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  • Writer's pictureMsCA

The F Word: who is making feminism accessible in Italy?

In Italy, the word feminism is still controversial and, more often than not even used as an insult. The ignorance around the subject is astounding. But there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Feminist protest
Non una di meno. Image courtesy of
"A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men."

The first time I heard the word "feminist" being used as an insult, I was about 13 years old. Engaged in a heated argument with a much-hated school teacher—a grumpy middle-aged man—who complained vehemently about witnessing a woman drinking alcohol alone in a bar early in the morning. "Drinking in the morning is always wrong, but seeing a woman do it is disgraceful and unacceptable," he declared. I questioned him on why such behavior was even less acceptable coming from a woman. My query was intentional, aiming to provoke and reveal the irrationality of his stance. His initial response was an attempt to make me concede that a woman drinking alone in the early morning must be universally deemed unacceptable. "Are you saying this kind of behavior is somewhat admissible?" he retorted. "I'm not defending her behavior; I just want to know why her behavior is less acceptable just because she is a woman." It was then that he turned red with anger and accused me: "Well, you're clearly a feminist!" At that moment, the word feminism didn't hold much meaning for me. I had never considered it an insult, but he certainly made it sound like one. I sought a logical explanation from him and tried to engage in a debate, but, unfortunately, he wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed. He persisted in calling me a feminist, and eventually, I lost interest in the conversation. Nevertheless, the one positive outcome was that my teacher ignited my curiosity—not in his mundane subject, which I consistently ignored (educazione tecnica—seriously, who cares about that?), but in feminism.

femminismo [fem-mi-nì-ṣmo]s.m. Dottrina e movimento che si propone di rivalutare il ruolo sociale e politico della donna e di ottenere la parità civile, politica, economica della donna rispetto all'uomo.



Doctrine and movement that proposes to re-evaluate the social and political role of women and to obtain civil, political and economic equality.

I was astonished. Why would anyone think of the word feminist as an insult? Yet, to this day, I find this to be the norm in Italy. It's a phenomenon I encounter every time I use the word feminist with other Italians, not just older individuals, but also people in their thirties. It's a resistance less prevalent in the UK. Back home, I am consistently amazed by the anger—or at least discomfort—people express when they hear the F word. The eye roll is almost guaranteed. Why roll your eyes at equality? (Read: What is wrong with you?)

One of the most common objections—shockingly—is that "feminists want to be superior to men" (cue my eye roll). I understand why people say that: "femminismo" in Italian sounds like the equivalent of "maschilismo," a widely used term meaning sexism or male chauvinism. Therefore, many people believe that feminism means "female chauvinism" rather than advocating for gender equality. If this were merely a semantic misunderstanding, it would be easy to explain—something I've attempted many times. However, more often than not, I face even angrier resistance that defies logic. The conversation typically ends with me saying something like "they are simply not the same thing, look it up" and walking away. I sometimes wonder how many of these people felt compelled to pick up the dictionary.

In a world where women still have to fight for their most basic human rights, how can there be so many people, in a supposedly highly developed country, who still don't understand that feminism is about women's dignity as human beings? It can be tiring to explain basic concepts to stubborn misogynists who just cross their arms and expect other people to spoon-feed them history. I would expect most people to know that women have died - and continue to die even to this day - in an attempt to obtain the same rights that were just handed to men as their birthright.

Like anything that challenges the status quo, feminism is uncomfortable; it forces us to rethink our patterns and behaviors. For many, that is simply not considered a woman's job. Creating confusion around its true meaning is the first step for the movement's detractors.

Sometimes, reflecting on these conversations spanning over 20 years of my life, I wonder: is it worth it? Sometimes it's inevitable to feel powerless.

Thankfully, when that despondent feminist mood strikes, instead of (or in addition to) screaming my frustration into a pillow, these days I can go online and search for like-minded folks to light up my day.

Cara, Sei Maschilista translates as Dear, You Are Sexist. A feminist project that started on social media and evolved into a podcast where the host, Karen Ricci, investigates the reasons women tend to unconsciously perpetuate sexist culture. Engaging, funny, exasperating... This no-frills approach is particularly powerful in a country where feminist debate has long been confined to the academic sphere . Ricci recently wrote a book.


Mamma di merda Literally 'shit mum', is a project started by Francesca Fiore and Sarah Malnerich, two friends challenging the Angel of the house icon still so popular in Italy. Reclaiming a mother's right to be, well, a bit shit, at times inadequate, just like any other human being, their blog and Instagram are hilarious and thought-provoking. No need to be a mum to appreciate their brilliance.


A feminist project founded by activist Elide Pantoli. What I love the most is its refreshing take on non-traditional lifestyles. Pantoli recently wrote a book.


Beautifully written by authors Michela Murgia and Chiara Tagliaferri. The home to unconventional women, each episode tells a story of a groundbreaking personality, such as Margaret Atwood, Elsa Schiaparelli, Grace Jones, Cher, and many others. I could listen to these episodes over and over - believe me, I have. It is worth it, even if only to hear Murgia's insightful and soothing voice, which is so deeply missed.


It can be frightening to realize how angry people can get whenever a woman strays from the patriarchal path laid out for her. Similar to my school teacher, who was so furious with that woman (and then me for defending her) for drinking at an unsuitable time of the day, that he decided to spend most of his lesson unleashing that anger in front of his 13-year-old students.

I am incredibly grateful to all the people out there who are making feminism more accessible to the general public by making their voices heard and refusing to walk down that path. Despite all the backlash and hatred, the world is changing. Too slowly, for sure, but time is the price we have to pay when fighting cultural battles. Surely there are and always will be those who—consciously or unconsciously—drag their feet and slow down the process, but people—particularly among younger generations—are learning to own the F word. Seeing more and more people becoming interested in this debate fills me with hope that feminism won't be a dirty word for much longer.

A gathering of Italian female partisans
Italian partisans - image courtesy of



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