Cristina Comencini: “No such thing as freedom unless women are free”

The renowned director and screenwriter voices criticism of the stereotyping of women in Italy at the CPCE’s General Assembly

Film maker and author Cristina Comencini denounced the patriarchal structures and violence against women within Italian society at the General Assembly of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe. “There is no such thing as freedom as long as women are not free”, said the “leading figure on the Italian cultural scene” – as CPCE President Thomas Wipf introduced the prestigious guest speaker – on Sunday evening, 23rd September in Florence.

The economic crisis is prompting a return to the “old-fashioned views of women from times past”, Comencini observes. The renowned author and director is extremely critical of the “derogatory portrayal” of women in Italy, asserting that “women can only be free once these images are banned.” Comencini also made reference to the nation-wide demonstrations that took place last year, which she herself helped to inspire. She says that some 1.5 million women and men took to the streets in “Italy’s largest ever protests” to demand dignity for women. They marched under banners calling “If not now, when?” and “Italy is not a brothel” to protest against the misogynistic image of women that pervades and Berlusconi’s own blatant behaviour in particular that so reignites the archaic clichés of stereotypical women and men.

Although considerable progress has indeed been made on the path towards equal rights, ultimate power “still lies in the same old men’s hands that have always held the levers of power.” Women still feel oppressed, and levels of violence against Italian women are “appalling”, Comencini reports. 90 percent of women who are murdered in Italy die at the hands of their own husbands, and most of these victims had “wanted to leave the relationship, but simply couldn’t”. The reason behind such violence against women in an otherwise civilised country lies “in its culture, in the manner in which men and women perceive one another, the way they live, the way they love”. The film maker hopes that the mentality of antiquated clichés can eventually be overcome by “men who are able to challenge the traditional way of thinking”. There has to be a new relationship towards women, in which their legally founded freedom is perceived as an “enrichment” of society. “It is not that women should somehow become men; men and women should enjoy equal status, not equal attributes.”

Comencini says that precisely the Protestant churches should assume particular responsibility for assisting these efforts towards liberating women from these archaic shackles. Baptised a Roman Catholic after her mother, Comencini chose to adopt her father Luigi’s (Commencini – renowned director before her) confession at the age of 30 and became a member of the Waldensian Church. She believes that Protestantism has brought freedom not just for women, but for society as a whole. In stark contrast to this, she said, “a Church that has historically only respected one half of Creation” can have no future. She continued by suggesting that the Protestant churches should “open their doors to all those who have not yet found their true home”. The Church should be the first place for propagating this social freedom. At the same time, it should also become more open to the diversity and enrichment that women can offer; after all, it was “to women first that Christ arisen appeared”. In this particular context the director also criticised the “silent dismissal” of the female disciples, with which Christianity has tried to downplay the importance of these women.

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