Women in Italy are Demanding a #MeToo Moment

Women took to the streets in 40 cities all over Italy last month in demonstrations organized by the feminist movement Non Una di Meno with a clear warning for the patriarchy.

Palermo. Copyright Naomi Morello

On International Women’s Day, protestors transformed #MeToo into #WeTogether as they fought not just sexual abuse and assault, but all forms of economic and structural violence against women—including temporary contracts and discrimination within the workplace, social roles and norms and the balance of power that facilitate violence and harassment. The strike also took place within homes, where, according to a recent survey undertaken by Ipsos with Farmindustria, nine out of 10 women are caregivers.

Asia Argento and Rose McGowan, two of the voices behind the Harvey Weinstein accusations that launched the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, took part in the demonstrations in Rome. Argento previously appeared at the Women’s March there on January 20; the day before the strike, she was a guest speaker at the European Parliament’s conference for International Women’s Day, where she received a standing ovation for telling her story.

Yet the #MeToo movement is not a cultural phenomena in Italy—not like it is in the U.S. While some women showed their support for Argento through social media with #MeToo and the Italian hashtag #quellavoltache (that time that), the media generally pulled her apart. Whereas the rest of the world had put Weinstein on trial, in Italy it was Argento who was placed on trial.

It was a familiar narrative seen in the treatment of the two American girls who accused two Florentine policemen of rape. When a tapescript was reported of one of the defense lawyer’s 12-hour questioning of the victims, his questions were deemed inappropriate. At one point the judge interrupted the questioning, saying “I refuse to go back fifty years.” This is all within a context in which figures for women who denounce cases of gender violence are alarmingly low. ISTAT figures released in 2017 state that in 2016 one woman was killed every three days as a result of gender violence, and such figures continued into 2017. Four out of ten women have experienced sexual harassment, and it’s a phenomenon that’s on the rise.

Economic independence is a crucial factor in enabling women to leave situations of violence and abuse, yet Italy has one of the worst records in Europe for female employment, holding the penultimate place on the continent just before Greece. Sexual education within schools is minimal, and children are still being taught with textbooks that adhere to and thus enforce traditional gender stereotypes.

The result is that boys and girls are growing up in different parallel worlds, and the current stereotypes are difficult to shift. According to the results of a WeWorld Onlus survey, a non-government organization that works for women’s rights in Italy, nine percent of young male Italians believe that it is acceptable to lock a woman in the home or control her outings or telephone calls, and roughly the same number feel it is acceptable to engage in sex without consent.

Milan. Copyright Rachael Martin

One of the policemen accused of rape in Florence remarked that “we behaved like little boys.” The comment pointed to a cultural framework in which boys will be boys—the same mentality that excuses high-profile men for brutish behavior and allows them to stay firmly in the public eye. It’s a culture where boys are given freedom and excused while girls remain restricted and face shame for breaking norms. It’s a narrative that is fostering violence—one being nourished within childhood. And it is that exact framework which now has to be addressed across the country.

After #MeToo, actresses and journalists have spoken out collectively under the hasthtag #dissensocomune—common dissent. Conversations around sexism and sexual violence are sparking in Italy, but these dialogues are happening within a misogynistic culture in which gender disparities are deeply entrenched socially and structurally.

If real change is to come, it will entail a long and difficult struggle at every possible level. If the women who came together on March 8 have their say, that struggle will soon ensue—at full force.

Rachael Martin is a British freelance writer who has lived in Italy for the past 20 years. She was a co-organizer of the 2017 Women’s March on Milan.

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