Detoxifying From Watching Women Slapped

I grew up watching a lot of old movies and TV shows (reruns by the time I was viewing them) in which a recurring scene was that of a man slapping an upset woman to calm her down, bring her back into a more rational state of mind. It was the quick formula solution to stop her from being “ruled by her emotions.” This always felt upsetting, confusing, and deeply wrong to me. Fortunately, I never saw my dad do this at home to Mom, or other friends or family members act this way with their close women loved ones. Anyway, as a child, I felt such a dissonance, that of being deeply disturbed by this violent act against a grown woman on one hand while somehow wanting to trust that the adults– in this case, the men– new best what to do in this particular dynamic. It is interesting how I don’t remember men getting slapped by women in response to expressing strong emotions. The stereotype and expectation was that men aren’t “overly” emotional like women. And when and if they are, they must be promptly straightened out. Some man would sometimes slap another in some screen drama to “shape him up,” but this seemed rarer. I do remember a scene in STAR TREK TOS, whereby Captain Kirk repeatedly slaps Spock, when that latter is in a particularly sad, shame-filled state. That felt wrong too and very dissonant with the bonding moment that was supposed to be underscored between these two life-long close friends in such a pioneering TV show. But then bonding through violence never made clear sense to me. I always thought intimacy was about honoring emotional expression, so long as it’s not abusive/harmful, towards developing a sense of closeness with another.

The media has such a way of perpetuating and shaping stereotypical behavior, including such awful, wrong gender biases. There is an old, rigid arc of emotional expression patterns so many movies and television shows would perpetuate and which I’ve had to detoxify from during my adulthood. Seeing women getting slapped by supposedly well-meaning men is one of those particular image arcs I’ve had to get over. Thank the gods society at large finally no longer tolerates portraying such ugliness in moving pictures as a matter of course. That kind of imagery alone was and is blatant validation of violence against women and against those who “act like” women, i.e., show their emotions in response to feeling vulnerable– be through states of fear, shame, sadness, anger, etc.

In America, we still have a long ways to go as a culture with treating women, non-binary folks, and *explicitly* expressive sensitive men with care and respect in the face of strong emotions. But, there has been progress, thank goodness. The apparent fading away of routine slaps in the face to mostly women and some men “acting like women” in newer movies and television shows (made roughly within the last forty years or so) is an encouraging marker to this being the case.

3 thoughts on “Detoxifying From Watching Women Slapped

  1. I understand what you are saying. The visceral reaction I get is so immediate, I need to escape the situation whether it be a movie/TV show immediately. The same happens when I happen to witness it in person as in a mother slapping a child across the face in response to that child’s response to something the mother said. It literally makes me sick inside.

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  2. Yes yes yes. I have always despised the act of slapping a person on the face–so intensely personal because it is the face. It shocks and shames the person being slapped, which is probably why it is “effective” — it makes the victim shift into the attention and action the slapper wants to create. It is violent no matter what the situation. I’ve always thought it strange that open-handed hitting is not considered to be abusive.

    As for media portrayals, I don’t think I’d ever consciously recognized how the interaction is nearly always men slapping women. Argh makes me gag when those reinforcements of the stereotypes of strong men/hysterical women are reified.

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