The feminist slogan, “The personal is political,” headlined an article in il manifesto on Wednesday about the words spoken by Gino Cecchettin at the funeral of his daughter Giulia in front of the large number of people who crowded the basilica of Santa Giustina in Padua.
One couldn’t imagine this slogan coming back to the center of attention in a more appropriate way; and, at the same time, more surprising. The painful and disturbing story of yet another femicide did not remain closed up in the “private” secrecy of a wounded family; instead, for the first time, the doors of the home were thrown open and such words came out of those domestic interior spaces as until then had only been heard in feminist demonstrations on significant dates such as November 25.
Even though violence against women has long been recognized even by the state institutions as a “structural phenomenon,” the media have continued to relegate it out of the political discourse as a “news item,” and the government measures that are supposed to counter it have been limited to stricter provisions of control and imprisonment.
The adjective “unforeseen,” used in the early 1970s by Carla Lonzi to describe the emergence of women as “political subjects” on the public scene, with the idea that history had to be rewritten starting from an event that disrupted the millennia-old separation between the body and the city, between the fates of one gender and the other, has returned to relevance today, in connection with the millennia-old dominance of a historical community consisting of men only.
Only a father who was able to look beyond his parental role and think of himself as a man among other men, united by a masculinist culture that today makes them question themselves when confronted with its most violent manifestations, could overshadow the figure of the ‘patriarch,’ to whom many still look back with ill-concealed nostalgia. The war between the genders had its strongest root within the family, and at the same time its strongest cover for the perverse confusion between love and violence.
Therefore, it could only have been a family with extraordinary sensitivity and awareness of the relationship between the primary, most intimate forms of affection and a sexism that has lasted for millennia that finally gave voice and political bite to the words that generations of feminists have been shouting in the streets, unheard, for so long.
The reason why the most radical critique of male violence against women could be ignored, fought back or kept under wraps for such a long time was because the shift in consciousness that occurred with the women’s movement revolution of the 1970s was still waiting for that public declaration – ”it’s about us” – that would finally bring to the center not the victim, but the aggressor; not the pathology of the individual, but the culture that alienates the lives of men and women from the most intimate experiences, such as sexuality and motherhood.
That was the merit of the lucid and moving speech with which Gino Cecchettin gave his final farewell to his daughter, after the disruptive impact that Giulia’s sister Elena’s letter to Corriere della Sera had already had. It was the figures of a father and a daughter who finally made a crack in the rigid armor that the family roles had been so far, questioning the “normality” made of atavistic prejudices that has “privatized” and “naturalized” historical power relations.
On Wednesday, the most touching lesson about what kind of love was possible came, surprisingly, in the wake of the savage assertion of life-and-death power that is femicide. “Turning tragedy into a push for change” – this, as Gino Cecchettin said, belongs not to faith, but to “hope.”
The fact is that Giulia’s death had already brought about a change, ever since the moment when the people closest to her, instead of calling for a punishment for the young ex-boyfriend who killed her that would match their own pain, shifted their gaze to a whole society suffering from the same ills, which keeps asking itself the same questions in the solitude of the “private” realm while waiting for solutions outside the family sphere, always postponed for later.
The call to the schools, to the media, to the institutions, is not new when it comes to the prevention of violence against women; but in this case, there are factual realities that one might call “revolutionary,” which can make it at least difficult to stop at mere words, at good intentions.
These days, the highest religious authorities have been speaking about the “war between the genders,” about “peace,” “forgiveness,” education for nonviolence: from the Bishop of Padua during the funeral ceremony to the Pope himself. In a country still haunted by the shadowy presence of an aggressive Catholic fundamentalism, it will surely be more problematic from now on to wave the bogeyman of Gender Theory against any attempt to address the issues of the body, identities and gender roles in schools.