Patriarchy Strikes Back? What's Behind Italy's 'Male Rights' Movement
Former center-right politician Flavia Perina says Italy won't easily move backwards when it comes to women's rights, because the female electorate is watchful.
After a period of progress in women's rights, it seems the time has come for the ebb, for a push-back of a certain type of male rights we thought history had left behind.
Popular propositions currently under consideration include: The right to shoota home intruder; the right to freely visit a brothel; and the right to exercise the ancient Auctoritas of parental authority, which lay only with fathers until a 1975 reform to family law. Simone Pillon is now proposing a policy reversal that could take children away from their mothers — even if the father is violent.
Italian advertisement of women performing traditional childbearing role —Photo: Viewpoint Mag
There is a whole world behind this vision of life, of relationships, of personal prerogatives, and it is obviously the world of men — of a certain type of men, to be precise — and their interests. Feminists are calling it "patriarchy restored." But perhaps it is an exaggerated label. At the moment, the main goal behind these propositions seems to be less about recovering of old prerogatives that a desire to fire up the sympathies of the quintessential macho man, who makes up statistically significant part of the Italian electorate.
In the southern city of Crotone, the local branch of The League party issued a leaflet that took a direct hit at women's self-determination. "It arouses rancorous attitudes towards men," the document argued. Afterwards, the League party leader and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini tried to keep his distance from the document. "I didn't know anything about it and I don't share some of its contents," he said.
Simone Pillon is now proposing a policy reversal that could take children away from their mothers — even if the father is violent.
The party members in Crotone had gone too far, it seems. But it was Salvini's rhetoric — his habit of persistently titillating the fantasies of Italy's machos — that got the ball rolling. He opened a Pandora's box that is now difficult to close, and that could ultimately prove costly: The League, especially in the North, has a large and emancipated female electorate that could get fed up.
Still, these male desires and nostalgia seem to be the theme of the moment. At the heart of it all is a specific age group, the most significant one from an electoral point of view: people aged 45 to 65, who are the most likely to vote in a country rife with abstention. There are about 20 million of them and they are the ones who make the difference on election day.
In this particular age group, men's vote counts more than those of women, from a numerical point of view, as women are not as willing to vote and the gender gap reaches very high levels when it comes to turnout. According to a study commissioned by Eurobarometer, there was a 4% gap in turnout during the latest European Parliament elections in 2014 (men 45%, women 41%).
In other words, the hunt for the vote of 60-year-olds is the real subtext of the moment. Should we be worried? We certainly should from a cultural point of view, but not as much from a practical perspective. It is difficult to imagine that Italy can move backwards in terms of female freedom, the rights of separated mothers and their children, or the Merlin law that banned brothels in 1958.
On the contrary, perhaps the maschista tendency will inspire politics to return to dealing with the rather baffled female electorate and to listen to their requests. It is long overdue.