Australia’s Sky News opened its report of far-right Giorgia Meloni’s imminent election victory as Italy’s first female prime minister with the statement: “Giorgia Meloni is not a fascist.”
Seems a helluva disclaimer to feel obliged to make, really, but then even Sky admits Meloni and her Brothers of Italy party is not without ideological baggage.
Meloni was reportedly merely a teenager when she praised Italy’s second world war fascist leader Benito Mussolini, at a time her western peers (ie me) were more interested in Seattle grunge, techno and smoking Dutch weed than public admiration for Hitler’s closest ally.
Sky also confessed that, yes, “the logo of her party is a hangover from its fascist origins”, as if the real problem here is one of lazy graphic design.
What’s indisputable is that Meloni is a radical ultraconservative who opposes gay adoption, fetishises idealised confections of a “traditional” family unit she did not herself grow up in, associates refugee arrivals with “crime and prostitution” and rallies against the influence of those eternally slippery, hazily undefined “globalists”. Ahead of the election, she told the Italian people: “Don’t be afraid.”
The “this is fine” meme got quite a workout on Twitter in response to the news of her victory.
But ever the brand of insistent conservative optimism, Sky suggests that Meloni is more in the mould of the newly not-elected-by-the-people UK conservative prime minister, Liz Truss. This is the same Liz Truss who expressed appropriate deference to her lack of democratic mandate and questions about her political legitimacy by immediately launching a radical neo-Thatcherite economic plan so brutal it has promptly trousered the pound.
Widespread fear of a new Italian leader who is such best buds with the authoritarian Viktor Orbán that she has been described as a “danger to Italy and the rest of Europe” has been defended by her apologists with a familiar rhetorical misdirection.
For example, Adam Creighton from Sky’s News Corp stablemate the Australian, tweeted: “Waiting for the left to heap praise on a strong successful woman, Italy’s first female PM … ”, pasting some emojis of crickets behind it.
The same tone from the right accompanied Truss’s selection as leader, and her appointment of a core leadership team among the four most senior British cabinet positions that – for the first time in UK history – does not contain a white man.
It’s become a familiar bait and switch to insist that the left’s ideological commitment to representative diversity – and feminism, in particular – is a hypocritical shibboleth. Feminists failing to fall in politically behind Meloni, Truss, Marine Le Pen, Marjorie Taylor Greene or Pauline Hanson – all of whom strike patriarchal bargains aligning themselves to male power – is somehow a greater betrayal of all women than any policy decisions they themselves may make.
This dog-whistles to the old rightwing merit myth, in which the systemic and traditional overpromotion of white men from cashed-up backgrounds is made to look natural and deserved because proportionately underrepresentative handfuls of women or people of colour occasionally make it through. Note: Truss may be prime minister, but a shocking 75% of her Conservative party colleagues in the UK parliament are men.
What the right aren’t ever bothered to understand about feminism is that the campaign for gender equality isn’t about supremacy, or replacement, or any of the paranoias that provoke misogynists to sweat into their keyboards late at night whenever a woman has an opinion on the internet.
While feminists pursue equal economic opportunity, structural enfranchisement and liberty in politics and law, the cultural project is the liberation of women – and everyone else – from confected gender roles that constrict expression, social participation and behaviour. Rather than meeting enforced ideals as feminine objects, our demand is for women to be as individuated, complex and even – would you believe it – just as awful, just as evil or just as hopelessly shit as men.
In this sense, an incompetent Truss and the fascist-adjacent Meloni are a bitter feminist victory of sorts, if just as a public reminder that women are not, in fact, a homogenised mass of indistinguishable signifiers but – oh my god – as diverse and human as men.
I wouldn’t vote for Meloni if I were on fire, and I certainly am afraid what she may do in her new role. But this avowedly antifascist leftwing feminist is in nauseated awe of what it must take for a woman burdened with the caricatures and prejudice with which hard-right conservatives saddle womanhood to achieve anything at all among their fray.