[Italian version HERE]
This text is the result of the interview with “Il Maschio Beta”, whom I had the pleasure to meet some months ago. I really appreciate his engagement with feminist and LGBT+ issues and that’s why I want to share with you his points of view!
– How would you describe the word feminism? What makes you a feminist?
To me feminism is two things. First, an acknowledgment of the ultimate discrimination of human history, the sexism perpetrated by men against women: a mental structure that crosses all ages and all societies, and is so ingrained in our way of thinking that sometimes it is very difficult to acknowledge it.
The second part of my definition of feminism follows the acknowledgement and is the determination to address and fight this historical injustice; the goal would be to start conceiving every living person for what they are: people, and not something determined by their sex and/or gender. People often misunderstand “feminism” as limited to the fight for equal opportunities in the workplace, or little more than that; if we limit our definition to legal discriminations, it is easy to assume that once they have been corrected by the law, there will be no more need of feminism. However, the third wave of feminism has proven that there is still much more to be done, even in Western countries, because we have not addressed the core issues of the discrimination: we still blame women if they get raped, we still blame women not only when they leave their husbands but also when it is the husbands who leave them, we still consider women little more than what’s between their legs and judge them both if they do sex and if they don’t do sex (slut-shaming is alive and well everywhere), we dismiss women’s issues as trivial, we rarely acknowledge the low or bad presence of women in media… In other words, we are still far from considering women people in their own right.
I chose to become a feminist because I wanted to help other human beings achieve the status of person that I enjoy simply for being a man; and also, if I may be totally honest, because I know that equality and respect are the future and when my children are going to ask me what I did to rectify this situation, I do not want my answer to be “I did nothing”.
– When did you start to define yourself as a feminist? Why would you think men should use this term?
I actually have a very specific date for that! It was the 24th September 2014, after I heard Emma Watson’s speech at the UN where she launched her #HeForShe campaign: she was summoning men to support feminism and I got the call. I had always been convinced that women deserve equal opportunities and equal treatment but back then I saw no way I could possibly be of any help: the issues were so widespread and deep, I could not even begin thinking about it! Besides, I was very reluctant to identify as a feminist: first because I thought that it was women’s business and that as a man I could have no part in it; but secondly because I was still convinced that such a word implied “misandry”! Oh well, the things you later get to be ashamed of… Getting to know more and more feminists – online and live – I grew out of that dissatisfaction and today I find that for all intents and purposes identifying as feminist suits me quite fine. I am of course aware that some activists would rather prefer men to identify as “allies” or “pro-feminists”; I am fine with that, too, but I see that “feminism” still carries a stigma that as a man I would like to help dismantle: I am a cis straight white able-bodied man (a Default Man, to quote Grayson Perry) and if I find no fault in using this term, then maybe other men will follow and find it appealing in their turn. Let’s keep in mind that for the average Default Man feminism in itself is still a lot to process, so I think we should keep alternative labels like “pro-feminist” or “ally” on the side for a moment…
– Why did you open the blog “Il Maschio Beta”?
I opened my blog and the related Facebook page almost two years after I officially became a feminist. During the previous few weeks I had been feeling slightly unwelcomed in the feminist groups I was attending (one live here in London and the other online); I sensed a bit of rejection on a personal level but the main issue had to do with my role as a male in a feminist group: how was I allowed to talk about women in groups where women wanted to talk about themselves? Or about men in groups where one of the biggest concerns is not making everything “about men”? (and reasonably so…) Or was I just expected to listen? And what then? How was I expected to actually start changing things? Back then I was helping a friend admin-ing a pace on Facebook and after I wrote a post asking men to stop being silent in front of femicides she suggested I could open a blog. Inspired by the suggestion, and by the example of other feminist blogs I admire, I created both the blog and the Facebook page related. Now I finally have my space where I can talk as a man to other men, thus – hopefully! – avoiding any charge of mansplaining… In time, I started using the blog not just for my own posts but also for translations of articles from other languages and as a tool for popularization; and I started using the Facebook page to bring to men not just the most obvious of women’s issues (gender pay gap, rape culture…) but also as a platform to raise awareness about a number of issues, from male and white privilege to LGBTQ+ rights, from racism to fatherhood and mental issues…
– According to you, how feminism can be beneficial to men?
As I said in a previous answer, I became a feminist after listening to Emma Watson’s speech. One of her main arguments to invite men to join the cause was the damage made by patriarchy to men; I can safely say after spending some time thinking about men and masculinities (as well as after having my own experience of how damaging the preconceptions on masculinity can be) that it is all – unfortunately – very true: from the psychological pressure to “be a man” to the increased number of suicides, most of the perceived illnesses of menfolk that some would like to blame on feminism are actually the patriarchy’s fault; therefore, embracing a more tolerant and welcoming culture can only do good to men. And this does not only apply to Default Men such as myself: there are categories of men that we rarely acknowledge as men but who are men alright! Gay people, for a start: a few days ago, I was reading the results of a survey from where it emerges that what most gay men are scared of is being seen as feminine, as not manly enough. One of the core teachings of feminism, at least to me, is that being associated to females and/or femininity is not something to be ashamed or scared of (maybe only when it is a pinky and sugary tool of patriarchy aimed at perpetuating submission – but this is another matter). How much good would our gay brothers receive if we did not contribute to make them feel guilty for what they are and ashamed of themselves? And a similar reasoning can be applied to every man who does not belong to a respected group: poor men, black men, trans men…
(By the way, case in point: we are so used to thinking of “man” as equivalent to “Default Man” that we forget a man can perfectly not be a cis straight able-bodied white man…)
– If you think about the Italian society, what do you think could be improved in terms of women’s rights?
If we stick to legal rights, the first two widespread (and, I find, very underrated) discriminations that come to mind concern housewives and prostitutes. Italian welfare state still depends on women’s availability to make house chores and attend to childcare; however, this all happens for free: housewives still do not get paid for what they do, a residue of an age when the acknowledged social contract was that the man went out to provide for the family and the woman stayed in the house to maintain the house, cook and clean. Of course, many more women now have a job of their own, and fathers apparently have started attending a bit more to their own children, but the weight of the house care still falls heavily on the woman (OCSE-Sole 24Ore) Either we start paying housewives (but I’m not sure this could be feasible financially for the State) or we seriously commit to changing something: allowing women more flexibility with their jobs, or granting extended paternity leaves to men and making sure that they take them, finding a balance between the two, or something else entirely… I am not an economist so I don’t know what would work better; the problem, however, is there nonetheless and we’d better find a solution soon.
The other problem I mentioned is prostitution: there is an unaccounted number of women enslaved by men and other women to provide sex for men, most of them trafficked thanks to ties with organized crime, and this is already an incredibly serious issue, no less serious than slavery in tomato fields in Southern Italy (caporalato), but considered almost tolerable because “it’s the oldest job in the world”. There is also the case of many women who start selling sex out of poverty: sometimes we read in the news that female students yield to economic pressures and start prostituting themselves and on occasion we also read of job ads for women (care of old people but also the usual office job…) where it is hinted (never explicitly stated, God forbid!) that an availability to perform sexual services is requested. No matter what we can think of prostitution as an issue: as long as women are brought up thinking that renting their bodies is a viable solution to escape poverty, there is something wrong with our society (if not else, because men are never asked to do the same).
This leads to a second part of my answer, which covers attitudes that cannot be mended with the law but which still need some thinking. As I mentioned in my first answer, we still live in a deeply misogynistic society, and Italy is even more so than our Western partners. It does not help to reply that until a few weeks ago women could not drive in Saudi Arabia: we should aim for the best, not compare ourselves to what lies behind us! We need to change the mentality of a country that still reeks of Latino chauvinism, Catholic moralism, and Fascist machismo: men must learn to take responsibility for sexism, racism and any discrimination they contribute to; women should stop fighting each other because of a misunderstood self-righteousness (the “I’m not like the other women” attitude); when it comes to sexual aggressions such as revenge porn, rape, femicide, we should stop blaming the women (who more often than not merely made choices we just may not like), and start blaming the men if there is malice on their side; overall, we all should start thinking that women can do just as much and as well as a man, in politics, economics, the industry, the military, education…