Saturday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This date, which in Italy has only garnered media attention since 2007, although it was established by the U.N. in 1999, comes this year at the culmination of a series of exceptional events, which have definitively moved the topic of male violence from the exclusive domain of true crime stories to a central issue of our social and political life.
The Italian feminist movement NonUnaDiMeno proclaims that “we have a plan against male violence and gender-based violence,” and they promoted their plan Saturday with a march in Rome. “Violence against women is a systemic issue,” they said.
After the summer of 2017, this message is impossible to ignore.
Looking at the news of the day, we are struck by the 12 hours of interrogations to which the two American girls who reported their rape at the hands of two “carabinieri” (officers of the Italian military police) on duty were subjected, an event which took place in September in Florence.
It was almost like they were the perpetrators, not the victims, and even the tone of the report aired on Porta a Porta last night commenting on the minutes of the interrogations shows clearly how great is the resistance against these ideas.
Nonetheless, something has changed, and it has changed for good. The investigative report by Ronan Farrow published in The New Yorker in October, based on the stories he collected from 13 women who confessed their experiences to him and backed up the accusations of sexual harassment and rape against Harvey Weinstein, was the start of an avalanche.
“Avalanche” looks to me like the perfect word: something unstoppable that drags everything else along with it. And it did, everywhere in the world: from the U.S. to France, from Sweden to England, and Italy as well.
It won’t stop anytime soon — at least I hope not. And the force of its impact comes from its starting point, the world capital of the production of our collective imaginary: Hollywood.
There is nothing new here. These things have always happened — this is the mantra invoked by the men, and sadly also women, who want to curb the scandal. Exactly!
What is new is that actors, the working women of the world of cinema, have found the courage to speak up in public.
It had started to happen at the Oscars ceremony, where some pointed out the limited lead roles available for women. Now, they have accomplished even more. They attacked the very foundations of the patriarchal power system. They brought to light the sexual intimidation that weighs down on women everywhere, in private as well as in public life.
Turning back to Farrow’s investigation, he found a valuable collaborator in Asia Argento, who told him of her own experiences on several occasions — the basis for a solid work of journalism, not improvised and dealing in vague accusations, but one that searched for, and discovered, substantial confirming evidence.
This is why it has become an avalanche. Because of the clarity of the truth it shows. Because every woman who has read or heard about it recognized the dynamic at work. And each of them knows that they themselves have almost always been silent in the face of it, and they know the reasons why. I summarize them under the word “intimidation.”
Sexual harassment, aggression and violence are tools used by male power in order to keep women in their place: in silence, likely in fear, and lacking autonomy. And, worst of all, not only victims but believing themselves to be guilty. Guilty of having triggered the violence and the aggression, a shame that they must bear.
We can never thank Argento and the others who revealed their own stories enough.
The most recent is Uma Thurman, who wrote #metoo on Instagram under a photo of her as the beautiful and angry protagonist of Kill Bill, and added about Weinstein that he doesn’t “deserve a bullet.” They are done listening to others, and they have broken the media trap that kept women from telling their story.
Actress Uma Thurman is adding her voice to those condemning Harvey Weinstein over sexual abuse allegations: pic.twitter.com/ItilLELrJD
— CBS News (@CBSNews) November 24, 2017
Most importantly, they allowed us to focus on the all-encompassing nature of male violence. Even if most of it takes place in the home, and the percentage that manifest as assaults in the streets is minimal in comparison with that, the rest takes place in the public space, at work, even in the realm of the political.
This is the avalanche. The revelation of an everyday, commonplace truth, which has always been an inescapable feature in the lives of women.
Avalanches, as we know, tend to overwhelm instead of making distinctions. A hand on a woman’s posterior is not, of course, the same as a rape in wartime. But if such a wave as this one is coming, we should think carefully before complaining — as even many women are doing — that it will end up destroying sexual attraction.
Poor men, how will they manage? Sexual interplay is one of the most beautiful forms of interaction available to human beings. I do not think this can be destroyed if a man who has power of any kind over a woman has to ask himself if putting a hand on her thigh during a gala dinner is for her a pleasant and welcome distraction from a boring social ceremony, or instead an act of intimidation.
I’m an optimist, but I continue to think that the average man is able to know if a woman is willing or not, and is able to question his own behavior. This is the point, as many pretend they simply can’t.
And there is more. For example, the fact that violence is not exercised only against women, like the “Wednesday Group,” of which I am a member, write in our text “More to say on violence” (“Sulla violenza, ancora” — www.donnealtri.it). This is exactly what the NonUnaDiMeno plan is aiming at, adopting a general and wide-ranging perspective.
Together, those of us who are marching, together with all the others, can think seriously about changing the world.