— Marcella Mizzi
AMSTERDAM — Being an Italian woman myself, I have always wanted to write an article dedicated to the struggles of women in Italy. Although generally the condition of women in Europe is better than in most countries around the world, evidence showing unequal pay and lack of female leaders makes one realize how far our society is from gender equality. Italian women in particular, are struggling more than their European sisters due to a deeply rooted chauvinist culture, mixed with the influence of the Vatican’s conservative views on women.
A few years ago, the billionaire businessman, TV and newspaper magnate and three times prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was accused of having sexual relations with a minor. Abroad, people disapproved of his conduct. However, the fact did not stop many Italians from voting for him. Mr. Berlusconi is an apologist of sexism, and, in numerous occasions, he has showed to have no respect for women. After years of feminist battles in the 60’s and 70’s, he managed to plunge Italian women back into darkness representing them in his tv channels as beautiful naked objects. Italian men who were at least a bit ashamed of harassing female co-workers were now boasting about their acts, which made them manly and powerful like the Prime Minister.
Along with the Chauvinist culture endorsed by politics and the media, Italian women faced the pervasive influence of the Vatican. The Catholic Church’s extremely conservative outlook placing importance on motherhood, made it particularly hard for women to obtain rights such as the right to divorce or abortion. Still today, gynecologists have the right to refuse to perform an abortion due to personal beliefs, allowing once more for others to decide on what is best for a woman’s body. As for the right to work, Italian women are systematically paid less than their male counterparts, face discrimination and are often asked to choose between their career and family. It is not surprising that many Italian men still believe that women’s raison d’être is giving birth.
In a country where men’s violence against women is minimized and treated as a ‘crime of passion’, women are fighting for ‘femminicidio’ -femminicide, a term adopted by south American feminists to denounce all the forms of violence that women suffer- to be recognized under the law. Reportedly, in Italy every two or three days a woman is killed because she is a woman. Recurrently, in these cases the killer is a man who is, or was, in an intimate relationship with her.
In her latest work ‘Psicologia del maschilismo’, University of Milan’s Professor Chiara Volpato asserts that male chauvinism in Italy far from dead. Her analysis demonstrates that a girl who is born in Italy does not have the same probabilities of expressing her true potential than a boy. Thankfully, attitudes are changing and Italian women are starting to fight back. Great feminists, such as journalist Oriana Fallaci, Prosecutor Ilda Boccassini – who presided over Berlusconi’s sex charges-, and politician Emma Bonino advocate for women’s rights and equality. More and more Italian women are fighting to have their voices heard. They are increasing the number in positions of power, helping to revive the economy, trying to end the sexist portrayal of women in the media, and forcing male leaders to face up to their wrongs. I predict a very long battle against entrenched chauvinism, prejudice, and misconceptions of women but this new beginning is, without doubt, a very promising one.
The Rise of Women in Italy, Stylist Magazine, available at: <http://www.stylist.co.uk/life/the-rise-of-women-in-italy>
Maschilismo, l’egemonia che non tramonta. La colpa? Di stereotipi, tv e politica, Il Fatto Quotidiano, 23 July 2013, available at: <http://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2013/07/29/maschilismo-legemonia-che-non-tramonta-colpa-di-stereotipi-tv-e-politica/670225/>