By Federica Russo
The social movement developed in Italy in the 60s and 70s, known as “il Sessontotto”, led to a cultural revolution. The generational gap between parents and their children was incredibly wide. An entire generation of students and young workers were involved in protests, political activity and the spread of “free love” theory, while their parents kept ideas of discipline, respect and post-marital sex. There was an impact on gender issues, both legally and socially. Women began to claim ownership of their bodies, independence from caring for their husbands and children and freedom from the chains of sexual bigotry. They were active in social movements and political protests, they claimed rights leading to the approval of the law on abortion, as well as to a change in the social perception of both female roles and rules.
Nonetheless, even in 2018 some Italian society remains untouched by this strong change. This is the phenomenon highlighted by Vincenzo Maisto, known as Lord Destroy. In 2017-2018 he went viral in Italy thanks to publishing a collection of tweets, facebook and instagram posts proving the survival of an Italy we thought had disappeared, at least among young people. Conversations and comments with a bittersweet taste reveal the existence of strong female stereotypes and their impact in the daily lives of women who share experiences and suggestions on the role of mother and wife. Some of them are funny, most of them are shocking, but all reveal that the idea that women are born to marry and to care for their husbands is still deep-rooted in many Italians.
Sexual relations become “conjugal duties”, female sexual pleasure is completely banned, the use of condoms is “taboo”, and knowledge of contraception is subverted with the “correct” choice being adopting methods with the same contraceptive efficacy as prayer. This, naturally, leads to a very high rate of reproduction. Eventually, when the family cannot sustain another child, and the suspicion that such contraceptive methods are not actually working, some of these women are pressured into practicing anal sex. This they approach as an unpleasant but necessary duty to make their husband happy. Women cannot have any kind of active role in the sexual aspect of the relationship, and some stories borderline with sexual violence. Sometimes women cannot even speak during sex, staring at the wall without moving, waiting for it to finish.
The oppression, of course, exceeds the boundaries of the bedroom and expands into other aspects of life. They are happy to receive a “good supply of cleaning products” as an anniversary gift, and it is routine to ask permission to go out alone. Husbands cheating is considered entirely the fault of the woman, because she did not wholly satisfied him, while the wives themselves must avoid any kind of contact with other men.
One of the most interesting points is that it is the women who suffer this borderline abuse that coerce other women to think this way. They are on the frontline to defend the status quo, made by straight rules and defined roles. Their husbands’ behaviour, which anyone else would classified as oppressive, is considered sweet and caring, violence is considered as normal reaction, and female passivity and submission is a celebrated as model. This mentality is handed down to daughters, whose efforts of rebellion appear in Lord Destroy’s tweets. It is clear that they live in a bubble that protects them from any kind of progressive thinking. By using the internet, which can be a tool of information and pluralist views, they manage to reproduce this close-minded society. Every kind of “progressive” critic or open-minded behaviour is rejected with savage violence, by a very harsh system of censoring.
Fortunately this reality is now a minority, and for that this phenomenon had a very important media impact. With Lord Destroy’s collection of tweets, people now have a window into the old-fashioned social relationship.
Gender stereotypes are still very alive in our society. The path to achieving real gender equality is long, and one has to be constantly on guard, because whilst it is possible to go forward, it is also possible to move back: as Lord Destroy shows. It demonstrates how the cultural environment, close to external interaction, affects individual’s lives. Food for thought arises from the active role played by women in spreading and perpetrating gender-based stereotypes. Defence and justification of sexual-based discrimination in the family are present daily in these women’s posts and comments. Every opinion is systematically and vehemently censored. In conclusion, there is still a lot to do before gaining gender parity and part of the work is understanding that sometimes we can oppress ourselves.
Federica graduated in Law with full marks at Federico II University of Naples in Italy. She wrote her final thesis about the relationship between States and Human Rights. Federica has considerable experiences volunteering with various NGOs and associations and she currently also writes human rights articles for Alternativa Europea. She has a particular interest in the rights of migrants and LGBTI persons.