We Need To Talk About The Female Slap

It’s promoting violence, not female empowerment

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Last night, I watched When Harry Met Sally. A lot of my friends have raved about the cult classic, so I thought I would give it a try. (It was either that or A Walk To Remember, and I wasn’t in the mood to watch anybody die from cancer.)

So, there’s a scene in the movie where Sally is at a friend’s wedding and gets approached by Harry. She’s upset with him because, after they had sex three weeks ago, he fell off the radar and left her feeling neglected.

The situation begins to escalate once Sally and Harry start yelling at each other. During their argument, Harry says plenty of hurtful things to Sally — he compares her to a dog and more or less blames her for their sexual encounter. Things become even more heated once Harry admits he only had sex with her out of pity.

Enraged by this, Sally slaps Harry across the face.

In the context of the film, Sally’s slap is meant to be an empowering moment for her. She’s standing up to Harry and letting him know that his callous behavior is unacceptable — but it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Sally is certainly not the first fictional female to physically express her anger— the female slap (as I refer to it) is an extremely common trope found in all kinds of movies and TV shows. You’ve probably seen a woman slapping a man (or kicking/punching him) on-screen at some point, but in case you haven’t, here are just a few examples of where you can find it: How I Met Your Mother, Ratatouille, Modern Family, Glee, Scrubs, Riverdale, The Mindy Project, Jane the Virgin, The Vampire Diaries, Frozen, Desperate Housewives, and General Hospital.

The female slap can be discovered in every genre — from soap operas to Disney films. Although the women who physically assault men in these movies and shows are often seen as strong and courageous, the message behind the female slap is less about empowerment and more about physical violence.

But what does the female slap really mean?

Before we discuss why it’s so awful, we should probably talk about what the female slap really means. Why do directors and writers insist on making women slap men?

Well, in the context of When Harry Met Sally, the crushing blow was delivered out of anger. Harry insults Sally, and she chooses to physically punish him for his words. The slap is meant to hurt him just as much as he hurt her, as well as be a wake-up call. Sally’s slap says, “You idiot! Why would you say that to me?” Instead of wondering why Sally would hit Harry (rather than talk it out), the audience feels like the slap was deserved. I mean, he shouldn’t have angered her…right?

The female slap can also be used as a comedic device as well. Consider the medical comedy, Scrubs. Whenever the main character, JD, is slapped by a woman, it’s in his daydreams — and it’s not meant to be taken seriously. He’s imagining all of the stupid things he could say, and how the females in his life might react.

But, whether it’s out of comedy or anger, the female slap is still sending the wrong message — and it’s far too culturally accepted.

Why the female slap is wrong, and why people don’t get upset about it

Remember that When Harry Met Sally scene I talked about earlier? Well, what if the situation was reversed? Harry gets approached by Sally, and he’s the one upset by her lack of communication after their one-night stand.

Sally tells Harry she only had sex with him out of pity, and he, out of anger, slaps her across the face. I mean, that’s what she gets, right? She should not have said that to Harry — of course he was going to slap her for it!

The movie might be from the ’90s, but I can only imagine the outrage that it would cause. Audiences would not tolerate a man slapping a woman under any conditions — and especially not out of anger. Harry, and any other male character that slapped a woman, would immediately be regarded as an abusive monster. (Which, you’ll notice that the men who do hit women in TV shows and movies are meant to be seen abusive monsters. They aren’t the love interests, or the protagonists.)

Yet, when the tables are turned, nobody bats an eyelash at a woman giving a man a smackdown. Even though the female character is being abusive, audiences are hardwired to side with the abuser.

I mean, he deserved it, right?

There are a couple of reasons for this, but it pretty much all boils down to sexism — to both men and women. Even though its 2019, and feminism has hit its fourth wave, there is still an extreme hesitation for people to view women as capable of abuse, and men capable of being victims to it. Women are still seen as weak, and men are still seen as untouchable.

The truth is that rapists, pedophiles, and abusive partners come in all shapes and sizes — including women. 1 in 10 men experience some form of abuse from an intimate partner, and while that is not as much as women do, it does still happen. (I also recognize that some of those 1 in 10 men are in same-sex relationships, but a large portion of them are not.)

When you consider how people treat men slapped by women versus women slapped by men, you start to see a disturbing double-standard arise. If someone were to ask, “Is it okay for a man to slap a woman if she calls him a whore?” the majority of people would probably say no.

Yet, I’ve seen men get slapped on-screen after they insult a woman, or act like a jerk. Should they have said that? No. Did they deserve to get slapped for it? No.

Just because domestic violence against men is underreported does not mean men aren’t victims. The inability for our culture to view women as capable of abuse has led to the female slap trope as well as widespread acceptance of it. It would be one thing if this trope was rarely ever seen by audiences, but it pops up in nearly every genre — and it’s having real consequences.

What happens when women see other women physically assault men?

It’s difficult to determine how TV shows or movies have directly impacted how much women hit men, but the numbers troubling. While one in twenty men report to hitting a female partner, one in seven women admit to hitting a male partner.

In 2016, Natalia Milano wrote a Medium article entitled, Why I Stopped Slapping My Boyfriend In The Face, and launched the #NoMoreSlapping campaign. She, like many young, impressionable girls, grew up watching their favorite actresses slap men, and carried this behavior into her own life.

It’s really less about the slap than it is how its portrayed. It would be one thing if a woman slapped a man and then faced the consequences of committing a physical assault. Instead, these women are painted as courageous, independent figures standing up for themselves. They’re supposed to be sexy and strong. Sometimes, we even see these fictional men get turned on by it — as if any man would actually respond positively to getting smacked in the face. (Which, anybody who has ever gotten hit in the face — by a man or woman — knows how much it hurts.)

As girls, we want to be strong, too. We want to be sexy and courageous — but slapping anybody (regardless of gender) is not the way to go about it. That makes abusive, not a feminist.

I can only hope, as our culture progresses, that more people will speak up about the female slap in TV shows and movies. Instead of praising these women as strong, we should recognize that their behavior is not acceptable. It isn’t alright for anybody — regardless of gender — to smack someone else in the face just because they insulted you, or broke your heart. It’s not okay on TV, and it’s not okay in real-life.

When I’m not writing, you can usually find me hanging out with my cats. pricelindy@gmail.com

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