By Lilia Giugni
My generation has come across feminism, but sadly not too often. Our meetings have, for the most part, been confined to fleeting, hurried encounters in history books. We are daughters of the 80s, born to an Italy that was more inclined to lick its wounds after decades of convulsive struggling, than to engage in new battles. Back then, few questioned our right to be and do what we wanted, but no one seemed prepared to re-open the debate.
Over the years, we have been reminded of distant horrors in far-off lands: genital mutilation, rape, wars, restrictions on fundamental rights and liberties (as if such things could be forgotten). Yet, these infringements of basic human rights were often presented to us within the confines of simplistic conceptual frameworks. We were taught to label such situations as “a clash of cultures”, with the sense of moralistic superiority so frequently held by those in the West. Our approach, our vision, could hardly incorporate the over-arching, and globally problematic question of gender. We have known, often personally, small and large-scale discrimination. Too many of us experienced harassment on an immediate and very real level. We have absorbed and fought stereotypes, without knowing how to join up the dots of these isolated incidents and trace a broader, general, picture.
Change, however, has been in the air over the latter part of the noughties. In 2012, for example, British author Laura Bates created the Everyday Sexism Project, an online platform that quickly became an international phenomenon. The site allows anyone, even anonymously, to report daily incidents of sexism. Eleven years earlier, Catherine Redfern had founded 'The F Word', an online magazine currently attracting millions of readers in and outside the United Kingdom. Another web-zine, the American Feministing, has been giving a voice to a new generation of activists since 2004, and is based on a successful peer-to-peer format.
Skillful (and strategic) use of new technologies has been hailed by many as a hugely significant factor in the birth of the so called feminist ‘fourth wave'. Today’s movement, it has been argued, differs in resources and analytical nuances from the suffragette’s struggle for political rights, as well as from the economic, social and private demands of the 60s-70s, or the innovations made in the early 90s in relation to sexuality and language.
It is certainly true that the web (and social networks in particular) have played an essential role in the viral campaigns in recent years. We have only to cast our minds back to the petition last spring which forced the tabloid paper The Sun to eliminate the semi-pornographic images traditionally published on page 3, or the viral hashtag 'Ni Una Menos', ('not one more') which saw women across Latin America collectively unite against gender violence, as they took to the streets together.
And is the streets that remain ours to be conquered: in figurative and metaphorical sense. For they are both real and symbolic places, as essential to activism as is the cyber-space. In the final months of 2015 alone, millions of protesters crowded the streets in Spain and Argentina. Protests in Tahrir Square soon chimed with calls for gender equality, and activists from the transnational group Femen are increasingly choosing roads and public spaces as their preferred performance venue. In 2011, 3000 Canadians united to condemn the culture of victim blaming, which ensures (even today) that any rape victim will inevitably be asked what clothes s/he was wearing at the time of the attack. Slut Walk marches have then become a regular event for the citizens of Toronto and inspired protests in Switzerland and Brazil, Columbia and South Korea, India and Singapore. In parallel, British feminists have held, since 2004, 'Reclaim the Night' protests, which draw attention to the right of every woman to walk through the city streets at night, without fear for her own safety. From the courageous reaction of the Indian activists after the escalation of rape in recent years, to the 2013 student demonstrations against sexual assault on American campuses: all of these examples point to the conclusion that virtual networks seem to strengthen, rather than supersede, traditional forms of militancy.
Alongside this, the new effervescence of the movement has begun to make inroads even in the global artistic and cultural production. In English and American bookstores titles such as The bad feminist by Roxanne Gay and Living Dolls by Natasha Walter, sit shoulder to shoulder with the works of Naomi Wolf and Gloria Steinem and fiction by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Maya Angelou and Nawal El Saadawi. Films such as Suffragettes and Carol have packed out cinemas, while pop stars Beyonce and Lady Gaga released songs that deal with questions of the female body and the tragic loneliness of the victims of violence. The richness and variety of these contributions in turn explains the complex character, composite and evolving nature of feminism today. Activists are coming from a profoundly different generation. They are of a different origin, sexual identity and social positioning, and as such are openly confronting the challenges of our contemporary reality. The concept of intersectionality, inherited from theoretical debates of the 90s, has expanded feminists’ horizons, and has demanded a complicit, over-arching respect for difference from all members of the movement. It has led to a profound denouncement of the barely concealed injustice that is so inherent to social structures (and not absent in social movements themselves). In the age of Photoshop, the revolution of reproductive technologies, mass migration and new struggles for civil rights, new means of conceiving women’s bodies, souls and freedom are urgently needed.
But what about Italy, and more specifically Italian women? And what about us, the daughters of the 80s, whether we are residing at home or abroad (yet want to be part of the change)? And our mothers, sisters and children, the daughters that we have or that we might have one day? For starters, Italian universities are desperately in need of more Gender Studies departments, and bookshops to be stocked with feminist literature. We have significant strides to make in terms of equal representation, the prevention of gender violence, the general image and perception of women in our national media. The road ahead will be long and undoubtedly bumpy. The fact remains, however, that Italy today is starting to witness these conversations. There is indignation, and there is a call to fight.
The shock documentary Women’s Bodies by Lorella Zanardo, has accumulated millions of views since 2009, leading to a book-deal, a successful blog, and a cultural awareness programme that the author has since started to roll out in schools. In 2011, a diverse group of female role-models, who were both familiar and unfamiliar to the Italian public, created the movement If Not Now, When and have taken to the streets on numerous occasions to protest against the degradation of women in public life. Dozens of individual and collective blogs have emerged in recent years, opening up the dialogue around feminist issues, and (notably) contributing to the organization of major events in Rome in 2007 and 2008. The mobilization against femicide has been strengthened by big names and familiar faces such as Concita De Gregorio and Serena Dandini. The artists Carmen Consoli, Gianna Nannini, Elisa, Emma, Irene Grandi and Nada have recently recorded the song-complaint Ms. fifth floor, donating all of the their proceeds to the charity Telefono Rosa. While readers are enthused by stories about women – and particularly self-proclaimed feminists- by Elena Ferrante, the magazine Espresso has dedicated the first issue of 2016 to women and the struggle over their bodies.
F come intends to join the discussion, indignation and, of course, the battle. We invite you all in particular to join up the dots. To call things by their name, to build, and to regain possession of, a language that helps us to understand, react to, and put together scenarios and claims. We invite you to claim the legacy of past struggles and bringing to light present needs, which affect us all: men, women and the community at large, both in Italy and abroad. Welcome to fcome.org.