When a femicide occurs every three days, it is no longer acceptable to be told that it is a “structural phenomenon” which has been tied to male culture for centuries, without men admitting that this is about them.
It is no coincidence that violence against women, anti-abortion fundamentalism, sexual abuse and sexual harassment in the workplace are re-emerging today, in an archaic and savage form—claiming the power of life and death—in the face of the advances in women’s freedom, which many men are openly unable to tolerate, others disagree with and keep silent, while yet others choose to ignore and say nothing against the murderous savagery of their fellow men.
The attacks on women’s freedom can be said to have crossed the line, legitimized as they are in Italy by that toxic mixture of sexism and racism that comes from fundamentalist Catholicism and from politicians worried about protecting the purity of the “Italian breed.” The voices we are hearing most are those of politicians and organizations who hide behind the symbol of the cross and the “pro-life” slogan, while fueling hate and trying to enshrine their deep-rooted misogyny in the country’s laws.
A few days ago, in front of the Mangiagalli clinic in Milan, where a tireless obstetrician, Dr. Alessandra Kusterman, was performing therapeutic abortions, an enormous poster was put up by the “Ora et labora. In difesa della vita” (“Pray and work: In defense of life”) association, with the message “Don’t stop his heart” next to a picture of a smiling child in a frame drawn on the belly of a woman.
Behind posters like this one, as well as other initiatives that are spreading among the administrations of various Italian municipalities, on the example of Verona, lies an awareness that it is difficult to put forward a direct attack against Law 194, so the road they choose is the more hypocritical and devious one: exploiting the guilt that has been deeply inculcated into women over centuries of mandatory procreation.
When an anti-abortion campaign, and one against gender education in schools, become the most facile ideological weapon for a party like the Lega—which is fishing for more votes by playing on the centuries-old sexist, racist and homophobic prejudices—it’s time to ask ourselves whether the root cause of this barbarism we are seeing is not precisely the change in the power balance between the sexes, the crisis of a patriarchy that had been secure in its privileges, together with the leading role that women are playing in the battle against all forms of violence and exploitation.
Nowadays, they are openly saying that women are “selfish” if they don’t want to have children. They don’t want to talk about the fact that motherhood has been imposed on women for centuries, and used as a pretext to exclude them from public life. They are also calling women “murderers” if they decide to have an abortion. They don’t want to admit that something that has always been just a pleasurable act for men—even more, one which often took place using violence—has meant, for women, an unwanted pregnancy and the birth of a child that would radically change their lives.
And they are calling women “sluts” if they are willing to fight the violence of their husbands, fathers or brothers in their homes, and if they oppose the laws which are trying to prevent them from reporting these acts of violence: such name calling happened just recently at a Lega-organized conference with Senator Pillon. What they are unwilling to talk about is the fact that the subjugation of women is the foundation on which all the horrors that patriarchy has littered history with have been built: from wars to massacres, from classism to racism, nationalisms and genocides.
Instead of resigning ourselves to the seemingly unstoppable reality of sexist violence, it is important to recognize that we are not facing an “inexplicable” phenomenon, as the newspapers seem to suggest, and that if a sweet child suddenly becomes a monster, maybe something is wrong in his formation—something that must be investigated.
We would simply need to open our eyes a little more when it comes to romantic and family relationships, and not be afraid to admit that our most intimate sentiments have always been marked by power relations between the sexes, that childhood dependence carried forward into adult romantic relationships is one of the root causes of violence, and that the power of the indispensable role of mothers feeds the development of dependence and fragility in their sons. If, despite all the idealization of the family, the phenomenon of domestic violence is so enduring, this is perhaps because, within the setting of the household, the nostalgia of the man-child, the power of indispensability of the woman-mother and the remnants of the patriarchal domination in decline are blending together. Indeed, the language of love and the language of domination are still the same: “I am yours,” “You are mine,” “I can’t live without you,” “Make me suffer, make me die, but stay with me”—these are examples from popular songs: is it perhaps more than just entertainment? All this means that, while love is not why people kill, love can play a role in such tragedies, and it is time to look beyond its supposed “mysterious” nature.
What is now coming out into the open is the crisis of a civilization that, up to now, has been marked by the dominance of the historical community of men in all its manifestations, economic, cultural and political: it has been shaped by their worldview, imposed and ideologically justified as supposedly “natural.” We cannot settle for just a few laws and a few rights painfully extracted after much effort, and which then immediately become the object of violent misogyny. A civilization that has had only one of the sexes as the protagonist for centuries is now showing its destructive roots, both against human beings and nature.
The women who are filling up the squares around the world today are women from different generations, who have realized just how much sexism is the common factor cutting through all the forms of exploitation, poverty and social injustice, and how deep the roots—still partly unconscious—of this culture go, which we have unfortunately inherited and internalized.
The change that we want today can only be radical change: it concerns institutions, forms of knowledge and power in private and public life. It means opposition, disobedience and rebellion against the governments that are trying to legitimize male violence in all its forms.