The Monsterization of Men

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“What happens,” asks the web’s latest viral video, “when you put a boy in front of a girl and ask him to slap her?”

If you’re like me, and you tend to think that little boys are generally not miniature clones of Ike Turner or, say, Hannibal Lecter, the answer to that question should seem fairly obvious. But to the Italian creators of “Slap Her”—and to the more than 40 million global viewers the video has earned in just four days—it’s apparently not obvious at all.

The video features several adorable, dewy-eyed Italian boys, aged 7 to 11. After a few introductory questions from an off-camera interviewer—and following the dramatic musical flourish of, yes, a harp—each boy is introduced to a girl named Martina, a willowy reed of a preteen with a delicate face, red pouty lips, sparkly braces, and blonde flowing hair.

Martina, apparently, is a magical creature, and each boy, in a perfectly charming way, is somewhat enthralled.  “You’re a very pretty girl,” says one. “I’d like to be your boyfriend,” says the boldest. (Illustrating the somewhat cruel joke that adolescence and God like to play on young males in their preteen years, Martina towers approximately three and a half feet above the height of all the boys combined.)

The interviewer asks the boys what they like about Martina. This being Italy, he also asks them to “caress” her, which involves a series of rather awkward pets on the arm or the cheek.  He asks the boys to entertain Martina with a funny face. Finally, the interviewer makes his ultimate request: “Slap her!” he barks. “Hard!”

The video’s music, the kind of bubbly piano warble one might associate with a toddling band of baby chicks, stops cold. The world grows deathly quiet. Here, you see, is a tightly concocted moment of tension. Will brutish testosterone finally raise its ugly head? Will the natural evil of masculinity prevail over the fair Martina, who, like most women, apparently alights upon various destinations via the twinklings of a magical harp?

If you guessed no, congratulations. Instead of winding up with a massive left hook, Popeye style, the boys look baffled, sheepish, and somewhat distressed. A few give awkward giggles, assuming it’s a joke. Finally, the music restarts. Slowly, it builds, sweeping into a warm and theatric arc, peaking as each boy manages to deny his innate barbarian impulses by refusing to slap a complete stranger on camera. Behold, ye gods! The debilitation of the Y chromosome can be conquered!

The video, in other words, is patently absurd. Despite this, “Slap Her,” which was supposedly created to combat domestic violence in Italy, has gained media praise—AdWeek called it “remarkable,” while the New York Daily News described it as “powerful”—and it continues to be viewed by millions around the globe.

It is also earning at least some critiques, largely from feminist corners. Some of these are predictable: Martina is “objectified” and judged by her looks. She isn’t given a chance to speak. No one in the video is given the opportunity to sue each other or protest naked. (Okay, I kid on that last one.) Other complaints are more nuanced: In a lengthy blog post, feminist critic and author Rebecca Hains called the video “sickening,” unraveling some of its weirder elements: “A grown man, telling [boys] to slap a girl that they so clearly like? And a girl being coached to stand there and let boys who are complete strangers to her touch her body? How awful!”

No argument here: The video is, at the very least, indisputably weird. But the worst part of “Slap Her,” despite the cries of feminists, has nothing to do with Martina, her treatment, or her rather clueless video directors. It’s the widespread and growing idea, reflected throughout our culture, that the Y chromosome, paired with toxic and constricting societal “gender roles”—as opposed to, say, flawed human nature—is the central driver behind domestic violence and various other evils in the world.  

Let’s step back for a moment. How strange is it, really, that millions upon millions of people would be “charmed” and “touched” and have their “hearts melted” by the fact that several young boys would refuse to hit a girl? Has our collective cultural opinion of the male species really sunk so low?

If you’ve been paying attention to modern politics—and particularly modern feminism—you know the answer. It’s sad, really. It’s also somewhat ironic: For a group widely painted as privileged oppressors, men, on the reputational front and otherwise, are increasingly getting the short end of the stick. 

Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at  http://www.heatherwilhelm.com/ and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

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