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The femicide of Giulia Cecchettin has shaken Italy, and beyond. Argentine journalist Ignacio Pereyra looks at what lies behind femicides and why all men must take more responsibility.
Updated Dec. 3, 2023 at 10:40 p.m.
ATHENS — Are you going to write about what happened in Italy?, Irene, my partner, asks me. I have no idea what she's talking about. She tells me: a case of femicide has shaken the country and has been causing a stir for two weeks.
As if the fact in itself were not enough, I ask what is different about this murder compared to the other 105 women murdered this year in Italy (or those that happen every day around the world).
We are talking about a country where the expression "fai l'uomo" (be a man) abounds, with a society so prone to drama and tragedy and so fond of crime stories as few others, where the expression "crime of passion" is still mistakenly overused.
In this context, the sister of the victim reacted in an unexpected way for a country where femicide is not a crime recognized in the penal code, contrary to what happens, for example, in almost all of Latin America.
Stabbed to death
Giulia Cecchettin , 22 years old, was stabbed to death (more than 20 stabs) on Nov. 11 by Filippo Turetta (a year younger), an ex-boyfriend who did not accept that their relationship had ended. A few days earlier they had had a fierce argument.
Giulia was about to graduate in biomedical engineering at the University of Padua but Turetta was upset that she was about to graduate before him: "He was afraid she would leave him to follow personal and professional dreams," said friends and family .
After the murder, Turetta fled in his car. Somewhere along the way, he dumped Giulia's body, which was found on Nov. 18 by Lake Barcis, in the Alps, covered by black plastic bags. The next day, Turetta was arrested on a German highway (he was inside his car, without fuel).
They are healthy children of patriarchy, of rape culture.
What was surprising about the case was that Elena, the victim's older sister, turned her personal grief into a political cause. She did not go out to ask for an exemplary sentence for Turetta or to seek consolation in the media but instead pushed to provoke society, especially in men, so that there would be a change.
"Turetta is often defined as a monster, but he is not a monster," begins the letter written by 24-year-old Elena. "A monster is an exception, a person outside of society, a person for whom society should not take responsibility. And yet there is responsibility. 'Monsters' are not sick, they are healthy children of patriarchy, of rape culture."
In the letter, where she expresses what she had previously said on television, Elena explains that rape culture is the one that legitimizes any behavior that harms women, starting from things that sometimes are not even given importance but certainly have it, such as control, possessiveness: "Every man is privileged by this culture,” says Elena. Even those men who do everything right benefit from this privilege.
Elena as Antigone
"Since her sister died, Elena Cecchettin has been doing something that resembles what we study in Greek tragedy. She speaks like Antigone , doing with her sister's body that which she can do because she cannot bring her sister back to life: making sure that other people don't die. And she does it with a modesty I haven't seen in a long time," said Chiara Valerio, writer and mathematician.
What is different about the femicide of Giulia Cecchettin?
Giulio Cavalli, actor and journalist, wrote that Elena did not accept to stay in the place "assigned to her gender” (to reassure), but chose to "renounce the role of the grieving woman — so reassuring for patriarchal societies —, silent and good, and instead pointed the finger at the historical and cultural instigator behind every femicide: the possession that leads to control, then to abuse and finally to 'killing'."
"If Filippo had talked to someone, to a therapist, a parent, a friend, this might not have happened," said Elena, whose letter ends, "Femicide is not a crime of passion; it is a crime of power. We need widespread sexual and emotional education; we need to teach that love is not possession. We must fund anti-violence centers and provide opportunities for those in need to seek help. For Giulia, don't take a minute of silence. For Giulia, burn everything."
September, 2018: A photo of Giulia Cecchettin from her Instagram account
Giulia Cecchettin/ Instagram
A poem against femicides
The last sentence of the letter paraphrases the moving poem that Peruvian activist Cristina Torres Cáceres published in 2017, which I only discovered now, in which she refers to cases of real femicides.
If I don’t answer your calls tomorrow, mum. If I don’t tell you I won’t be back for dinner. If tomorrow, the taxi does not appear.
Maybe I’m wrapped in hotel sheets, on a street or in a black bag. (Mara, Micaela, Majo, Mariana). Maybe I’m in a suitcase or lost on the beach (Emily, Shirley).
Don’t be afraid, mum, if you see that I have been stabbed (Luz Marina). Don’t scream when you see that they dragged me (Arlette). Dear mother, don’t cry if you find out that they impaled me (Lucía).
They’ll tell you it was me, that I didn’t scream enough, that it was the way I was dressed, the alcohol in my blood. They’ll tell you it was right, that I was alone. That my psychopath ex had reasons, that I was unfaithful, that I was a whore. They will tell you that I lived, mother, that I dared to fly very high in a world without air.
I swear to you, mother, I died fighting.
I swear to you, my dear mother, I screamed as loudly as I flew high.
He’ll remember me, mum, he’ll know that it was I who screwed him when he sees me in the face of all the women screaming my name. Because I know, mum, you won’t stop.
But, for heaven’s sake, don’t tie up my sister. Don’t lock up my cousins, don’t deprive your nieces. It’s not their fault, mum, nor it was mine. It’s them, the men, it will always be them. Fight for my sisters' wings, for the ones they clipped from me. Fight for them to be free and to fly higher than me. Fight for them to scream louder than me. May they live without fear, mama, just like I lived.
Mum, don’t cry my ashes.
If tomorrow it’s me, if I don’t come back tomorrow, mother, destroy everything.
If it’s my turn tomorrow, I want to be the last.
Elena, a white and middle-class young woman ("una persona per bene", as they say in Italy), expressed in a clear and lucid way ideas that were shouted, described and discussed for years by feminist movements and associations dealing with women victims of violence.
She went off script.
Instead of doing it at a street demonstration, she did it at an unexpected time and place. "She went off script: from a relative to be consoled, she became a political subject to be demolished," Italian online portal Fanpage pointed out.
Because from one moment to the next, the focus of the controversy was to scrutinize — to criticize and question — the woman who was speaking and not to dwell on the content of what she was saying. To discredit her, the victim's sister was judged by her dress and appearance ("Patriarchy does not exist, Elena Cecchettin recalls Satanism," said one politician).
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Italy has not yet incorporated femicide in its penal code, considering the great efforts with which it tries to minimize a phenomenon that is accepted in much of the world. Are we not talking about a country that defends the traditional family above all else and where sex education in schools is absent? But, everywhere, t he family and the closest environment are far from guaranteeing safety for a woman.
Let us remember that Italy inherited from fascism the " honor killing ", which privileged the man at the time of being judged because it considered whether his honor was wounded by an "inappropriate" behavior of a woman. Until 1981, the Italian Penal Code considered the following as a mitigating factor in homicide:
"Whoever causes the death of a spouse, daughter or sister by discovering her in illegitimate carnal relations and in the heat of passion provoked by the offense to her honor or that of her family shall be sentenced from three to seven years. The same penalty shall apply to whoever, in the above circumstances, causes the death of the person involved in illegitimate carnal relations with his wife, daughter or sister".
November 25, 2023, Messina, Italy: The feminist movement Non Una Di Meno (Not One Less) gathered in Messina. Their banner reads 'If I don't come back tomorrow, sister, burn everything'.
Valeria Ferraro/ ZUMA
Who kills women?
As of November 19, 2023, 106 murders of women were recorded in Italy, of which 87 occurred in a family/emotional context; of the total, 55 died at the hands of their partner/ex-partner.
This trend, among other things, banishes (once again) the myth that the big danger is a hooded guy who rapes and kills in a dark corner of the city. It doesn't work that way.
As also happens with child abuse ( UNICEF ), the vast majority of femicides occur within the circle of trust, that is, people who are anything but a stranger who appears by surprise.
Another piece of data: men are overwhelmingly responsible for the murder of both men (92.7%) and women (94.4%).
What happens in Italy is a reflection of worldwide trends, where almost 89,000 women and girls were killed in 2022, reported the UN , which indicated that most of the deaths were due to gender-related reasons.
While there was a global decline in total homicides, the number of women and girls killed in 2022 increased: it is the highest annual figure in 20 years.
The UN also indicated that "a staggering 25% of people (worldwide) believe that a man is justified in beating his wife."
"Italy has particularly worrying rates: 61.5% of the population harbors prejudices against women and 45 percent hold beliefs that can lead to justifying physical, sexual and psychological violence by a partner," remarked Internazionale magazine , which notes that in Spain, in comparison, the situation has improved: 50.7% of the population holds prejudices and 29% justifies violence.
What should men do?
When a femicide shakes public opinion and there is talk of gender violence, there is usually a logical demand for men to do something. But men usually try to get away with it.
How do we men get out of the defensive trench and change our perspective.
The same phrases reappear like mushrooms after the rain: "Not all men" (which includes the subtitle "I am not like them, I am good"), "Men die more than women" (guess who kills them?), " Patriarchy ? Nah, they are monsters!", "It is everyone's problem, also women's", "Tell us what to do and we will do it".
These statements — deconstructed in a thousand ways — are a distraction that does not refute the real cause of gender violence.
How do we men get out of the defensive trench and change our perspective to sincerely ask ourselves what we can do? To ask ourselves: Do I have something to do with it and, therefore, can I do something about it? Spoiler: however little, doing something will be uncomfortable, to say the least.
"It is often said 'not all men'. Not all men, but they are still men. No man is good if he does nothing to dismantle the society that so privileges him. It is the responsibility of men in this patriarchal society, given their privilege and power, to educate and call attention to friends and colleagues as soon as they hear the slightest hint of sexist violence. Tell that friend who controls his girlfriend, tell that colleague who catcalls (street harassment), become hostile to such behavior accepted by society, which is nothing more than the prelude to femicide," Elena asked.
How difficult it is to take note of all this is shown by the reaction of Filippo Turetta's family: "To see ourselves described as a patriarchal family hurts us a lot, we believe that our son has gone mad", said the father regarding the murder of Giulia Cecchettin.
It is easier and less painful to think that someone has gone crazy or that he is a monster, instead of imagining and accepting something more complex like that, somehow, we can all be part of a crime because the responsibility is collective, generalized.