A lot of Italians are visibly uncomfortable when I call myself a femminista or refer to femminismo. It has taken me a while to understand just how much of a taboo it is. Not long ago my sister-in-law – who heads a project to support women entrepreneurs and regularly engages with me about women’s equality – plainly informed me that people don’t use this word in Italy because it has ugly connotations.
Come to think of it, at the women’s group I’ve belonged to for a few years, I honestly can’t remember ever hearing it spoken. Maybe it’s because the group focuses on women’s leadership. With the widespread reticence to adopt feminized titles in positions of power (like assessora, ministra, sindaca or magistrata) it is clearly still very much a man’s world. As is so much of Italy, of course.
Even activist Lorella Zanardo, who famously co-produced the viral 2009 documentary Il corpo delle donne (Women’s Bodies), distanced herself from the word when I interviewed her for my article, “What Happened to Italian Feminism?”
On the one hand, seeing all these strong, progressive Italian women fighting for equality and uniformly avoiding the word feminism makes me wonder whether I should reconsider using it myself; that if I want my ideas to have an impact, I should consider where I am, adopt the popular language in use and not presume to impose my beliefs in the name of social justice.
On the other hand, what the hell else do you use if you’re talking about feminism in Italian?!
Like, if you’re going to tell me that to gain credibility and access to power I need to leave it out of my vocabulary, you have to at least come up with a decent equivalent. And not ‘women’s issues’ or ‘women’s rights’. Don’t pinkify my cause to make it more palatable.
Calling yourself a feminist isn’t exactly popular in North America either. But it sure seems far more acceptable than in Italy. You would never see a major Italian singer emblazon ‘feminist’ behind her onstage like Beyonce. And broadcast a female empowering ad for a feminine hygiene product during the Italian equivalent of the Super Bowl? Are you kidding me?
I just can’t help but wish Italians would hurry up and get over their outdated, insulting ideas about this word.
Four years have passed since Berlusconi left office and Se Non Ora Quando (SNOQ) was launched and I’m still not allowed to use the word feminist in Italian?
Fuck it. I don’t care what Italians think of me using it. Let them write me off as an ignorant foreigner. At least some Italian women out there feel like I do, even if they’re discounted as too old-school, out-of-touch, radical, communist or ‘moralist’ to be taken seriously; Italian women like Liliana Pontisso, who writes on the SNOQ Facebook page in response to a quote by Laurie Penny (crusading feminist extraordinaire who’s also, may I add, under thirty):
“The word ‘feminism’ became almost synonymous with lesbianism in the 70s, something ridiculous. But a lot of men preferred thinking of it this way. Otherwise they would’ve had to face all their failings and understand that women should not submit to them but rather be their allies. Then there were the mothers who felt like masters (madri padrone) of their children. Those women viewed female emancipation as a threat to their ‘superiority’. So many things were never explained to women, mothers and daughters alike. Feminism is simply the awareness of being useful in the world, no more and no less than men. When women realize this, they will live better lives.”