On November 25th, we celebrated the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, as we do every year. It focuses on an issue that is extremely topical around the world and one that is particularly relevant in Italy, where a male-centric mentality is well-rooted in society. Italy, of course, is not the only place where these issues are ingrained in society, but it is a place where these notions are supported by policies that are slow to respond to the gender gap with concrete actions. This can be clearly seen in the statistics.
According to a report by Eurostat in 2018, Italy second-to-last, just before Greece, for female employment with 58%. To put this into context, the European average is 67%, with highs of 80% in Sweden. Furthermore, almost a third of Italian women who do work, only work part-time hours, a trend that is typical of practically all European countries. This results in an economy and a jobs market where the gender gap is so evident that it tends to supersede the required skillset. In Italy, for instance, it is women who have more second level and university qualifications.
If women pay for a cultural climate that is unfavourable – with fewer opportunities for a career, lower salaries, greater difficulty in entering the working world, not to mention data on femicides, gender violence and virtual abuse – it is also true that a predominantly male-oriented society also has serious consequences for men, in particular when it comes to development on the emotional, relational and sexual levels.
From WhatsApp chats full of photos of naked or semi-naked women to comments in the pub, gender bias spreads through word of mouth. Starting from an idea of a game, a goliardic joke, it creeps into the terrain of common opinion and germinates. The woman is the conquest, the prey, making the man the hunter. When he is successful he is a phenomenon in social circles. The girl who is uninhibited is a prostitute, while she’s labelled frigid should she deny his advances. Rape is condemned but almost always with the question of whether the victim was an accomplice, a consenting collaborator. The sharing of private photos or videos online that should not be done but is treated as a game.
In Italy, like many other parts of the Western world, almost nobody would self-identify as a male chauvinist. Furthermore, even if the opposite were true, they would believe they are completely right. This is because certain jokes, certain actions, certain thoughts are so ingrained that they seem normal. The danger of this is that this “normality” may never be recognized as offensive and wrong. The incorrectly-named “normality” is that even the victim, in the end, is so accustomed to a certain rhetoric that they too have to laugh. Moreover, this ‘man-centred’ thought has major repercussions also on the men of the world.
Meanwhile, the habit of seeing women as objects makes the development of a healthy emotional landscape more complicated and transforms a man’s encounter with a woman into a hunt, rather than a moment of mutual exchange. Considering the woman an object helps to trigger jealousy being that it implies she is a thing that can be taken away from him by another at any moment.
In addition, machismo creates, in the collective imagination, an idea of a woman who is mostly unattainable and perfect. She is a dream and is destined to continually clash with the real relationship that every man will then have to live or give up on. At the same time, it creates an image of men that is equally unattainable. This idea of strength, security and even coldness is to be pursued, and these ideas are, as you could imagine, devastating for those who are more developed emotionally. A mentality that does not allow women to show themselves as imperfect, does not allow men to show themselves weak.
Male chauvinism is carcinogenic to the psyche of males and females; it is intrinsically linked to the economy as it discriminates against a large part of the workforce and the creative impulse. It is for the society that leaves sons and daughters less and less able to manage their emotions. Breaking down these antiquated ideas would be good for everyone.