Changing culture to fight femicides: is it possible, from within a patriarchal frame?
Today, while commuting and listening radio, I heard two news who, taken together, did quite astonish me.
The first is a statistic, indeed a very sad one, about feminicides: as the speaker said, the overall World average of women murdered by their "lovers" is around a 2%, but in Italy it is something like 40% (please don't get my figures at face values: I don't remember them exactly, so opted for an intentional underestimate - the doctored figures are still horribly impressive).
The second new comes from a high school in Rome, whose principal has started a positive action to change the way adolescent boys and girls conceive their relations, power, possession, and the many pathological facets conductive to abuse and, in many extreme cases, feminicides.
Among the various measures undertaken, one was gifting the students with T shirts containing "positive messages" against violence. The messages were two. One for girls: "Io valgo" - "I'm worth". And the other for boys: "Io rispetto" - "I respect".
It took me, I can assure you, a ten seconds to exit from the deep perplexity the sheer absurdity of the whole situation. What does it mean? We try teaching students ways to go beyond stereotypes, to think others as human being "nopt unlike them", and in the very instant we also say them, "Oh 'you' are a girl, 'you' are a boy, then by necessity 'you' have to increase your self esteem, and 'you' have to refrain from aggression???
OK. Superficially, abstractly, taken at face value, the message might be understandable.
But, stated this way, it does nothing to change the sick cultural frame we're in. On the contrary, it validates it!
If there is something adolescents are keenly aware of, its we adults' lack of integrity, sometimes. And in this case we see quite a macroscopic example.
As a part-time professor (in university, not high school; but problems faced by young adults are not so unlike adolescents', as I see), I see so often how messages told with the best intentions, but framed in ways lacking a logical and emotional coherence, will be at best ignored ("Oh, they, stupid dinosaurs...").
And indeed I'm confident the principal and her staff did their best to devise messages young people could identify with. I've no reason to doubt their good will and motives. Only, they acted from within the patriarchal frame of reference, and this, in my view, crippled the meanings they wanted to convey. That's a pity: gender violence is so a big problem.
Yes, this problem is cultural, and deep. So much, that devising sensible and emotionally sound measures sticking to old images is not in my opinion so possible. Sorry, this might seem old-style feminist hysteria (surely it is, in a sense - hope maybe a bit more "feminist" than "hysteria" ;-) - and I *am* "old" after all (Jurassic? Cretacic? Lower Eocene?) ).
But "patriarchy", at least as it is declined in Italy, bases its very reason of being in separating, classifying people by categories (genders), and forcing them to behave as social expectations dictate, conforming as close as possible, under close surveillance by the rest of flock - docile sheep imagining themselves wolves, invincible warriors.
I wonder what a better, more sensitive message could have been. Maybe, all T-shirts sharing both messages? They're intertwined, after all: you do not respect others if you do not realize your own value, and you do not live your worth if you do act to others unrespectfully. And maybe, just maybe, in their experimentation of life adolescents are (could be) much less "cagedly gendered" as we adults have learned to be. Sure many boys are "sensitive", many girls are "agentic" - and neither these two labels will ever approximate the difficult choices and conundrums they face. People. Individuals. Not "mass". And neither "commodities", as these times so often suggest.
Or, also maybe we, as professors, should be something more than teaching Navier-Stokes equations and air turbulence coherent structures. We "could" (I wanted to say "should", but my "patriarchal rank" is so low I'm not sure I'm entitled ;-) ) also be educators and role models. Maybe, showing that having an interest different than attracting boys gazes (and other kind of attention), or playing the Top Peacock part are just two possible ways - of the infinitely many.
Overall, I found my answer whether staying within a patriarchal frame with our minds and bodies will help solve the problem and changing culture. It is a "no". (Oh, what a surprise?!)
Surely, anyway, fighting patriarchal frame from a patriarchal standpoint makes something good: it creates a bit of work for some small textile company. Don't know whether this profit is worth something.