An Anti-Child Abuse Video Banned in Ireland

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.

14 thoughts on “An Anti-Child Abuse Video Banned in Ireland”

  1. I really don’t want to watch it; is it a series that always shows men as the abuser also, or just one spot? I think either way I would agree with you, especially if it was a series though. In fact, even if it was just one spot, the fact that women are also often child-abusers is one of the things people need educating on so there should have been a way to add it.

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      1. Yeah, me too, that was actually my first thought of a reason it might be banned – that it was a trigger for some people or simply traumatizing sensitive people! I wouldn’t want to suddenly watch that in the middle of watching my favorite tv show, or hanging with other people. I wonder how effective these spots are? It’s an interesting concept and an important issue, but…

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      2. I heard a statistic recently that suggested that young people today are more generally anxious (based on their responses to a survey) than kids who answered the survey 20 (or so) years ago. This was attributed to all the increased news and discussion of dangers, and all the precautions adults now take, as sometimes mentioned on this blog.

        I guess how it relates to these ads, is, sometimes showing good role models might be as or more effective, and certainly less stressful for the rest of us to watch/experience. These spots wouldn’t have to be trite or preachy; they could show real life situations where kids are being assholes and a stretched to the max parent struggles to cope and do the right thing. I don’t know, you have the psychological background; don’t people tend to imitate what they see and experience? 😀

        Maybe the banned spots were trying to shock people into seeking help?

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  2. I wish there were more of a focus on emotional abuse- ie, guardians/parents calling kids names like fat, worthless and stupid, or devaluing them at every turn verbally, or neglecting them emotionally. That kind can be as bad as the punches and beatings (I had both happen to me as a kid) but I rarely see serious discussions about that happening, it’s mainly seen as fodder for bad Lifetime TV movies.

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      1. Start a serious series on the emotional abuse of children? Yes, I think that would be a productive discussion. One of my favourite parts of blogging is the catharsis it does provide for those experiences, and grappling with solutions to the problems it caused in me, ie, eating disorders, relationship problems, so a blog series is a great way of addressing it.

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  3. Making children feel worthless is one of the powerful ways that fundamentalist Xtianity keeps its members mentally and spiritually enslaved. (It is an effort for me to insert the word ‘fundamentalist’ in that sentence, since my instinctive reaction is that all Christians do this.)

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    1. It’s hard to imagine Christians who don’t do this, you are right. The word of the father is the law. Also, the mother is always portrayed as silently breast-feeding a child. As a result, the post-Christian civilizations experience huge difficulties in separating themselves from the mother and challenging the authority of the father (both real and metaphorical.) This is one of my favorite topic: how Christianity influences the family structure and what kind of contradictions that influence produces.

      I don’t blog about it because I can’t do that without getting heavily “psychoanalytical”. Then, people will start asking me for links where I got this information. As if one always had to rely on easily linkable Wikipedia articles.

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  4. A friend of mine from Scotland forwarded this clip a couple of days ago and I watched it. And I wish I had not.

    Also, if you take a closer look at parenting stuff, you can actually see that quite a few women enjoy their role as natural nurturer. They often revere these maternal instincts as some kind of superpower. Especially when logical reasoning meet tradition or superstition, you encounter the ‘Mom knows better than all scientists in the world’.

    Although I think that it is somewhat natural for a person who defines him-/herself as nothing else but a parent in a world that often under-appreciates the work a parent does as some kind of natural capacity in their field of work.

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  5. Wait a minute. Clarissa, aren’t you Jewish? Why go after conventional male circumcision? It ought to be a religious freedom issue even if you personally are non-practicing (Jewish by descent, not religious affiliation).

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    1. I agree that people should have the right to practice their religion freely. I’m just opposed to folks who want to inscribe their religion on the bodies of others without their consent. One’s rights to one’s body have to trump other people’s religious right to mess with one’s body. Otherwise, there is no basis to defend reproductive rights.

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