Italy is known for a great many number of things. The food, for one. The culture. The Pope, of course, with his large hat and all of his wisdom. The fashion.
It’s not particularly known for its strength in feminism. However, this isn’t for lack of trying – as a society, Italy tends to be stubbornly patriarchal. Due to a combination of machismo and Catholicism, the #MeToo movement so prevalent in countries like the United States is barely visible in Italy.
Under the Twitter hashtag #QuellaVoltaChe (which means ‘the time that’), the first large recent opponent against sexual assault was actress Asia Argento, who was one of the first to publicly accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexually assaulting her.
“[The scandal] doesn’t mean much to Italy, sadly,” Argento says after facing widespread attacks by the Italian media following her accusation. “Nothing has changed.”
Women who speak out under #QuellaVoltaChe are often mocked and attacked by men and even by other women. This sad lack of response to the scandal doesn’t mean nothing will change, though – women are already taking steps to unite and disassemble the system that is patriarchal Italian society.
Recently, the Montecitorio Palace, normally reserved for the Italian Chamber of Deputies, was occupied solely by women in order to bring emphasis to the issue of sexual assault and society’s ignorance of it. Laura Boldrini, the president of the Italian lower house of Parliament, led the conference, hoping that the women seated in the room would walk out at the end of the day with the sense that they were involved in the fight against harassment and assault.
“In Italy, [the #MeToo movement] certainly hasn’t had the same effect. In our country, there are no harassers,” she said sarcastically during the conference. “[Women] know that in this country, there is a strong prejudice against them.”
The silence the country maintains is unified and defiant: only two Italian film directors have been accused of sexual assault (Giuseppe Tornatore and Fausto Brizzi), and the scandal surrounding both died down in about a week.
Even beyond film, the silence is just as powerful. In the Italian government, there are only five women working for the Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, and none of them have spoken out about #QuellaVoltaChe. It took nine years of negotiation for labor unions to sign a bill approaching the topic of sexual harassment at the workplace, and only recently was a bill regulating sexual interactions in the workplace introduced into Italian Parliament by politician Titti Del Salvo.
“Any Italian woman is used to having men commenting on her physical appearance,” says Simona Siri, a journalist for La Stampa. “We call them compliments (and men think of it as just being men). No woman would go to Human Resources if a male colleague were to ask about her sexual life: We call that joking.”
For the Italians, there is no one specific place to begin instituting change, whether it be surrounding the general view of women or how assault is dealt with – but Montecitorio Palace looks to be a promising start.
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