*trigger warning – this post discusses violence against women*
Jim Schembri posted an article on The Age today which suggested that violence against women is funny. I wrote a letter to The Age about it, which is below.
I am appalled that Jim Schembri’s article, “Top 10 best movie bitch slaps of all time” has been allowed to be published on The Age online today.
“As civil and courteous a species as we like to think we are, we all know that there exists in this world certain people who, every once in a while, deserve a good smack in the chops. And how do we know this? From the movies, of course.”
No one EVER deserves a good smack in the chops. To suggest so implies that victims deserve the crime committed against them. Victim Blaming is where:
“Victim blaming (or blaming the victim) is holding the victims of a crime, an accident, or any type of abusive maltreatment to be entirely or partially responsible for the transgressions committed against them.”
Logically following Schembri’s statement through, people deserve to be mugged, domestic violence victims deserve their abuse, rape survivors deserved to be raped in the first place and murderees deserved to be killed. This doesn’t actually sound all that sane and in a week where we’ve already had plenty of victim blaming and rape apology printed in The Age, I thought that someone would be suggesting to the contributors to The Age that perhaps easing off the violence towards others would be a good start, and that making fun of violence would be a bad idea. Clearly this hasn’t happened.
Of the 10 incidents of violence he lists, 60% of them are men abusing women. Five of the 10 involve a man slapping a woman (or in one case the entire passenger manifest of an aircraft slapping a woman) on the face, one of the ten involves a woman slapping another woman. Only two of his suggestions involve men slapping other men, overwhelmingly his article and examples focused on violence against women and suggested that it was a good or funny thing. Violence is not a good or funny thing.
“3. Godfather II (1974): Al Pacino vs Diane Keaton.
If you’re going to abort a man’s child, and the father is an all-powerful mafia Don, best to keep that to yourself, too. “You won’t take my children,” Al screams after slapping her down. “You WON’T take my children!””
Heaven forbid that a woman would like autonomy over her own body, to make her own decisions and not be subject to violence as a result. This entry clearly glorifies domestic violence.
“5. Flying High (1980): the entire passenger manifest vs the hysterical woman
Everybody would love to do this in real life. Maybe that’s why it’s still funny 30 years on.”
People who are scared, distraught or upset are not helped by being slapped. The idea that slapping someone and suggesting that they “pull themselves out of it” is a harmful one and again perpetuates abuse against those who cannot defend themselves.
“What do you think of the list? Impossible to limit it to 10, isn’t it? What great movie slaps do think warrant mention? And who, in all of movie history, do you think deserved a slap most – but didn’t get it?”
It’d be nice to not have a list of the 10 best assaults of our time, and to instead focus on something else versus a heavy handed list of violence against women. Who most deserved a slap? No one… but that doesn’t get mentioned.
And finally let’s look at Mr Schembri’s use of the phrase “bitch slap”. As commenter Jacinta rightly points out, “Further, the phrase “bitch-slap” has its own problems, suggesting as it does, that a woman who is slapped deserved it on account of being both unpleasant and female.” I have written about “bitch” being a problematic word and really think that the usage of this words needs to be carefully monitored.
Schembri’s mansplaining my and Jacinta’s comments and suggesting that it was all a joke was also completely unnecessary. It should not come as a surprise that some people do not find this kind of thing funny and that overall suggesting that violence against women (and men) is funny or can be funny is not a good thing, and using phrases like “bitch slap” is not good either.
Jacinta commented on Schembri’s article stating (with Schembri’s response in bold as in the original):
This article is appalling! Within context, there might be cause for a character in a movie to strike another; but to glorify these actions removed from context just so we can see one person hit another? That’s just wrong.
You wrote: “we all know that there exists in this world certain people who, every once in a while, deserve a good smack in the chops.” I disagree. Whenever I feel the urge to slap someone, it’s a fault in me, not in them. People do not deserve to be violently assaulted just for being upset or rude or hysterical or scared. People who are subordinate to you, weaker than you, less assertive than you or less powerful than you *never* deserve to be assaulted just because you’re angry with them or with something else. Yes, people say hurtful things, even that’s not an excuse to inflict physical pain. Slapping someone who is hysterical is never appropriate either.
Further, the phrase “bitch-slap” has its own problems, suggesting as it does, that a woman who is slapped deserved it on account of being both unpleasant and female.
You might think these are funny or memorable for some other reason, but I hope some of that is due to the context around the scene. If you watch these, unfamiliar with the context, you should be appalled too.
Schembri note: It’s all about context, Jacinta. That’s why Chinatown ghets No. 1. And a good slap in the movies isn’t gender specific, which is why we lead with Peter Lorre getting it good in The Maltese Falcon. Every now and again, you gotta cool the jets on the old reading-a-political-agenda-into-everything deal and just have a bit of fun. Take another look at hte Airplane! slapping scene. Tell us you didn’t laugh at least once.
So let’s look at this agenda thing (a similar comment was made by Schembri on my comment (under Rebecca) when he eventually got around to approving it in the moderation queue (some 4 hours after I posted it)). There is ALWAYS an agenda. Humans are political beings, and even when we don’t think we have an agenda we do. Wanting a hug, being hungry or being thirsty are small and easily identifiable agendas. Some agendas are more subtle and harder to pick, whether someone knows you like them, organising a surprise or your taste in music. Some agendas are unconscious and provided by society such as rape culture, victim blaming and the status of women. Although Schembri claims that there was no agenda to his post, he is continuing to add to the “violence is ok against women” agenda prevalent in society. And his comments were beautiful examples of mansplaining, “it’s funny, everyone else is finding it funny, you must have laughed at this – so you’re wrong”.
I was very disappointed in this article and in Schembri’s refusal to see that there were alternate points of view. I’ll be avoiding his articles from now on.