An urgent call for cultural change amidst rising femicide cases
In Italy, we are currently in the midst of an intense debate about the latest case of femicide. This term, a recent addition to our legal vocabulary, has awakened centuries of legal discussions that have marked our nation. However, femicide is not just a violent act; it represents a series of violent and discriminatory attitudes directed against women as such. But what exactly does it mean? And why should it concern each and every one of us?
These particular crimes follow a common path: the victim is a woman, the killer is almost always her male partner or close relative, and the motive is the inability of these men to accept women’s independence.
In 2021, approximately 45,000 have been the victim of femicide. Victims can belong to any social class, any age, in any part of Italy, with every cultural background. The common denominator in these murders is always the male inability to accept that a woman can have feelings, make decisions, or embark on paths over which men cannot exert any control.
For example, a couple of years ago, a girl of Pakistani origin was killed by her uncle (at her parents’ request) as she refused an arranged marriage. Last week, an Italian girl was killed by her former boyfriend who couldn’t accept the end of their relationship; and someone suggested that he couldn’t accept that she was going to graduate as an engineer, while he is late on the same goal.
The last victim’s sister seems to have decided to shake the Italian society to its foundations, to trigger a deep cultural change.
Indeed, as many parts of the society are highlighting, deep-rooted misogyny permeates the Italian culture. It doesn’t mean, of course, that every man is a potential killer, but it seems clear that Italians have a complicated relationship with the fairer sex. Sounds familiar? I’m afraid it’s not happening only here.
The misogynistic attitude
Are all men misogynistic? Not at all, but… there’s a but. When they refer to a woman, to whom they are not related, they always express their opinion on her aspect. Is she a good teacher? Fine, and she’s also beautiful. Is she a great athlete? Ok, but she is ugly. In all honesty, we women are happy to receive a polite and sincere compliment; but comments on a woman’s appearance become unpleasant when they are an obvious vote on her degree of sexual appeal. Men have no idea how it’s unpleasant to be scrutinized, from head to toe, by a man who is wondering how much pleasure you might provide, with the same empathy as looking at a restaurant menu.
It seems that men need to reaffirm that they are attracted to women, that they are indisputably straight, and that there should be no doubts about it. It seems they need to continuously demonstrate they are heterosexual male.
So, why are they so afraid to be thought of as homosexual? Are they all homophobic? In fact, as a study showed, misogyny is often linked with homophobia:
Misogyny is defined as a fear and hatred of women. It manifests itself psychologically in the repression of everything in the psyche that is traditionally connected with the feminine
Repressing every feminine trait, to distance as far as possible from every homosexual feature, ends up with the euthanization of men’s psychological feminine side. From the suppression of a psychological trait to misogyny, the step is short.
The roots of poisonous fruits
It might not be entirely their fault. Our Country has a long history of Catholic culture, in which women have been considered: the cause of the original sin, treacerous and deceptive, witches to be burnt… except for the Virgin Mary. And here’s one of the heaviest legacies of the Catholic religion: the moral salvation of a people’s soul seems to be linked to women’s body and their sexual behavior. Jesus’ Mother is not simply St. Mary, but the Virgin Mary. For centuries, men have dictated the conduct of women, making their bodies the strongbox of public morality.
Previously, in our glorious Roman Empire, women weren’t doing much better. A woman was considered a lower creature, subjugated to her father and then her husband. From this ancient culture, we have inherited our male-dominated legal system, to the point that some laws, until the ’80s, still referred to the motto vis grata puellae, girls like force. This exceptionally macho motto justified sexual assault, disguised as passion. Yes, you read well, the last unbearable sexist law, that allowed a sexual offender to avoid prison by marrying his victim, has been abolished in 1981.
Until 1996, rape was considered a crime against morality, not against the person. Until now, a woman has to prove not only that she suffered violence, but also that she did not provoke it in any way. Still today, the idea that women appreciate the exercise of strength is deeply rooted; a power not tempered by any attitude, feeling, or even vaguely feminine trait.
We return to the same point: our culture forces men to suppress their feminine side, making them hate it. Hating every feminine trait in general, even in other men, and all women.
So, going back to the link between homophobia and misogynism, we should ask the opposite question: are all homophobic men also misogynists? It might be a faster symptom to detect a real misogynist and even a potential sexual offender.
As I said, not all men are misogynists, and only a few are potential killers. Anyway, without spreading any fear of men, and without slipping into an opposite aggressive feminism, or even androphobia, it’s evident that our society needs an honest debate on our cultural imprinting. We can’t (nor should) cancel centuries of greatness, but it’s clear that we inherited some concepts that, being unjust from their origin, are now anachronistic too.
It’s time for men to reclaim their protective instinct, which doesn’t need any improper use of force. It’s time for everyone to dismantle sexist norms and thoughts. Will you join the battle?