Italy's head of state is being elected next week, amid a flood of attention of the candidacy of infamously misogynous former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Having a woman in the presidency, argues Italian writer and intellectual Dacia Maraini, may finally help steer the country in a better direction.
Italy is a parliamentary democracy led by a prime minister. The functions of the President of the Republic are more honorary than operational, yet can be crucial in moments of political or constitutional crisis. Next week the votes among members of the Parliament and Senate will decide who replaces outgoing President Sergio Mattarella. With most attention focused on the names of current Prime Minister Mario Draghi and controversial former four-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, calls have been sounded that Italy is long overdue for having a female president.
Many Italians, including some women, have criticized those calling for the election of a woman as Italy's next head of state — as if these calls were saying that being a woman is enough to govern well. To attribute such naive and clumsy thoughts to the people pushing for a woman president is an insult — we are talking instead about a question of principle.
"If the Constitution declares," as Sabino Cassese, a former Constitutional Court judge, wisely recalls, "that citizens are equal before the law, without distinction of sex, why has there not even been one woman among Italy's 12 presidents of the republic?"
The logical reasoning that follows is: either we still believe that women are incapable of responsibility and political thought, and therefore cannot be elected as the highest representative of a country, or we are faced with the aftermath of discrimination so deep that it seems completely natural.
Breaking a taboo
It is clear that when we call for a woman to become head of state, we mean a person who can represent us adequately in the world, a person with experience, credibility, prestige, ability, competence. That is, we ask that space be given to a female name, but not a random name or for a question of gender pride. Those who know history know that there have always been women of great value and ability, regularly kept out of representative roles, precisely because they were born female.
For centuries, or even millennia, tradition has preferred women weak in body and brain
Think of the Catholic Church, for example, where nuns, with advanced degrees, not only cannot be chosen as representatives of their religion, but don't even get to choose who will represent them. When it comes to the rest of us women, the vote, that is the freedom to decide our own delegates, was granted to us only after World War II. Elective representatives are an expression of the trust and regard of a people, and they are also those most tied to cultural taboos. And it is precisely on breaking that taboo that we are insisting.
Senators and guests of honor on the occasion of the Day against violence against women in Rome.
Children of history
Names come after the question of principle, and they are very important. In fact, I have expressed my support for Justice Minister Marta Cartabia, an experienced jurist who has shown great judiciousness and equanimity. But there are others, such as former Health Minister Rosy Bindi, former Minister for Equal Opportunities Anna Finocchiaro, Senators Liliana Segre, Emma Bonino and Roberta Pinotti, former Justice Minister Paola Severino. They could all very well become head of state.
I am not here to make electoral propaganda, but to wake up a conscience of equality that is constantly infringed upon. We are children of history, and we can't help but remember what has happened in a past in which women were regularly excluded from elective roles. This was based on the shared misconception that their lack of good judgment and reduced vision of the world, their emotionality and instability and childish psyche could not be trusted.
The way things were until a few decades ago is described very well by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen with his "A Doll's House," in which a wife is adored and praised as long as she remains a sweet child to care for and guide. But the moment she begins to meddle in the devastated affairs of the family, she is treated as a dangerous enemy to be belittled and punished.
For centuries, or even millennia, tradition has preferred women weak in body and brain, and for this reason kept away from the leadership of a family, let alone a State. This is why, before sympathizing with a specific name, we come back to the principle of equity.
Standing against fascism
The question that follows is: but do we really believe that a woman can influence the course of national politics? Do we believe that a female presence is better fit than a male presence to lead the changes Italy needs?
It is clear that a woman president would not be able to change the traditional androcentric structure, but she can help create new sensibilities about civil rights and gender privilege.
I want to cite here two women who are fighting for a woman president. I think you will understand what is being asked of a presidentessa (and already in this word all the misogyny is revealed of a grammar that does not provide for the feminine of many professions and representative roles).
Seeing the political value of being a woman.
Silvia Pinelli, daughter of the Italian anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli who was killed while in police custody in 1969, says: "I would like as president a woman who sits on the benches like the 21 anti-fascists who sat at the table with so many men and made that masterpiece that is the anti-fascist Constitution against war, inequality and poverty."
Anita Sonego, president of the Free Women's University in Milan, says: "I would like as president a woman who is aware of the political value of being a woman and who is committed to fighting against inequality and recognizing differences."
From these requests, we understand that, however limited in her power, a presidentessa can steer politics in a different direction and can influence public opinion. Competent women, with a life of integrity, esteemed for their broad and balanced vision of the world, antifascist women, faithful to the Constitution, aware of gender injustices, can help lead the country even if we are not in a presidential regime.