By Giulia Nicolini
The out-dated nature of the mass media in Italy is among the country’s least well-kept secrets. But for a brief moment, it looked as if negative attention from the international press might finally provoke some much-needed change. In the midst of reporting on the seemingly endless stream of accusations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein last month, some news outlets also commented on how differently Weinstein’s victims were being treated around the world. In particular, the actress Asia Argento, one of the first survivors to break her silence, was said to have felt ‘doubly crucified’ following the response of some of the Italian media, who questioned her allegations, accused her making the claim only to seek attention, and blamed her for Weinstein’s behaviour.
Victim-blaming is not uncommon in Italian reporting of violence against women. In fact, writing on OpenDemocracy 50.50, Claudia Torrisi noted that coverage of the scandal in Italy had been ‘predictably outrageous’. The most inflammatory headline came from right-wing newspaper Libero: ‘First they give it away, then they whine and pretend to regret it’. Indeed, readers of the Italian press will be accustomed to seeing not only A-list actresses, but so many normal women, regularly misrepresented, persecuted and publically shamed in the wake of episodes of sexual violence.
Even if not all Italian journalists engaging directly in victim-blaming, it is not uncommon for them to construct a narrative in which there is no victim at all. In mainstream reporting on the killing of women by male partners or ex-partners, Italian journalists often portray male perpetrators of violence as obsessed lovers: otherwise normal, non-violent men who have been momentarily possessed by fits of jealousy. As the title of a 2013 book by Michela Murgia and Loredana Lipperini proclaims: ‘L’ho uccisa perché l’amavo’ Falso!' (‘I killed her because I loved her’ False!).
Despite efforts by some newspapers to provide counter-narratives which highlighted the gender dimension of these killings, four years later little has changed. In August 2017, news reports on a homicide in which a man had strangled his girlfriend to death focused on how his actions had ‘ruined his life’ – never mind that he had ended that of his victim. Another headline from September 2017 read ‘from cohabitation to jealousy, so their love became a tragedy’. In these headlines, female victims are either blamed for having provoked the violence, or totally erased from the narrative altogether. Such media coverage perpetuates the twisted idea that male violence against women is somehow a way of expressing one’s love and affection. Or even, that it is an unconscious and uncontrollable force.
Despite efforts by a few newspaper editors to address this problem within the journalistic community, and despite the tireless campaigning of feminist activist groups, it is worrying that this kind of reporting has become the norm in Italy. For this reason, I was hopeful to see the international press taking notice of, and commenting on, how differently the same allegations were being reported on in Italy compared to the UK or the USA. However, the opportunity to shame and challenge the Italian media seems to have been wasted, as the conversation soon spiralled into a debate about feminism and hypocrisy, following an article on ‘The Failure of Italian Feminism’ by Guia Soncini in The New York Times.
In the article, Soncini found Argento to have been treated gently by the Italian media on the whole. Instead, she argued, it was from mostly female online commentators that the actress received the harshest treatment. For Soncini this is indicative of the failure of feminism in Italy: ‘There was the woman who wouldn’t believe Ms. Argento because she did not find her likable when she was competing on “Dancing With the Stars”; the one who claims “Asia asked for it” because she once filmed a scene in which she French-kissed a dog.’ In Italy, Soncini sees feminism as a form of solidarity reserved for one’s friends.
Of course, many have disagreed with Soncini’s analysis of the problem. Moreover, it is indicative that Soncini has since come under fire for the victim-blaming tweets she herself had published – suggesting that her opinions about the state of Italian feminism were largely shaped by her own experiences.
Soncini was perhaps right to locate the problem with Italian feminism beyond the media. However, not only was she wrong to let journalists off lightly, she also seems to have missed – or willfully ignored – the point about why women can be the harshest critics of female victims of sexual violence. The internalisation of misogyny by women is crucial to the functioning and reproduction of patriarchy, and its systemic, insidious nature.
If, as Soncini suggests, ‘the patriarchy you know will always be more appealing than a triumphant feminism in which none of your acquaintances are involved’, then let’s demand a different, or better feminism – one which works for everyone. Rather than looking for the failings of feminism in the failings of individual women, we would better to ask which structures, which systems are preventing progress of the movement and its key goal: putting an end to patriarchal control.
Read more from Giulia Nicolini
(Photo credit_ Don Addis - first published on http://www.personal.psu.edu/bfr3/blogs/asp/2013/03/media-influence-stop-it-or-use-it.html - text edited by F Come Team)