Indecorous and Free! Women's protests in Italy

Indecorous and Free! Women's protests in Italy

In this latest phase of widespread political and economic crisis, the subject of sexuality has become crucial. In this context the role of women is once again determined and exploited by those in power, within an old traditional ideological perspective. We’ve surely needed a women’s mobilisation against the government and its PM for some time now, and not just because of the sexual scandals.

Italy is ranked amongst the lowest in Europe for freedom and quality of life for women – especially in a context where the government combines the dogmas of unconditional allegiance to Catholic fundamentalism on one hand and unrestrained liberalism on the other. Berlusconi has been the maker of brutal laws that victimise and stigmatise women’s bodies: the law on IVF*, the repealing of the law that made it illegal to “fairly dismiss” pregnant women**, the increase of state pension age. These are just some striking examples of the government’s politics. Other examples are the relentless attacks against the abortion law, the disqualifying and privatisation of the infrastructure (like sexual health centres), the war against the Month-After pill.

All this, in a country that deliberately disowns its youth and therefore its own future, cutting university funds and making work more and more precarious. Women and migrants are the most hard hit by this political system – both are denied fundamental guarantees for a free and dignified existence. Last but not least in this list, the creation of the CIE: proper concentration camps where women are constantly exposed to violence and abuse.***

The recent scandals involving the PM reveal a squalid picture of corruption, in which the woman’s role is defined by the worst possible stereotypes and expressions of an archaic and vulgar sexism. On the other hand though, some of the recent mobilisation address their appeals only to “good” women: mothers, wives, working women. This perspective assumes a separation between respectable and non respectable women, invoking a universal and abstract morality. The danger of this distinction is that it judgementally stigmatises women who “sell their bodies”, but not the sexist discourse and practices that create this twisted dynamic in the first place. Instead of opposing the traditional and regressive vision of sexuality, this kind of divisive morality serves to reinforce it.

We, on the other hand, believe the political questions that need to be asked are of a completely different nature. The redistribution of wealth between profiteers and those who are paying for this crisis, between those who own many buildings and those who don’t even have a house, between those who luxuriate on millionaire wages and those who are jobless: these are the crucial political questions. Above all, we think it’s time for women to speak out for themselves and express their opinions on topics that relate to them. For a long while now, women’s sexuality has been disciplined and controlled, ruled by procreation and male pleasure – in a devious picture where on one hand, prostitutes are being criminalised and marginalised through “security package” laws and moralistic campaigns and on the other, they are being used at men’s leisure in the political palaces.

It’s significant that the most difficult moment of Berlusconi’s government has been caused by a question that has at its heart gender and relationship issues. We have an extraordinary opportunity to incite a women’s revolt – a revolt that calls for a free and aware sexuality, devoid of commodification and imposed rules, and based on the acknowledgment of desires, liberation from sterotypes and self-determination.

* The law restricts the provision of fertility treatments to ‘stable heterosexual couples’ who live together and are of childbearing age, and who are shown to be clinically infertile. A survey carried out by the Reproductive Tourism Observatory in 2006 shows that the number of Italian couples travelling to other countries for such procedures has increased four-fold since the law was passed three years before.
** A common practice that hits pregnant women especially: employees are asked to sign a blank dismissal letter. The employer will then add a date and sack that person whenever they want to, for example, when a female employee gets pregnant. With the repealing of the law against this practice in 2008, women (and employees in general) have one less legal weapon to fight unfair dismissal.
*** Several migrant women locked up in Italian detention centres have denounced the violence, beatings and in some cases, rapes going on inside. For further info check out my previous articles on the blog.

This text was published in the days leading to the women’s demo of 13 February. As I didn’t have time to translate it before I have taken the liberty to adapt it and take out some parts strictly relating to the demo. Original article from Le Malefiche feminist blog.


Feb 16 2011 15:32

Cheers for this, Italy Calling.. I've edited the title to fit style-guide, added a pic and fixed tagging..

I definitely got the same feeling about the demonstrations this article mentions.. from the odd few people who I spoke to about it, they seemed first and foremost to be outraged about who Berlusconi is shagging or how he's only picking hot women to be politicians. Stuff about abortion rights or other controversial stuff doesn't seem to get a look in..

I heard that these protests were really pushed for by the PD (social-democrats), is that true? It would make sense as to why it was real 'lowest common denominator' feminism stuff that didn't touch on any of the 'vote-losing' issues.. (as a friend of my girlfriend said, any demonstration with too many nuns on it can't be that good! smile )..

Italy Calling
Feb 16 2011 22:46

Yeah, the moderate "left wing" organised the official protests (which were going to be "normal" demonstrations, nothing too radical). But the stuff I've been reading comes from student and feminist groups, who obviously joined in with a different agenda.
I think there's mixed feeling about the protests, very different people and organisations were there, even more conservative groups - even right wing political groups/parties. Italy IS a sexist, bigoted Catholic country - there might not be many actual Catholics left, but the Vatican has a lot of political power. So yeah I'm sure there were lots of women who were there just because they think what Berlusconi is doing is "immoral" but they don't actually see the bigger picture, but from what I've been reading I think there's a lot more going on, a lot of radical and less radical groups/individuals are starting to speak out louder and louder.
The witches are back! (It was a feminist slogan of the 70's)

Previous article that ended up on the forum:

Italy Calling
Feb 16 2011 22:43

Erm by the way I really would have liked if you had left the "womyn" spelling in the title, it had a reason to be that way, it's a feminist spelling.

Mar 8 2011 11:16

Hi Italy Calling, I've changed the spelling back (been meaning to do it for a while but it slipped down my to-do list) as I thought it might be an interesting discussion to have..

For me, I don't really see anything particularly feminist in the spelling 'womyn'. In my opinion, it's the women's movement equivalent of some of the cliquey behaviour which goes on in radical circles generally and to most women (or men, for that matter) who get handed out a leaflet using 'womyn' I think it just comes across as petty. There are other, more important, issues effecting women than the origins of commonly used words (obviously excluding things like 'slut', 'slag' etc)..

So yeah, although I agree that language does reflect the patriarchal nature of society I feel that the same is true of all oppressions. One thing that sticks in my mind is how Orwell talks about how during the Spanish Revolution, people stopped using the formal 'Usted'.. now to me (no expert in linguistics by any means), a lot of formal language is the result of master/subject relationships in society but that doesn't mean people shouldn't use polite form when they meet new people or their grandma or whatever.

I suppose in the end, I feel words like 'women' or 'hysterical' are reflections of patriarchal society, not one of the daily manifestations of it which oppress women.. in my opinion, to focus on them in our outreach material is off-putting to those unitiated and, I'd hazard a guess, has more to do with creating a community amongst those using it than it does creating a society based on gender equality.