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Patriarchy versus democracy. For Carol Gilligan and Naomi Snider the future of social relationships, beyond gender stereotypes and hierarchies, is called emotional intelligence. The book Why does patriarchy persist? published in Italy by Vanda editions

The VandA publishing house has recently published in Italian the 2018 book Why does patriarchy persist?  investigation conducted by the well-known feminist activist Carol Gilligan  –  who teaches at New York University and is already the author of the successful The Birth of Pleasure  (2003) and The Virtue of Resistance  (2014)  –  and by the researcher Naomi Snider, co-founder of the Radical Listening Project from NYU.

The authors have developed this volume which tries to answer a question which already contains a precise starting point: “Already asking this question ”  writes Wanda Tommasi who signed the preface of the Italian edition, translated by Ilaria Baldini  ” presupposes the awareness that something fundamental for a change in civilization has happened: there have been fifty years of feminism (considering its second wave which began in the seventies of the last century), there was the advent of female freedom, many women entered in the world of work, in the professions, in the public sphere, in politics. It is as if the authors were wondering why, despite the gains in female freedom that are clear for all to see, the tendency of both men and women still persists, on an unconscious level – and this is what is particularly disturbing – to conform to traditional gender stereotypes, traced by Gilligan and Snider to the binary and hierarchical regime of patriarchy”. 

An in-depth journey into the patriarchy which is “at the same time under siege and in power”, which was spurred by the victory of Donald Trump in 2016, an evidently “patriarchal” president, and by all the amazement and trauma that this election has aroused in many women, not just Americans.

The concerns about the survival of a patriarchy that seems to run under the radar, present at an unconscious level even in those who publicly criticize it, and the heavy conditioning that this cumbersome ghost has exercised and continues to exercise on the lives of many women but also of many men, led the authors to collect various testimonies, in which a dangerous separation is still alive and well between an “altruistic and emotional femininity” and an “assertive and independent masculinity”.

How can one be fully in relation to the other, integrating the emotional aspect with the rational one, defending one’s own subjectivity, one’s own specific voice, without however sacrificing any aspect of oneself in the name of adhering to a schematic model that is so deeply rooted?

Although men have also begun to approach the topic, as evidenced by interesting experiences such as that of Maschile Plural here in Italy, the discomfort that creeps in between the legacies of a resisting past and the disorientation with respect to the redefinition of new roles and boundaries, is what allows readers to immerse themselves in the stories of the young women and young men collected in the volume. Where the authors, based on John Bowlby’s studies on attachment, trace a possible response to the survival of patriarchy in the pathological defense against the loss of love, which would lead men “towards emotional detachment and women towards anxious caregiving ”.

Female subjectivity would end up being sacrificed on the basis of the maintenance, perceived as necessary, of what end up being “pseudo-relationships”, even in the presence of a rational drive towards self-affirmation. Instinctive response, even if not immediately self-evident, is in fact the case for a woman to avoid conflict, silence her anger, or turn anger against herself instead of against the other on the basis of ancient and traditional codes to which one ends up to join under penalty of fear of social exclusion.

Naomi Snider herself brings to attention her autobiographical story, characterized by the disappearance of her father figure when she was only five years old: as a protective shield against the fear of feeling the pain of the loss again, Snider recognized that she had begun to suffocate her own authenticity to please others, ending up getting lost. Only in contact with her father’s diaries first, with which she entered into an intimate dialogue through writing, and then with the encounter with stories similar to hers, in which she found resonance, was she able to shed light on the psychological defensive mechanisms put in place in progress, as on the need to recover a connection between the true self and the relationship.

It is no coincidence that a sacrifice of one’s actual existence can also lead to depression, which has political and not just personal repercussions: the pathological defense against loss “does not only constitute an obstacle to love, to the possibility of an authentic relationship ”  underlines Tommasi  ” but it also compromises the ability to resist injustice.”

Patriarchy versus democracy, therefore: emotional intelligence must be brought into play to ensure that the “relational human voice” can best express itself beyond any stereotype or hierarchical code imposed by patriarchy.

Can women succeed in paving the way for society to finally shed its ancient structures, restoring its rightful role to emotion as a channel of access to experience regardless of gender?

Citing as examples the 2017 Journey for Peace of Israeli and Palestinian women organized by Women Wage Peace and the MeToo movement, the book tries to trace a path, reasoning on female protagonism in the horizon of the abandonment of an “inner” patriarchy, the result of complex social and political pressures, and in favor of a change towards full self-integration which sees both women and men fully involved.

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