Though Rome is home to a significant community of American expats, this year’s local Women’s March showed that America’s brand of feminism may not be so easily transferable.
The division was, in many ways, embodied by the event’s keynote speaker, Asia Argento. Famous for her involvement in helping take down Hollywood powerhouse Harvey Weinstein, Argento was applauded and encouraged by American women. Criticism from her own culture, however, was so scathing that she had to flee the country.
Differing reactions to Argento’s testimony aren’t the only reason that the American and Italian feminist movements are diverging. When thousands of women assembled for the largest single-day protest in U.S. history the day after President Donald Trump was inaugurated, they received support from sister protests in multiple international cities, including 1,000 participants, Italian and foreign, at Women’s March Rome.
Fast forward a year later, and the momentum has stalled. As an event in its own right, rather than a show of support for American marchers, Women’s March Rome 2018 struggled to convince local feminist activists to join forces. It didn’t help matters that Rome-based feminist group Non Una di Meno outright refused to support the demonstration, in part because the U.S. Women’s March made no attempt to reach out in alliance for a massive march the Italian feminists organized in late November. It happened to be the weekend of American Thanksgiving and, perhaps due to holiday plans, the U.S. organization lost touch. Now the misstep further threatens already tense interactions between the communities.
Standing before hundreds of women this year, Argento spoke of the scathing backlash she’d received from the Italian film community, which branded her a prostitute. Many argued that her history of taking revealing, racy roles was proof that she had always been willing to trade sex for advancement. At the age of 21, she must have been delighted that Weinstein’s took notice of her, these critics claimed. Others who did take Argento at her word shamed her for not speaking out sooner, painting her as an attention-seeking victim of the past.
When given a chance to speak, though, it was raw emotion and passion that echoed through the sound system as Argento denounced Italian rape culture as “medieval.” She cited other incidences of men abusing their power and attempting to sweep aside any consequences. While the criticisms she levied were harsh, she also pleaded for more open conversation and communication between women on a global level, explaining that this would be the only way for equality to break through: “for if we don’t raise our voices, no one will. In silence we are finished.” The crowd cheered and chanted “Basta!”, or “Enough!”, enlivened by Argento’s courage. Looking around, though, it was clear that some women felt abandoned; the crowd was just half the size of the previous year’s, despite (or because of) the famous headliner.
Defined by the use of technology, especially social media, fourth wave feminism has made a marked difference in the way women have chosen to strategize. With the ability to not only watch, but become involved in multiple global communities, intersectionality and inclusivity have become the new goals for women seeking equality. Feminists share cross-continental news, movements, ideals, and maybe most importantly, encouragement. But we may never wield our full strength against the patriarchy if we don’t confront our own differences first.