don’t have to accept being touched. Hell, they don’t even have to oblige strangers who will demands that they smile. Teach children about respect for autonomy, their own and others. and about consent.
Don’t even get me started on the video closing with the boys being told, “kiss her”, and the child asking the adult, not Martina, where he could kiss her.