Social Injustice Social Issues

Why do we have a gender problem?

From the study of the recent data disclosed on the occasion of March 8, International Women’s Day, it emerged how women are still victims of gender inequality which manifests itself across various fields.

From the personal to the public sphere, the world seems tailor-made for man while woman remains subordinate to the events of History with a capital “S” .

We have analyzed this complex and deep-rooted mechanism from various points of view, trying to clarify important concepts such as gender-pay-gap, patriarchal society, feminism, motherhood, gender quotas and many others.

Through this investigation, divided into 5 articles, we will research and explain the

causes and tangible effects of systemic discrimination that victims women all over the world.

It is first necessary to understand what the socio-cultural reasons are for the disparity that has afflicted the female gender for centuries. From physical and psychological violence to sexist jokes, we retrace the order of events that led us to a reality that sees “man as the measure of all things”.

But in this phallocentric vision, where is the woman (going)?

But can I say patriarchy ?

Sometimes it can happen that, while we are having a lively discussion with friends over a beer on a Friday night or perhaps with perfect strangers on Clubhouse, the word ” patriarchy ” comes up without often knowing its real meaning. In fact, the term is so unclear to most people that an entire ” anthropological spectrum ” of reactions can be defined depending on how more or less informed (and more or less misogynistic) the interlocutor is. Hearing about patriarchy, there’s always someone who’s beer is staggered. Then there are those who react by being indignant, those who treat it superficially or decide to ignore it, or those who argue against its use “inappropriately”, a bit as if it were parsley.

But what does ” patriarchal culture ” really mean ? And why should its existence be accepted?

Let’s say it once and for all: no, “patriarchy” is not a dirty word, yet talking about it or simply mentioning it still generates too much upheaval. This mainly depends on the fact that there is still a lot of misinformation around the term, the primary cause of misunderstandings and denials.

Only by understanding its meaning will it be possible to understand how much this influences every aspect of our lives, penalizing both women and men.

In fact, patriarchy is defined as a “male chauvinist social system in which men primarily hold power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority and social privilege”. Nowadays, however, this term (which has ancestral origins) is loaded with much more subtle socio-cultural concepts and implications, so much so that it is omnipresent (and therefore apparently invisible) in our daily lives.

Over the centuries, patriarchy has manifested itself in the social, political, religious and economic organization of populations, generating important cultural effects of which we are all still victims and, at the same time, skilled followers.

The existence of a secular patriarchal ideology has implied the rooting of a chauvinistic and misogynistic approach to reality that constantly mixes with our daily practice.

We don’t know how patriarchy was actually born, or rather, we know that it was born when human beings began to organize themselves into communities but we can only speculate on what the real causes could have been that led man to impose himself systematically on women, proclaiming themselves as the “dominant sex”.

One of the most valid hypotheses is the one based on René Girard’s mimetic theory , according to which essentially imitation ( “mimesis” precisely) constitutes the foundation of human intelligence and cultural learning that characterizes every individual (and as deny it?).

According to Girard, however, this mimetic attitude towards reality is not just a good-natured and candid assimilation of what is around us but contains within itself a destructive power. In fact, individuals belonging to the same society are fueled by a generalized hunger to possess the same objects . From this derives that ” mimetic rivalry ” which, very often, leads to violent and chaotic crises. The only way to solve the problem and “patch” the gap that is inevitably created is to sacrifice a scapegoat on whom to place the blame so as to be able to guarantee the return of peace and the construction of a new culture based on equally new certainties.

And this is precisely the story of patriarchy , born in response to the profound crisis of primordial agricultural societies. According to the mimetic theory, man has therefore decided to immolate the female being as a sacrificial victim , condemning her to become the sinner guilty of all the “evil” that exists (sounds familiar, right?) and building on the “necessary” discrimination of woman a new model of society that still resists today: the chauvinist and patriarchal one .

What many don’t know (or refuse to admit) is that this sexist approach, based on an imbalance of power, has a deleterious effect on both men and women . In fact, both are slaves to false and unattainable gender stereotypes that cage them in pre-packaged and claustrophobic models in which, more often than not, they are not reflected.

Denying the existence of a patriarchal culture that permeates every area of ​​our personal and collective sphere therefore proves to be both false and counterproductive: sexism and chauvinism continually manifest themselves in our daily lives in a more or less explicit way and denying this evidence only fuels their discriminatory mechanism.

The existence of the gender gap , the dramatic number of feminicides ( 91 in 2020 alone, as reported by Il Sole 24 Ore ), the gender violence that is now daily practice ( according to Istat, it affects 1 in 3 women ) and the inequality of wages are just the tip of the iceberg of the effects of the patriarchal environment in which we live. In addition to these dramatic evidences, so consolidated as to constitute the “status quo”, there are dozens of more subtle discriminatory attitudes which are often perceived as “tolerable” or even “harmless” by society and, for this reason, more difficult to combat. This second category includes catcalling and sexist and sexual jokes which, disguised as joking, make the retrograde vision we still have of women unhappily explicit: sometimes as an “angel of the hearth”, sometimes as a sexual and commodified object .

In short, we always talk about the Middle Ages. But weren’t we in 2021?

The discriminatory attitude that sees women occupying a subordinate position to men is reflected in all its silent violence in the killing of plural feminines . The grammatical gender of the masculine plural in fact incorporates and subjugates the feminine, reflecting what happens in reality. This is also demonstrated by the document drawn up by the National Commission for equality and equal opportunities between men and women , which clearly states how everyday language is the most pervasive means of transmission of a vision of the world in which women are treated with inferiority or marginality.

It’s paradoxical, but one man in an audience of a thousand women is enough to allow us to correctly talk about “everyone” and not “all”.

What we often don’t understand is that each of us is the healthy (or rotten?) fruit of the society in which we live . The environment that surrounds us teaches us, since we are boys and girls, in a male-dominated system that is unfair and discriminates against women in every aspect of life.

So yes, women are chauvinistic too . And how could they not be, if chauvinism is the norm?

In a world built on an imbalance of power passed off as natural and immutable and on a society that cages us in labels so claustrophobic that they make us immobile in the paralysis of our ineptitude , we continue to free ourselves from responsibility for our faults and the ability we have to change things .

We repeat to ourselves: “The problem is the system, it doesn’t depend on us”, reassured by our innocence while we repeat the same mistakes and discriminations, addicted to the stasis of a fragile peace but destined to shatter.

A language problem: form and substance

We often underestimate the weight of words. We continually use terms “out of habit”, not reflecting on their real meaning or their origin and thus abandoning ourselves to convenient clichés which, however, carry with them a long history of discrimination or violence.

The controversy over what language is has been going on for centuries, suspended between pure form and pure essence. Suffice it to say that already in the 4th century BC, Aristotle believed that language expressed being, defining it as a “content of consciousness”.

The mistake we often make is to fix language in space and time, with an attitude reluctant to change. Because yes, it would be much more convenient to anchor ourselves to the here and now to have certainties, at least when we speak, but this makes us short-sighted towards a society that is changing, and very quickly too.

The vocabulary and semantics associated with words have always been the mirror of the values ​​and degree of civilization of a population. The terms used in different contexts are in fact the first indicator of the cultural habits and balances of power that govern a people.

In light of this, we could find dozens and dozens of inconsistencies in our language that should make us ask: do I really want to say what I think by using these words?

Starting from the vastness of the offensive names used to refer to women (almost always based on sexual denigration), the discrimination we carry out daily with language is becoming increasingly subtle. In fact, this manifests itself continuously, now completely incorporated into our categories of thought. We are committing verbal violence every time we say that a woman is ” hysterical ” or we agree with Treccani’s lemma “woman” , in which the term is defined as synonymous with “bitch” (and then again whore, call girl, whore, cow , slut..). The decision of the Oxford Dictionary moves in opposition to the famous Encyclopedia , which instead chooses to revise the derogatory synonyms associated with the word “woman” as they are deemed unacceptable. We are then discriminating and sexist every time we use the derogatory names ” tomboy ” and ” sissy ” but also when we use the masculine singular or plural instead of the feminine.

During the 2021 edition of the Sanremo festival, not only Italian song was the protagonist but, as is now tradition, also gender discrimination. Beyond the presenters and some sideshows that left something to be desired in terms of sexism, one of the most debated events was certainly the speech by the conductor Beatrice Venezi who, when asked by Amadeus, replied that she wanted to be called ” director”. Host and guest are both responsible for having underlined a bitter truth: the title is authoritative only if in the masculine, as if the use of the feminine would lead to a professional debasement.

Regardless of what the general public thinks, it must be reiterated that in Italian it is grammatically correct to refer to the feminine when talking about a woman . “Director” is therefore a term that not only exists but is also well established in spoken language. Why then ask the uncomfortable question “director or director?”, as if we were talking about ice cream flavours?

Now, since everyone is free to be called whatever they want, it is right to refer to Venezi as “director” since this is her will. However, this does not justify the great obtuseness that lies behind the statement. In fact, it often happens that, voluntarily (as in this case) or involuntarily, female roles are referred to using masculine terms.

The reasons behind this choice are many but first and foremost they concern a cultural heritage , due to the fact that many jobs have for centuries been accessible only to men. Added to this is the existence of a sort of ” male imperative ” on words which makes the feminine be perceived as subordinate, optional or inferior.

The justification often used when choosing not to use the correct feminine terms is that they are cacophonous , that is, they “sound bad”. The point is that this happens because we never use them, and we never use them because many roles have remained inaccessible to women for centuries: now that they have won the rights to carry out these jobs (albeit still with many obstacles), it is our duty to call things with their names.

Therefore, the “director” Venezi has every right to be called whatever he wants but this only demonstrates how much she herself is a victim of that patriarchal mechanism that subjugates women to men, condemning her to be a shadow, a smudge, a word that sounds bad .

The sexism inherent in our culture is reflected, without us realizing it, in the way we think and in our language. Pretending not to adapt to new dynamics means wanting to close our eyes to a proactive change directed towards greater equity, both formal and substantial.

Vera Gheno , sociolinguist and writer, believes that it is fundamental that the language evolves together with a people as it is the mirror of their social mechanisms and dynamics.

As Gheno herself will explain in an interview conducted by , it is necessary to evaluate the social weight of the words we use and their meaning in relation to the context.

We have always had the need to name things and changes in language are nothing more than the manifestation of an evolving culture.

We need to stop thinking that words are just words: words are what make us human.

For Michela Murgia , Sardinian writer and intellectual, language is a genuine creative act that cannot be caged in stereotypes or fixed models and follows a continuous flow of readaptation. Her latest book ” SHUT UP and nine other phrases we don’t want to hear anymore ” was born precisely from the need to analyze the language we use, too often treated superficially, and reveal the mechanisms of (male) power that manifest themselves therein. The motivation that pushed her to write it came when the well-known psychiatrist Raffaele Morelli , after having released deplorable statements about women (and on the alleged existence of a “root of the feminine”), brutally interrupts Murgia by telling her ” shut up, shut up, shut up and Listen “. What did Michela Murgia do after being publicly humiliated? You write a book to combat that ignorance and presumed superiority that Morelli championed, and you do it for all of us.

The study conducted by Murgia once again places emphasis on the socio-cultural causes of those gender discriminations that are reflected in the words we choose to use.

In one of the interviews he conducted for the presentation of the book he hosted Alessandro Giammei , professor of Italian studies at Bryn Mawr College in the USA, with whom he agreed that language is substance , as it is the means through which we model reality. For this reason, fixing the definition of a word in space and time means paralyzing it in the cage of its letters .

The historical heritage of words should therefore be constantly reviewed in an inclusive and more respectful way, according to the needs of society.

Expressions like “woman with balls” are convenient clichés that we often use without knowing the facts when they should actually horrify us. Although we are aware of how demeaning this is to women, we continue to use it because it perfectly summarizes the common belief that strength and courage are typically masculine qualities.

Our task then is to find other expressions that highlight a woman’s strength or character without resorting to male genitalia. Doing this now requires effort , but in the future it will no longer require it: only then will we have renewed the language.

In fact, changing words means nothing more than connoting reality so that it resembles us more.

Gheno’s proposal for the construction of a more equitable and inclusive language also moves along this line , also in view of the new non-binary subjectivities (whose identity is recognized neither in the female nor in the male gender): this will be possible only by adopting new solutions, such as the asterisk instead of i/e at the end of words (example: tutti* instead of tutti/e) or a neutral vowel called schwa ( ə ).

As she herself explains in her essay ” Singular Feminine “, the schwa corresponds to a mid-central vowel and is essentially the sound we emit when our mouth is relaxing (to hear the sound, click here ). It is represented with the symbol “ə” and is the first step towards a more inclusive Italian . According to Gheno, in fact, in the language system “both rules and a certain degree of freedom can coexist” so that the whole is functional and reflects the soul of the speaker.

Nowadays, there are people who feel trapped in the male/female gender binary and it is therefore necessary to also meet this new social need. The choice of schwa also moves towards achieving gender equality in speech as it could replace that ” overextended masculine ” that hides the feminine when referring to multitudes.

Given that we continually absorb and re-adapt terms from English, what stops us from opening up to new alternatives, modernizing our language?

Language is (also) substance and only through a more inclusive, correct, respectful and (as much as possible) free narrative from that cognitive filter compromised by the socio-cultural environment in which each individual grew up can we contribute to an effective change: the fight begins with words and only curiosity can save us from the paralysis of language .

Why feminism is for men

Given the great confusion that is generated around the term, we repeat that feminism is defined as that socio-cultural movement that supports political, social and economic equality between the sexes, claiming equal rights and dignity between men and women in light of that gender discrimination that is still protagonist of our daily life.

Usually, however, we tend to believe that feminism is “women’s stuff” or, even worse, “the antithesis of machismo” when in reality this is absolutely not the case.

If machismo, as Garzanti says , is that psychological and social attitude based on the presumed superiority of men over women, feminism is instead a transversal movement born precisely to oppose discriminatory behaviors and thoughts and has as its main objective that of conquering fair equality, regardless of gender.

And this is exactly why we should all be feminists.

Lorenzo Gasparrini , philosopher and writer, proudly defines himself as a feminist man. With his books ” I’m not sexist, but… ” and ” Why feminism is also useful to men ” he explains to us why patriarchal culture and chauvinist ideology are harmful for both women and men. In fact, Gasparrini puts down in black and white an uncomfortable truth that many refuse to accept: “real males” do not exist .

What we are given on a daily basis is a distorted idea of ​​being men, as if there was only one version of masculinity that can be packaged up and bought at the bar, along with Haribos. This is “ toxic masculinity ” which, according to the New York Times , consists of a set of behaviors and beliefs that include suppressing emotions, masking discomfort or sadness and using violence as an indicator of power.

Patriarchal society therefore promotes only one model: that of the macho man, virile, strong and superior. This mechanism pushes them (involuntarily) to conform to what are passed off as the “typical qualities of man” when in reality they are the bars of the cage that he himself is building around himself.

Although his condition is decidedly more favorable than that of women, he too is a slave to the same misogynistic and chauvinist culture which, if on the one hand discriminates and objectifies women, on the other imposes only one version of man, the “real” one, made of testosterone, machismo and thirst for domination.

And so it is a short step to calling a kind man “gay” (as if it were an insult), insulting him because he is “dry” or denigrating him because he rightly takes care of the housework, not to mention the “machismo from the locker room” that occurs in the world of sport.

In short, man is also forced into the prison of his sex.

In recent years, an exemplary case that exploded the “glass bubble” saturated with toxic masculinity and gender distinctions was  Achille Lauro . In the last edition of Sanremo, the singer and showman shocked the popular TV audience through behavior and declarations that were decidedly outside the box. For Lauro, the confusion of genders is his personal way of dissenting from a chauvinist reality and rejecting those conventions which then generate discrimination and violence . This approach to life is reflected in language, actions and appearance, understood as a way of dressing and showing oneself.

Also on the Ariston stage this year was Madame , a very young artist with immense awareness, who broke quite a few moulds. In her songs, among other things, emerges the genuine need for a fluidity capable of bringing us back to being flesh and soul, to being people before “males” and “females”, which have now become sterile concepts and ends in themselves.

The first step to demolish and overcome this divisive and discriminating system is therefore to admit that we are the successful product of a patriarchal culture whose patterns we have internalized . Only after reaching this awareness will it be possible to free ourselves from those claustrophobic stereotypes that constitute the “norm”.

Of course, fighting against the social models, cultural habits and discriminating linguistic elements with which we have grown up since childhood is a tiring process (at least initially) but only in this way will we be able to build a more just and inclusive society.

Related Posts

Jessa Crispin: «A t-shirt won’t make you a feminist»

In her essay «Why I am not a feminist», the American writer states that female empowerment, popular today, is not feminism. She explains to us what doesn’t work in the #metoo movement and why men don’t have the right to speak...

Feminist. To be or not to be? Read Jessa Crispin between dilemmas and desire

Ennio Flaiano , in  The Solitude of the Satyr , proposes a brilliant idea to make communism ineffective in a country like ours, of parliamentary democracy. It’s Marx’s egg. It would be enough to teach communism in schools. In that case it would not be necessary...

Fashion, feminism and patriarchy are more intertwined than we think

A miniskirt is not just a miniskirt, just like the feminist slogans on Dior t-shirts: here’s how women’s struggles have changed fashion Everything that we wear today more or less without asking ourselves too many problems has a history, carries with...