Despite living in the Post Me Too era, women still have day-to-day challenges and complex boundaries that they continuously struggle to break out of. It’s the 21st century and we are still fighting for the same fundamental rights that women have been deprived of since the Big Bang.
Last month, actress and director Asia Argento shared her thoughts about her coming out story. She had previously accused Harvey Weinstein of raping her.
However, what struck a chord was the criticism that she received from the Italians. She was the victim and she was asked to stay silent as she was bringing shame upon others.
“Italy is far behind the rest of the world in its view of women.” – She said while speaking to the press of her country.
This made me wonder whether time has changed anything for women. Are the women of today really carrying the rebellious streak? Were the women of yesterday really that reluctant and afraid? After much introspection, I’ve concluded that maybe time has nothing to do with tradition and century-old norms.
50 years ago, a woman named Franca Viola shook the world with her brave decision. The lessons learned from her story are unfortunately very much relevant today.
Source: Rare Historical Photos
As medieval as it may sound, many countries find that the conventional way to restore the dignity of a woman is to get her married to her rapist. But in the early 1960s, Franca Viola took her rapist to the court, questioned the tradition, and won the case. She was the first Italian woman to do so. In fact, her statement to her rapist echoed the sound of the women of that time to the extent that they began to follow suit instead of giving in to patriarchy.
“I do not love you. I will not marry you.” – Franca Viola
Viola dated Filippo Melodia for six months but decided to reject his proposal as she had her own reasons. He spent the coming year in Germany and upon return was convinced that she would change her answer. She refused - and he did what a rejected man with low self-esteem and a giant ego would do. He abducted her and held her prisoner in a remote farmhouse for a week. During this time, he also raped her.
Traditionally, such crimes are dismissed if both the rapist and his victim decide to marry one another. However, Viola didn’t excuse such an explicit crime. She dragged him to the courts and accused him of carnal violence (kidnapping) and intimidation.
This trail attracted the attention of both men and women of the time. It was truly a sensation and talk of the town. The headlines of the newspaper changed from “No Admirers Call On Sicily’s Franca” to “Destined To Live As A Spinster” and finally “She Marries For Love”. These headlines reflect the patriarchal mindset that still exists today.
Her tireless efforts didn’t go to waste. She fought in court and won the case against her rapist. Melodia was found guilty and was sentenced to jail for eleven years. Viola, on the other hand, became a trailblazer for the women. She was initially looked down upon as people thought that nobody would marry her (as if that’s the only sign of success and fulfillment that defines women), but in a matter of a year, she married her childhood friend Giuseppe Ruisi.
Source: WBAI-NYC Upcoming Program
Frances Viola still lives with her husband, children and grandchildren in Alcamo. An Italian filmmaker made a short film on the life of Viola which was recently screened at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Sometimes, we wonder if resistance is only deemed possible if we have the support of the world leaders and the people in power. However, simple women like Frances Viola have another tale to tell… sometimes the word “NO” is enough to shatter years of patriarchy.