It is difficult to imagine that First World Countries can suffer from issues that seem so old, yet here we are in a world where women’s rights and in turn their safety are being threatened. Between the Trump administration retracting Women’s Health Rights under an oppressive thumb, the Harvey Weinstein story revealing a horrific history of abuse and assault within Hollywood and the #MeToo campaign exposing how sexual assault is almost an everyday occurrence, it is incredibly scary that this how we live.
Italy is an interesting place when it comes to feminism; instead of having the Harvey Weinstein scandal headlines plastered from newspaper front page to newspaper front page, they have the Asia Argento scandal – Argento stated that Harvey Weinstein had raped her and that she is considering leaving Italy due to attacks by her compatriots against her. ‘Victim-blaming’ shouts the cover of Vanity Fair, ‘Weinstein Accuser Feels ‘Doubly Crucified’’ cries the Associated Press headline.
Once again, Italy is led under patriarchal rule.
“There’s not much sensitivity when it comes to issues of sexism or power dynamics between men and women, and there’s a casual attitude toward what other countries would consider harassment.”
It seems an age ago when, then President, Silvio Berlusconi was unearthed in a string of controversies surrounding sexual activities with potentially young girls. Since Berlusconi stood down however, it appeared as though Italy had moved forward from the days of turning a blind eye to the indescribable goings on of sexual violence.
Surprisingly, up until 1981, a wife’s affair could be considered in a court of law to be an extenuating circumstance for her murder. When it comes to sexual assault and rape, it has been only 21 years since it was declared a crime against another person rather than being just against public decency- and what institutions lack, ordinary people do not provide. There’s not much sensitivity when it comes to issues of sexism or power dynamics between men and women, and there’s a casual attitude toward what other countries would consider harassment.
As someone from the UK, this sounds bizarre and alien. However, there are other countries that lack a considerable amount of foresight to these issues. Sophie Hagen, a Danish comedian and guest host on The Guilt Feminist, released a podcast that has publicly stated that in Denmark they don’t have feminism. In one episode she also recounts how sexual harassment on public transport (mainly buses) is so frequent that the bus companies are inundated with calls and complaints but do little as they are unaware of how to report and monitor these events.
“With each new story that appears, with each new voice calling out against the crimes suffered toward them, we find the same arguments.”
One thing I have noticed about how these news stories are handled is that the media uses pronouns so it sounds a particular way; they refer to the actions of the victim and use the passive voice to relay the pressure onto the victim rather than the perpetrator. It is a simple wordy trick that allows the reader to form a somewhat strange opinion of the events that they are only just learning about.
With each new story that appears, with each new voice calling out against the crimes suffered toward them, we find the same arguments. Regarding the Harvey Weinstein scandal, The Daily Mail published several images that showed female celebrities, mainly actors, “cuddling up” to the industry mogul. Inferring that the actions were not entirely ‘his own doing’, The Pool (an online outlet aimed at predominantly women) collated every single accusation and date ordered them – it is an online documented timeline of horror. The account numbers an astonishing 57 women, including 24 year old intern Paula Wachowiak, who was asked to drop some accounts off at Weinstein’s hotel room. She says he answered the door wearing nothing but a bathrobe before quickly dropping it on the floor. “He sat on the bed with the folder over his groin and pointed to checks and asked me why we were paying for this or that,” she went on to explain.
“People who call themselves feminists treat what is supposed to be a fundamental component of someone’s worldview as a sort of battle between secondary school friendship groups: I will fight for your rights — as long as we’re friends.”
In a surprising turn of events in the Argento scandal, the male dominant media has actually stood by her side and defended her as the victim of a horrific crime. With male columnists conveying messages of how this is entirely unacceptable within our society, the true demonisation that she has suffered came from social media. Hoards of people came forward and targeted her within the confines of cyberspace. What is more shocking is that these comments have come primarily from women. There was a woman who did not believe Argento’s story, having seen her perform on Dancing With The Stars, and openly said that ‘Asia asked for it’ because Argento once filmed a scene where she French kissed a dog (in the most platonic and non-bestiality way possible); the same woman who – for all it is worth, which in all honesty is not a lot – said ‘I’ve simply never liked her.’
We can not learn a lot about Italian feminists from this particular statement; however, it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.
In some countries, to proclaim that you are a feminist is valued to mean that you are an individual who defends the rights of women to live as they like, to have equality and those opportunities offered or at least available, whether they be employment or lifestyle, and to be in charge of their own body as well as their sexuality. In Italy, people who call themselves feminists treat what is supposed to be a fundamental component of someone’s worldview as a sort of battle between secondary school friendship groups: I will fight for your rights — as long as we’re friends. If a victim of sexual assault has come across as unpleasant or somewhat unfriendly toward them, they will side with the next one, the one who answers their phone calls. Their sympathies are determined not by who has suffered but by who has invited them to their home.
According to Guia Soncini, she has seen this side of Italian feminism in the past. In Italy’s public life, women are seen as though they are fighting for scraps. ‘There is room for only one sort of feminism here, and it’s mine (for my friends’),’ Soncini told Italian newspaper Il Giornale. It may seem easier for them to ignore what is happening across the world as a whole by only being directly involved in the lives of friends and family members. This is something that can be seen throughout Italy’s socio-cultural evolution, from fashion ads implying gang rape to modern literature.
“How can you learn something without actually being exposed to it?”
Scholar Tiziana de Rogatis claims that award winning novelist Elena Ferrante’s acclaimed Neapolitan trilogy illustrates ‘the terrible amalgam of envy and elective recognition which inevitably constitutes the friendship between two women, two subservients in search of their emancipation.’
Maybe the reason that Italy has this odd view of feminism is that it has to do with — Italian cliché though it may be — the countrie’s history with the Mafia and gang culture. This attitude toward life mimics the Corleone family’s: their family, their friends, their social circle will always come before abstract concepts of what is either right or wrong. It is almost a variation on “the devil you know”: The patriarchy you know will always be more appealing than a triumphant feminism in which none of your acquaintances are involved. How can you learn something without actually being exposed to it?
Maria Goretti, an 11 year old girl In 1902, the daughter of a farming family living outside Rome, was threatened with rape by a neighbor with a knife. Rather than submit to her attacker, Goretti let herself be stabbed to death. The Roman Catholic Church appointed her a saint. There are times in which it seems she’s the ideal paradigm for Italian feminism today: the only woman everyone can unanimously agree is a victim is the one who got herself killed. The one other women do not need to compete with, the one who died in innocence.
We overlook the same factor in each of these tales that appears from the darkest parts of lives that have been shifted forever; it isn’t what was she wearing, or how much she may have drank, or how much she smiled and laughed at his jokes. The common factor is Harvey Weinstein, or James Toback, or Trump, or Saville and the next name and next name. These factors are undeniable and are what we should be focusing on.
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