Social Injustice Social Issues

Why I am (not) a feminist

I have never been a feminist: I have always looked at feminism as a now obsolete ideology, distant from the reality in which I lived. In the last year something has changed: I still don’t consider myself a feminist, but I notice more and more often that my life and that of my peers is conditioned by the gender to which we belong much more profoundly than I thought. This almost always results in a disadvantage. Starting from personal experiences and stories that happened to friends or acquaintances, as well as thanks to subsequent readings, my way of thinking about femininity and relationships between the sexes began to change.

The best way to think about things, as far as I’m concerned, is to write about them, and talk about them with another person; This is why I was looking for someone willing to talk to me in written form. I chose Marzia D’Amico, because she has radically opposite ideas to mine on women, gender and feminism; but also because our biographies, although so different, at this moment have some similar characteristics (we are almost the same age; both white, Western girls with a high level of education; both towards the end of a PhD; both in different cities from those in which we studied – Marzia in Oxford, me in Trento): it seemed to me that this made it easier to talk about common problems. Finally, I chose Marzia because there is mutual respect.

I don’t know how many parts our dialogue will consist of, but I know it isn’t finished yet. The conversation I am publishing today is inspired by two news events and a reflection on how they were treated on social networks and online newspapers: Marina Abramovic’s statement regarding abortion Tiziana Cantone’s suicide . These are, for us, opportunities to talk about more general themes (cc) ].

CC: When I read your article , I felt at odds with what you had written, and it occurred to me that you might be the right person for a reflection in the form of a dialogue.
I want to start with a confession: I think that feminism, as an ideology, today is a regressive phenomenon. I often find it emasculating, for reasons that I will bring out in this conversation – and which I will try to discuss. I will start with an example on feminism as a critical perspective in the study of literature, but I will also talk about the consequences it has in private life. General reasoning, personal stories and events that happened to third people will intertwine.

A fair literature

CC: I’m not a feminist, because I think that feminism has fueled an idea of ​​political correctness that now invades any cultural discourse, sometimes making it impossible to express one’s opinions freely.
I will delve deeper into this point by giving you a concrete example regarding literature and university. More than anything, feminism makes me nervous when it becomes a lens that serves to filter the world and an aesthetic category. This is why I have little sympathy for gender studies : I understand the reasons that justify its existence; however, I cannot agree with the fact that, in studies that take on these critical perspectives, the text or artistic object becomes important only for the political meaning it takes on. It seems to me, in other words, that feminism applied to literature determines a filter on both reality and works of art, and that this filter weakens knowledge.
I know very well that any critical perspective – and any intellectual formation – determines a partial vision. Yet, reading articles that analyze literary works from a “gender” perspective, the impression that those interpretations entail an aesthetic and cognitive loss is stronger than the one I have when reading other types of critical texts.

MD: When I hear someone say “I’m not a feminist” I always get a little scared, because if that person didn’t have a strong enough desire to discover more and realize how beautiful and important the word feminism is, feminism also hasn’t able to reach these people. However, feminism is not a metaphysical entity, it is not a god, it is not monolithic above all: the retrograde and castrating feminism you tell me is certainly not mine. An inclusive, intersectional, open feminism is what truly represents me; the one I affiliate with and fight for every day. Every day this feminism requires a greater effort from me, and every day I choose to do so, for a society that renounces fascism, sexism, homophobia, racism, classism, and ableism in all its structural forms (and now sadly structured).
The studies resulting from this constant practice are also aimed at inclusiveness.

You mention ‘feminism applied to literature’ as a synonym for gender studies and this already creates confusion, what in particular do you think is obsolete? and what literary criticism doesn’t suit you? How do you perceive this to be linked to gender studies?

CC: I’ll give another example, otherwise the discussion remains too abstract. Up until now, I have mainly studied contemporary poetry. Now, Italian poetry of the twentieth century was written predominantly by men; some of them had an idea of ​​women that today we would consider sexist and retrograde, because feminism has changed our common sense of “political correctness”. To what extent, I wonder, can the change in morality influence the history of literature? In early twentieth century poetry, women are almost always prostitutes or chimeras: should we consider the works of Sbarbaro and Campana (to name the first two that come to mind) less interesting for this reason?

Furthermore, I look with concern at the prospect of dedicating my research to poetry written by women, only because this would help remedy the almost total absence of female voices in literary histories. I know that the lack of access to education and segregation into domestic roles and subordinate jobs has penalized women; this explains the lower number of female writers compared to that of writers who write essays and literature (and art history) manuals. We all agree on this. Furthermore, some artists have been underestimated due to prejudices, explicit or unconfessed. For these reasons it is necessary to redeem the undeclared work, bring it into the debate, do them justice. Welcome. I don’t think it’s intelligent, however, to completely rewrite the history of literature (or music, figurative art, etc.) by inflating the intellectual depth and artistic results of female figures, and downsizing the male ones, just to achieve this goal.

Rereading what I wrote, I realize a possible objection: this last phase could be seen as preparatory and necessary, in a temporary way, to arrive at the first. I’m not convinced it’s really useful, but I can understand it. If so, perhaps it has already gone on for too long, and the result (more than an intelligent rereading of the past) is a dangerous prejudicial reading of the present. I have seen (i.e. read) and heard beautiful novels belittled, because they were accused of hiding a chauvinist perspective: well, interpretations of this type represent a loss and an intellectual defeat for me.

MD: Those who have problems with political correctness are those who are not disadvantaged by political incorrectness (or in any case do not perceive it as such). Freedom of opinion within the respect of every element of society is the only freedom that I am interested in defending. Believing that an intellectual debate weakens due to the taking into consideration of intersectional elements (i.e. through the relating of all those elements constituting an identity, personal or community, in respect of the same) for me is equivalent to not wanting to undermine the loud voice of those who have always dictated the law, and not by merit. It seems to me that political correctness has dutifully reduced (and indeed, we wish we were already at that point) the weight of the voices of the ‘winners’. By winners I mean that history is written not by those who are right but by the strongest. How can an intellectual debate weaken if it finally becomes more all-encompassing instead?

I therefore consider it important to practice forms of positioning in the study of literature: gender studies, women studies, queer studies, post-colonial studies…, and I am certainly leaving out some equally relevant voices and positions which together highlight a work in its true entirety .

However, what you say about today’s common sense and “political correctness” risks becoming dangerous: those texts already possessed a chauvinist attitude, and feminism has the sole merit of having problematized its aspects, revealing their harmfulness. Historically, there is no shortage of literary rebellions against these impositions (I’m even thinking only of the diaries of the Saints!) which indicate to us that the representation of the feminine and the condition of the feminine itself (here in its most biological and non-inclusive meaning) created intolerance in women. As is well known, however, authors, readers, publishers and “Masters” of the Western canon have long been men. The world is made by them and for them. I think that beautiful literature is just literature, and that this is achieved by doing justice to marginalized voices. If Sbarbaro and Campana are downsized today on the basis of the possibilities of reading texts that have not yet been anthologized for reasons purely linked to the patriarchal structure and not purely literary, so be it. On the other hand, if today’s Sbarbaro and Campana fear the burden of female voices finally (at least partially) represented, it is because they recognize that their success is a combination of talent, perhaps, but also a lot of privilege.

My friend and colleague Alberica Bazzoni reread the thoughts of Adriana Cavarero and judiciously applied them to the condition of (Italian) literature today:

Yet, male writers continue to be disproportionately represented, while female writers struggle to enter, and even more so to remain, in the canon of Italian literature. And this is the first fact that needs to be established, that despite the optimism of the late twentieth century, women writers still remain on the margins of the literary canon. The reasons are multiple. To a large extent, men do not read women writers, and therefore do not review them, anthologize them, or include them in university courses and high school textbooks. Even when they approach it, they often do so with a prejudice. While men’s literature is perceived as universal, women’s literature continues to be represented and felt as, indeed, feminine, that is, addressed to women, that is, partial. And – the point is fundamental – the presumed female partiality is considered axiologically inferior to what is believed to be male universality. Added to this is the credit with which writers start out, who are perceived as rightfully belonging to the literary arena, while women writers still find themselves demonstrating, almost overcoming a contrary expectation, that they deserve the right to speak.

This passage from an article-investigation that Alberica is carrying out and publishing online is the perfect bridge to answer you on the need to focus on the writing of women, and not to “inflate its depth”: there is no need, there are so many names of great men of letters, artists in general, who deserved to remain in history in a decisive way and as a model for subsequent generations.

I chose to deal with poetry written by women (and not by women, as Biancamaria Frabotta happily taught us in poetry, non-fiction and militancy) out of curiosity: I had questions about the canon, and the Academy didn’t offer me answers. I would have been satisfied with just further questions, those were missing too. Concentrating one’s studies on women’s writings, or dedicating part of one’s studies to these writings, is not a way of distancing oneself from the real world but of questioning the system. Only by tackling it head on, and through the rediscovery of women’s writings (in different forms, thanks also to the stimuli offered by Marina Caffiero during my years of master’s studies at La Sapienza), have I really refined my gaze at the context within which the art is produced, and for whom. It’s a seamless unveiling experience that I would recommend to anyone.

CC: We have different opinions on this.
I think that the critical perspective I have described more easily affects a literary genre that has less and less relevance and is increasingly self-referential. Poetry needs justification. Your study has an internal political motivation. Let’s assume for a moment that this makes it more morally acceptable than mine. A feminist critical perspective would force us to give up the Canti Orfici , perhaps in favor of the works of Sibilla Aleramo. Aleramo is an easy icon, from the point of view you described. Well, I have read her works, just as I have read those of Campana. I am convinced that, if the latter are still studied and read today, more than the former, it is not because we live in a chauvinist literary society, but because the Orphic Songs are more beautiful and more important than A Woman . More important for whom? For the subsequent Italian literary tradition, for the idea of ​​poetry that we still want – that I would like – to convey. I would like to be able to develop my research in the way I believe is appropriate, after years of studies, and which partly derives from this consideration, without the fear of seeing them at a disadvantage, as they do not adhere to a common criticism which considers a study in which talks about female emancipation compared to another in which the theme is absent.

MD: I would never leave the Orphic Songs behind for myself and for what I study (Amelia Rosselli would be furious!), but I believe that the canonized texts produced by male authors must also be evaluated according to those specific production possibilities that helped to make them immortal. The subsequent Italian tradition, to bring Rosselli back into the mix, inevitably looks to “holy fathers”: the answer certainly does not lie in the elimination of fathers from history, but rather in the search and rediscovery of mothers; Likewise, the problematization of a literary and cultural tradition dominated by (only) fathers seems necessary to me. I do not believe that this research through a gender oriented lens in any way disadvantages those who do not adopt it, or in any way limits your choice not to pursue it. However, women’s production and its study have undergone strong marginalization in the academic context, and I can only welcome the fact that – at least in part – these are finally finding a rich space for debate.

A critical choice has always been made in the approach to the literary text, what makes these investigations less valid? I’ll try to give a very pop example of real life. They called it Jeeg Robot , released in 2016, it has many strengths and weaknesses. An acquaintance of mine resented a certain classism that was not problematized in the film, an element that I had not noticed carefully enough. For my part, however, I had certainly noticed male/female sexual violence that is resolved without depth or discussion. I didn’t do it out of my innate sensitivity but because I trained my eye to refuse to let similar messages pass through: a 2016 production cannot afford not to problematize a similar event, and just let it happen.
Can I adopt that same lens to read Montale? Yes. Does this take away the beauty of his poetry, does it take away from it the importance that has been recognized by critics and anthologies? No. But it repositions within a dimension of defined connotation the aspects of his poetry that had previously remained silent. I do not want to argue here that a “cultural system that produces injustice is not incapable of producing beauty” (Alberica Bazzoni again) or its opposite, but to pay attention to the element (or elements) of privilege that the work represents, and not perpetuate its traits within a new (better) system of thought, of culture. Why should we hand over to future generations works to be experienced acritically according to gender, racial, class perspectives, and so on? Or more precisely, who and/or what makes you believe that recognizing these elements of privilege entirely nullifies their value?

CC: It nullifies its value if it is presented as something morally wrong. You are right when you say that it is necessary to place the authors in their historical context, to also understand the “sexist” content of their works. But, precisely, you apply a moral judgment and contemporary categories to those texts: “those texts already possessed a chauvinist attitude, and feminism has the sole merit of having problematized its aspects, revealing their harmfulness.” Now, I’ll give another example, again taken from the poetry of the early twentieth century, for convenience (it’s the one I’m studying in this period), and I’ll try to better explain my two objections in this regard.

[…] all of Leonardo’s women have that ineffable expression. It’s a smile, and a good one, but subtle; so subtle that at times it borders on malice, but at the same time on divinity. They are blessed and beatifying women, shy and virgins: Madonnas, they pray, they are ecstatic towards the inside; but they are also capable of leading you to hell. I have never seen the double female truth represented so beautifully. Look at how spiritual she is in that half-closed concentration of her eyes, and even those eyelids have a kissable sensuality. And the Mona Lisa, it is clear that it cannot be anything other than the bliss of a woman who feels the life of her child beat in her womb: but in that moment it is the entire ladder from God to earth.

This note is taken from Scipio Slataper’s correspondence: it is a letter he sends to Elody Oblath, one of the recipients and co-protagonists of that sort of unfinished novel that is Alle tre amiche . You struck me when I read it, because similar images are also found in Campana’s notes. Not only that: Leonardo’s female figures are recalled in La notte , one of the most famous and most difficult to interpret Campanian prose poems. I will not go into the exegesis of the text, but the female figure inspired by Leonardo, in the Canti Orfici , intersects with other images of violence against women. The female idol defaced by the male protagonist (in a form of femicide, if you like) also has at least one other source in common with Slataper’s reference culture: Goethe’s Faust , from which Campana extrapolates an image (that of Gretchen-Margherita with a red stripe on her neck) which takes on a different, and more violent, meaning in the Night .

Now, my question is this: does all this make the Canti Orfici a harmful work? How to behave when faced with content that today we would consider, based on moral categories, to be unfair? In my opinion, two distinct problems come into play here (and here my two objections come into play).
The first is how to judge the works of the past, and how much to allow contemporary categories to act as a filter for critical judgment. Of course, we can reconstruct the historical and cultural context that determined an author’s worldview. In this case, we know that Campana read Freud’s writings on sexuality in Leonardo, but in reality he read them around 1915, according to his correspondence, therefore at a time after the Canti Orfici ; we know, however, that he had previously read (as had Slataper)  Sex and Character by Otto Weininger and various fragments of Nietzsche, including those concerning women. The critical debate of the early 1910s revolves around these coordinates, as revealed by the study of the magazines of the time: it is fueled by a diffusion of Nietzsche that is still summary and superficial (it is no coincidence that Slataper’s is more in-depth, since, being from Trieste , was more familiar with German literary and philosophical culture), as well as with the first studies on the sexual question; these first researches, reckless and imprecise in the eyes of a contemporary, were above all German, arriving in Italy late and with sometimes questionable translations. All this allows us to reconstruct the sources of Campana’s ideas about women, to explain them better; in this sense it is useful that the reference to Leonardo’s female imagery is also present in Slataper’s letters (and in terms similar to those of Campana), because it confirms a cultural climate, in which some ideas (which today we would consider inaccurate) were common . Not only that: psychoanalytic criticism has interpreted Campania’s misogyny, tracing it back to the author’s unresolved psychological issues.

In short, both perspectives (source criticism and psychoanalytic criticism) allow us to better explain the Orphic Songs : but not, in my opinion, to understand it completely. Campana’s idea of ​​poetry is linked to these images of chimeras and prostitutes, and must be accepted as such: deconstructing it can be useful, but it does not allow us to fully grasp its truth content.
Finally, we come to the second objection. I will be very brief: I don’t think that moral categories can be part of literary judgment. If this were the case, we would have to eliminate from the story not only They Called Him Jeeg Robot and the Orphic Songs , but also, say, Journey to the End of the Night ; for other reasons we should eliminate the Comedy , for the way Dante treats Muhammad. But the debate on this would be long, to be addressed, and would certainly go beyond the question of feminism. I conclude by saying that moralism has never been good for literature and culture in general.

«There are good artists who have children and they are called men». About Marina Abramovic.

CC: Coming to Marina Abramovic, I have above all one objection to make. «I had three miscarriages. A child would have been a disaster for my career”: through this statement , Abramovic has charged a personal choice with a political meaning, as is partly inevitable when it comes to the private life of artistic or intellectual icons, who issue statements on the political motives of own actions; at that point she was reduced to the usual feminist slogans regarding motherhood, femininity, emancipation and the female body (which you yourself cite and, in part, criticise).

In your article you defend a woman’s right to manage her body as she sees fit. On the one hand, it is a sacrosanct right that must always be defended, God forbid. However, it is also a potentially dangerous slogan. And here we come to another important point for me: I am not a feminist, because I think that feminism has sometimes blamed some forms of male sexuality excessively. The consequences of what was a form of inhibition fall on the women themselves, or at least on some of them. Furthermore, a declination of feminism (and of the discourse on Abramovic) of this type produces a bipartition between mothers and career women. I find this separation fallacious, as the two groups are actually more fluid (and should be presented as such). The implicit subtext seems even disturbing to me: if a woman has artistic or intellectual ambitions, does she necessarily have to give up having a family? Do love irregularities and lack of constraints necessarily accompany intellectual life? It seems like a rhetorical question, but it isn’t: I think a possible answer is “yes, and it also applies to men”. With one important difference: in the male world it is more common to be able to reconcile autonomy and self-recognition in a romantic relationship [1] . From this point of view, in the society of which both you and I are part, there remains an unsolved problem, a contradiction in the marriage and sexual markets. I think there is no point in denying it.

MD: We started talking about gender issues starting from the improper use of language that was used to judge Marina Abramovic’s choice not to have children: as you can see, the gender issue and the political struggle are never separated from language adopted to counter this emancipation. Personally, I believe it is once again the blindness of the context and the bigotry of the right-thinking (“Herod syndrome”? Inconceivable and intolerable definition.) that prevails over the necessary historical-cultural coordinates in support of Abramovic’s thesis. Abramovic’s choice is a personal but also highly political one, I think of Angélica Liddell’s poem ( Lesiones incompatibles con la vida ) which I deliberately quoted on social media in those days almost as a manifesto. Abramovic’s art has always been highly political and politicized, and the decision not to have children in favor of dedicating himself completely to art can only be read similarly. I don’t think she was burdened beyond the very limit within which Abramovic herself has always performed her art.

I don’t know if Abramovic is right in saying that the energy of the body is dispersed when you have children, I have many friends who are artists, activists, who produce art with their bodies and make their bodies art/artistic medium, and they have had children : that said, it is undeniable that it is more difficult for a woman to reach the heights of fame than men, and that the battle to be recognized becomes more difficult in a society that wants mothers as educational and social reference parents at the cost of their own fulfillment. Having children is evidently an uncomfortable position in the world of work, and art is work too: just think of the countless examples of sexism perpetuated against women in job interviews that jeopardize hiring based on possible pregnancies. Unfortunately, however, this is the society we live in. This is why we still and always need the word feminism, the conscious revolt. We must free ourselves from the mother/career woman duo as well as from the fascist-style angel of the hearth/whore. On the other hand, we are talking about an artist of different origin and generation than mine and those of the friends I was referring to before. I cannot therefore offer you an answer, but Tracey Emin did (as I quoted in my comment on the story you read) declaring that “there are good artists who have children and they are called men”. Listening to Emin and/or Abramovic does not mean agreeing with their choice, but rather realizing that it is within a structure that wants to preserve this system that we sadly live in. So should we simply put ourselves back on this? No, in my opinion we need to arm ourselves with awareness and change things fundamentally. And then take into account that cases of happy family and career balance for women are usually also supported by other types of privileges and undermine those too.

Interpersonal relationships

 CC: We will return to this: I would like to explain better what I think about the influence of feminism on romantic and erotic relationships. I leave these fragmentary considerations as notes for our dialogue. And now I want to tell you a personal story.
Some time ago I happened to meet a peer, also at the end of his doctorate (which he chose to do outside Italy). He told me about a chaotic love and sexual life, but all in all satisfying for him, up to that point. He told me that he was starting to feel the need for greater stability, at least sentimentally (because work-related stability, obviously, isn’t for any of us). Except that then – he tells me – I see that my colleagues at thirty or so go crazy because they want to have a child. And when they do they stop there, their career almost always ends, and then I think that I still have ten or twenty years left to start a family. So I wait, and take advantage of this advantage.

After he spoke so bluntly to me, I was silent for a handful of seconds. I admit I felt angry towards her. Then I thought about it, and I just told him I understood, he was right. I think this is another unresolved and perhaps unsolvable contradiction. (The same person told me shortly after that he had difficulty maintaining attraction to women who seemed smarter than him.)

MD: The experience of dialogue you reported pains me deeply, because it is particularly widespread and harmful on so many levels. The choice to find stability in love in the absence of it at work, as your friend himself says well, can only happen for him to the detriment of his female partner. Meanwhile, saying that a woman ‘goes crazy’ because she wants a child is horrible in my opinion (I mean linguistically): should we lock her in the attic? If women in their thirties feel this strong social pressure it is because of campaigns such as the recent Fertility Day one (I don’t even know where to begin to say I am disgusted by that offensive campaign, which however is simply the obvious expression and demonstration of widespread sentiment at state expense). Well done, your friend, for recognizing this advantage. Less to take advantage of it. I understand it but I don’t accept it; in fact I understand it and I don’t accept it. He chooses to be on the side of those who want an unequal world, he chooses to feel like someone not on merit but to the detriment of others. It doesn’t surprise me that this same person has “difficulty maintaining attraction to women who seem smarter than him.” They probably don’t seem smarter to him but they are, I hope those same women realize it in time and move away from him quickly.


CC: Let’s go back to talking about work. Let’s talk about it, actually.
I recently realized that I underestimated the problem. I admit, I was wrong. For a long time I maintained that in a Western country it made no sense to talk about women’s issues, because in reality gender discrimination now only exists in non-democratic countries (in Africa, in some parts of Asia, etc.). Well, I was wrong. For an Italian woman there is no risk of being subjected to infibulation (nor does femicide seriously exist); but the things I have seen or heard, what has happened to me and what I have seen happen to friends and acquaintances in the last year, make it impossible for me to deny that even in Europe, and especially in Italy, there is no equality between genders in the most important area, after that of human rights, i.e. the workplace.

At this moment, therefore, my opinion on feminism and gender inequalities is more multifaceted than in the past, doubtful, not peaceful. And how can you deny the existence of the latter, when you come into direct contact with requests for blank resignations (to avoid hiring pregnant workers), young scholars automatically treated as secretaries (even, and above all, by their peers), women accused of having slept with someone because they had a career boost (it doesn’t matter that they also have an impeccable CV), etc.?

If there is a form of feminism that concerns everyone, it is this. I would support radical labor reforms to ensure that no more women face discrimination like the ones I have described. I would leave the rest, the moral choices and those of sexual customs, and I would also put aside feminist literary criticism.

MD: Going back to talking about work, I’m sorry that you became aware of this gender disparity at your expense. Unfortunately, we often only open our eyes when it affects us personally. Once done, however, let them remain wide open. Not wanting to go into the merits of the division between democratic and non-democratic countries, I feel I must prove you wrong when you say that feminicide does not exist in Italy; in fact, I do it vigorously. Denying femicide in Italy today fuels a general disinterest in change, and hides under the carpet problems that we should tackle at the root. I am happy to know that you are ready to fight for equal rights within the workplace, but it is cruel to reduce the battle to one’s own direct interest and utility: that is an awareness and a push to fight to demand more, certainly fair, but very limited. The choices you define as “moral and sexual customs” are not clear to me, but if I try to imagine, I believe that the root of them is found in that same body policing . And I too leave moralism to other institutions, which tend to be the same ones that limit and confine female production, underestimate it, marginalize it: as I was telling you, the feminism that I try to practice is inclusive, and not moralistic. It always problematizes and does not advance ancient ideologies.

You say “I’m not a feminist, because I think that feminism has produced forms of male sexual disorientation and inhibition, which are also the result of the discourse you refer to.” In my opinion the problem we are discussing is upstream, in education for equality in the private and public sectors, and not in the resulting one. Let me explain better: has the legitimate affirmation of female self-awareness produced sexual inhibition in the male subject? The problem does not lie in the liberation of women but in the lack of education of the male subject in questioning.

Is it healthy to educate the male to live in the expectation of subservience to his partner? Is it healthy to educate him to be pleased with ending up online with a sexual video for which he had not given consent? No, and it is evidently harmful to each of us. I am referring here to the reversed coin of the events that have affected TC in particular in recent months (*when we started talking, unfortunately, the news of TC’s suicide was on the front page). Women’s liberation is human liberation, of the human race in its entirety: it is not a slogan “sexism hurts everyone”, it is a truth. And feminism is the cure. Not immediate, not magical like a kiss on a scraped knee: it is a constant struggle for self-improvement and social improvement. Because sexism is practiced, sadly, by all of us (at different levels, certainly; and the same goes for racism, homophobia, classism, ableism and other tendencies of social inequality that are perpetuated every day). We are all systematically victims of it in such a constant way that escaping it is very difficult, if not impossible. The deconstruction of this mental system is a (difficult, long) process to be accomplished together.

«People love humiliation». About Tiziana Cantone.

CC: Let’s move on to the Cantone story. Here too, let’s say that I agree with some assumptions of your article : it’s not the fault of the web, it’s the fault of people with names and surnames. Agree. However, it seems short-sighted to me not to take into account mass dynamics, human and non-virtual mechanisms, of course, which however develop and become exasperated in a particular way online, for the reasons that in my opinion are explained here . Not taking this into account is short-sighted. Not taking into account what social networks can trigger means not taking them seriously, ultimately. And I say this with no intention of demonizing them or blaming Facebook and WhatsApp for this suicide.

Go on. I have always been rather skeptical of the feminist warning to use language in a politically correct way. I can’t stand “car* all*”; speeches that begin by recalling the difference in meaning between “housekeeper” in the male sense and the same word in the female sense make me shudder. I’ve been thinking about it lately, and I’ve changed my opinion a bit on this too: I can see the reasons for these controversies and these struggles, even though I can’t feel they are mine. And I’m fine with the fact that you’re talking about a decisive “linguistic and structural” issue, I understand. But let’s start from the basics, then: by virtue of that same linguistic and structural issue, in the name of gender equality, it is also wrong to call this person only by their name, and not by their first name and surname (or only by their surname) as it would be done for a man. It is a journalistic habit that I don’t like, and which is more often found to talk about women (they are all “Tiziana”, “Valentina” etc. for Repubblica, while males are identified by their surname, which makes the discussion more serious) . Sometimes, in the more militant sites, this habit is motivated by the principle (incomprehensible to me) of “sisterhood”.

Finally, how much does it have to do with the fact that it is a woman and not a man? Very sure. The part of the article that I agree with you most is the one in which you talk about the taboo that still exists regarding women and sex (a good girl not only wouldn’t have made that video, but she wouldn’t even have given a blowjob, etc.), and revenge porn against women. In part, I believe that the split between femininity and sex is a consequence of feminism itself, as I mentioned; but we’ll talk about it again.

I also share your opinion on the absurdity of the collective reaction, which is divided between indignation over bad habits and #Prayfor. I believe, however, that there is also a third method, the most politically correct: I am referring to the defense of the web (“it’s not the web’s fault”, etc.) combined with considerations on sexism and patriarchy.

MD: Returning to the more linguistic dimension of our discussion: you are right, in calling female victims by name only in newspapers there is a paternalism that makes me shudder. Personally, it is a practice that I rarely adopt even in private except in a transparent attempt to underline sisterhood. The choice to infinitely humanize these victims through the use of only their first names also highlights another problem of current society: “I’m sorry because I knew her”. There is a need to relate to ourselves to understand the tragedy of certain events, as if they were not objectively so. I think of that image that recently circulated on social media, in English: “she She is someone (‘s): sister \ daughter \ mother”. The three relational classifications were then crossed out in red to indicate that violence against women is an objective problem, and women must be respected as independent subjects (and independently of parental relationships).
And yes, it is shortsighted not to consider the level of voyeurism amplified by social media; However, it is equally short-sighted to ignore that statistically speaking women are constant victims of revenge porn .

CC: You’re right about that. But let’s try to ask ourselves one thing: would we think the same way if there had been a man at the center of that video? I don’t mean a homosexual (the politically correct people of the web of which both mine and, I imagine, many of your contacts are part would have been indignant in exactly the same way): I mean a straight man, perhaps married, a school teacher, in short an individual from whom we expect a life of a “good family man”, respectable. Let’s imagine that suddenly private details of his extramarital sexual life (with other women) are released online and that he kills himself, because his wife was consenting but now she can no longer take the blow, things have changed and the situation has gotten out of hand, T-shirts with his face are seen everywhere and children can no longer go to school without being insulted, he is no longer able to work and is actually fired. It’s not a completely invented example: if you type “suicide” and “social network” into Google, for example, news like this comes up .

An episode of Black Mirror, The National Anthem, comes to mind (do you know it?): in the fictional episode a member of the English royal family is kidnapped, and the ransom demand requires the prime minister to have sex with a sow live TV (which becomes live online). At the beginning alternative paths are sought, in the end political and media pressure wins and Michael, the English Prime Minister, is filmed while he mates with a slightly sedated pig. Meanwhile we are shown the faces of those who watch him on TV, and above all we are shown the reactions of his wife, who obsessively checks Twitter. She will not be able to overcome the emotional impact caused by the affair. We don’t know what she will do, it is unlikely that she will end up committing suicide; but something has broken forever, the consequences on her life will be definitive. There is this beautiful dialogue between the two spouses:

Michael: I won’t have to do anything.
Jane: Everyone’s laughing at us.
Michael: You don’t know that.
Jane: I know people. We love humiliation. We can’t not love.
Michael: Nothing is going to happen.
Jane: It’s already happening in their heads. In their heads, that’s what you’re doing. What my husband is doing.

People love humiliation . Already. I will add one last observation, perhaps a little provocative. A good part of your article revolves around a basic idea, which is almost an appeal: it is a mistake to watch that video, don’t watch it. I wonder and I ask you, seriously: why? Is it more wrong, more immoral than posting the image of the body of a child who died at sea on Facebook? Yet, there is something unavoidable why our moral mechanisms shorten or expand in an apparently arbitrary way: in some cases death and perversion seem less dangerous to us, less subjected to a moral filter, easily reprehensible and observable (in television, on Facebook, on Snapchat, on Twitter). I’m not saying it’s right, in fact I perceive a disturbing component in it (it’s something similar to what I feel when I see people writing posts on the message boards of dead people, creating an unreal and alienating conversation); I’m just saying that maybe “Don’t look” isn’t the right answer. Furthermore, and above all, I believe that the issue of gender is not the crucial issue of Cantone’s death, and that assuming it as such makes us lose sight of what really deserves attention.

Rereading your comment, I was reminded of a recent article (written after Clinton’s defeat); it’s called The End of Identity Liberalism . I conclude by quoting a paragraph:

But how should this diversity shape our politics? The standard liberal answer for nearly a generation now has been that we should become aware of and “celebrate” our differences. Which is a splendid principle of moral pedagogy — but disastrous as a foundation for democratic politics in our ideological age. In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.
[…] the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life. At a very young age our children are being encouraged to talk about their individual identities, even before they have them. By the time they reach college many assume that diversity discourse exhausts political discourse, and have shockingly little to say about such perennial questions as class, war, the economy and the common good.

PS: When I started writing to you – and here I really end – the third season of Black Mirror had not yet been released. I saw it as I rewrote this piece for the third time. Little did I know that it would expand the central theme of The National Anthem in an even more dystopian way .

MD: What you say about the Black Mirror episode is in my opinion comparable to the Cantone issue only partially, in fact there the choice is made to humiliate the individual as a representative of the State for artistic purposes and to awaken the collective conscience. However, TC represented nothing other than herself, and the purpose with which that video was shared was specifically to humiliate her. The events that followed and even her death, however, place her within a system of painful sexism. I don’t know if she TC wanted to become a champion, be considered a martyr or something else but I know for a fact that we cannot ignore any of the similar cases because they are the very sad proof that there is a system that needs to be undermined at its foundations. If media pressure had pushed TC to film himself and spread those videos, like the English PM in Black Mirror, I would probably have made a similar speech anyway. On the other hand, when I say that sexism is a threat to the entire gender spectrum I really mean that although it would be short-sighted to ignore the fact that cases show women as more easily victims of similar events, it is this same dimension that unconsciously pushes us to think that a man could (if not, should!) welcome such a video. The expectation that the “strong male” must tolerate all this and indeed happily embrace it is part of the construction of a masculinity that I am interested in destroying for the collective good.

But again, People love humiliation : true, and we should fight this principle. In no way should this battle take away strength and space from the more specifically anti-sexist one. In fact, they seem to go hand in hand very well. Let’s stop taking pictures of obese people at McDonald’s to make memes out of, or girls wearing leggings as pants, and so on. Personally, I’ve had enough. And so I try not to look at these things and instead point them out as I can, and discuss their profound indecency as I can. In short, does it make sense to offend a political opponent for what in terms of the standardization of beauty in 2016 is considered a flaw?
But returning to the core of our discussion on revenge porn, a distinction must be made with the case that sees people “posting the image of the body of a child who died at sea on Facebook”.

The photograph of the child, whether exploited or not, is thought of as a strong narrative of today’s events. The disease lies in the use made of it. The line that divides the cruelty of objective horror and click-bait is unfortunately blurred. But in revenge porn a private video, designed not to be disseminated or in any case not to be made public, has no message to convey. Choosing not to watch videos illicitly shared online for the sole purpose of hurting and humiliating their subjects is refusing to participate in the massacre.
When each of us refuses to watch these videos, the press will have no choice but to stop exploiting their diffusion; it is the best way we have to denounce our desire to escape sales mechanisms at the expense of human lives.
The gender issue does not exclude other analyses, it only shows aggravating factors that sediment in the basic principles that move these mechanisms. No one wanted to reduce the other elements that made up this horrible story to zero, however – and sorry if I repeat myself – ignoring the gender factor means falling into the same mistake as always.
Regarding the NYT article that you point out to me, keep in mind that the paragraph you pointed out follows this: “America has become a more diverse country […] Not perfectly, of course, but certainly better than any European or Asian nation today” . I don’t think the parallel is immediate or immediately useful. And it’s difficult for me to talk about it further because I find the article in its entirety absolutely reductive of the topic.

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