Commentary. Violence against women will be overcome, or at least reduced, only when the mentality and the male culture that produces it seriously changes.

Women’s liberation is also an opportunity for men

Around November 25, the media are filled with news, reports and commentary concerning the increasingly intolerable violence against women. Rising are the numbers of femicides, household persecution, beatings, psychological and economic violence. The murderous fury strikes the children as well. This museum of horrors, we find, are perpetrated mostly by husbands, companions, fathers, brothers, family friends and sometimes strangers on the street.

At the political level, we hear good intentions: there is talk of financing, of new rules against those who commit violence, and for the protection of victims. (It is less clear why the “national anti-violence plan” has been blocked for one year between governments, or why funding from the regions takes so long to reach those who deal with violence on a daily basis, if it ever does.)

But there’s another point to be made. Violence against women will be overcome, or at least reduced, only when the mentality and the male culture that produces it seriously changes. Every now and then the question arises: where are the men? What do they say, do, think about the violence they do?

Can November 25 be a thermometer of male awareness? In part, but only in part, I think so. And this year, perhaps more numerous initiatives are announced than in the past. In some cities, male groups will put little boats in the rivers, lakes, in the sea, which commemorate the women killed. A gesture not to forget and to “change course.” There are parades and flash mobs with men wearing red shoes, a colorful assumption of guilt, a desire to show up and perhaps to change?

Along with other friends of the Maschile plurale (“Masculine Plural”) network, I signed a text that pledges the growth in Italy of “groups that promote male liberation practices against stereotypes and sexism,” draws a first roadmap for progress, and relaunches the desire to “Walk the talk, now.” It combines differences in points of view, experiences, the ability to reinforce the message and goes beyond once-a-year (though appreciable) solidarity.

“The international day against violence against women,” reads the text (available on the Maschile plurale website), “concerns us not only because it is we males who exercise these aggressions — and we are all in some way crossed by the patriarchal culture that produces violence — but because questioning this culture would be a great advantage for ourselves and our lives.”

This, I believe, is the fundamental wager. The emancipation and freedom of women accomplished by the female-led and feminist revolt of the last half century — to which the LGBTQIA+ critique of the patriarchal order has been added — have questioned and continue to question privileges, advantages and “patriarchal dividends,” as R.W. Connell called them. We all suffer from it, even the men further down the social ladder. This crisis and discomfort often either remains silent, or it translates into the violent reaffirmation of a wavering sense of power. In the family, in society, in politics.

Those who do not share this brutal reaction, yes, should raise their voices, reflect on themselves, on their relationships with other sexual and gender identities, and — perhaps even more so — on their complicity, hierarchies, prejudices and the conflicts that define relationships between men.

The experience of Maschile plurale, which began about 30 years ago, tells me that trying to put this discomfort into words can do us good. The time has come to share this research in more frequent and better ways with women who are interested in doing it and with others who rebel against patriarchal normative codes. Hence the proposal to build together an annual public meeting on the issue of relations between the genders. Rediscovering, in a changing world, all the dimensions of a vital wealth. A place for exchange, discussion, research and permanent creativity.

Breaking the chains that we pretend to impose on women, and on those who appear too “different” according to symbolic imperatives that no longer hold up, would open up a world of improved wellbeing — first of all to ourselves.

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