Sometimes, this blog’s readers kindly send to me suggestions about topics I could use for my posts. Reader Kinjal sent me a link to this article today:
Ireland’s advertising watchdog has made itself a laughingstock—except nobody’s laughing—by banning an anti-child-abuse PSA that was powerful enough to get noticed worldwide. The brutal spot by Ogilvy Dublin, which Adweek covered at length here, shows a boy being beaten up while still articulating, in grown-up language, a manifesto for children’s rights. After getting 13 complaints, the country’s Advertising Standards Authority has banned the spot from all “Irish media” (this does not include YouTube) because it supposedly breaches gender-equality rules. “Complainants objected to the advertisement on the basis that it was unbalanced in its treatment of the subject of abuse in the home. The advertisement only depicted a male as being the aggressor, and the complainants considered this to be unbalanced,” the ASA ruled, according to Adland. The stupidity of such a ruling is self-evident. It means you couldn’t dramatize abuse without having both a man and a woman whaling on the kid at once—which would be weird and completely shift the focus of the ad from the abused to the abusers.
I understand that the objections people voiced to the video sound ludicrous. However, if we analyze the PSA in question in a wider context, it becomes clear that there is a lot of truth behind the objections. In a recent post, I shared with my readers a series of posters that are part of a campaign against domestic violence. In every single poster, the abuser is male and the victim is female. The campaign addresses emotional and verbal abuse but at no point suggests that women can – and do! – abuse men.
More often than not, we imagine a rapist as a scary stranger lurking in the bushes, even though the absolute majority of rapes are perpetrated by people who know their victims and take place at home. This way of constructing the image of a rapist makes it a lot harder to prove that spousal rape and date rape are just as horrible and traumatic as being assaulted by a complete stranger in the street.
In the same way, domestic abuse and child abuse keep getting portrayed as being perpetrated exclusively by men. What lies behind this completely skewed portrayal is a belief that women are not only “the weaker sex” incapable of being abusive but also that women have some magic access to good parenting skills and some kind of a deeper love for their children than men do.
My friend and her partner recently had a baby. They are both highly-educated, feminist, and progressive people. Still, from day one, the father of the baby kept saying to the mother, “I have no idea how to burp her / change her diaper / put her to sleep / get her to stop crying, etc. You do it.”
“What makes you think I know any better?” my friend would always respond. “I never had any children before either.”
Women don’t have any kind of a “maternal instinct” that is unavailable to men. Mothers are just as likely to engage in child abuse as fathers. Until we allow ourselves to imagine maternal abuse as something that does happen quite often, however, we will not be able to address it.
A little while ago, a female blogger wrote a comment on this blog that said,
Please lay off those of us who choose to “lop off parts” of our sons’ penises.
She then got extremely huffy when I told her off and organized a silly anti-Clarissa campaign during which other female bloggers ridiculed me for caring too much about child abuse. As hard as I try, I honestly cannot imagine any male scientist, college professor and intellectual who would feel comfortable making this kind of remark about any part of his daughter’s body in public and then proceeding to make light of child abuse. This doesn’t mean that men don’t abuse children. Of course, they do. But they don’t act about it in such a cavalier way because they know they will be condemned for it.
We need to start having discussions, articles, posters, videos, etc. about maternal abuse, too.