Note – This article contains, in its original language, lots of links documenting the details of the subject – but they are only available in Italian. Should you be interested and willing to suffer their machine translations, I strongly suggest to check them out.
Unless you follow the news from Italy, you are forgiven for not knowing about the current big debate around the temporary defacement of one statue and all of its implications. As the story goes, during a huge protest march in Milan on March 8th – International Women’s Day – the feminist collective Non una di meno expressed their disgust of patriarchal abuses by pouring a can of (washable) pink paint over the statue commemorating famous journalist Indro Montanelli. The target was his many notoriously sexist claims but, above all, his purchase «for a penny, along with a horse and one rifle» of a twelve years old concubine during the fascist invasion of Eritrea in 1935 – something he proudly boasted about until his death in 2001, even on national television.
This started a veritable circus among Italian “journalists” and “politicians” who, far from keeping respectably quiet, began squabbling and squawking around the gesture while trying to gain some attention and possibly “defeat” their imaginary “adversaries”. The abundance of quotation marks should say it all, but in practical terms some of them took this opportunity to ridicule feminism; some praised fascist colonialism; others used the incident to attack “niggers” and do some preventative campaigning for the next elections, and others still desperately scrambled to invoke a historical perspective in judging the man. Also, truth to be told, the women’s side scored occasional lunatic claims too. One week later the online quarrel keeps going (as the real world trudges on oblivious of it all) and, overall, makes for a great advertisement for indiscriminate misanthropy.
Then there were two persons who asked me – one by email and the other looking me straight in the eye – if maybe Montanelli was right after all in vindicating a behavior that, in that particular time and situation, was socially accepted. Those were serious, honestly curious questions.
What was my take on that as an unusual sexuality expert? Is it right to judge other cultures’ sexual mores according to our standards?
One person in particular even argumented a brilliant selection of shocking examples taken right out of my books. Why do we label as ‘ethnographic tradition’ the maku rituals of the Sambia tribe of New Guinea whose children compete in drinking as much sperm as they can, consider ‘folkloristic’ the sexual education of the Polynesian Mangaia boys by elder women, take for granted the pederasty of Ancient Greece, smile if the Irish islanders of Inis Beag copulated in their underwear… but Montanelli’s child – whom he called his «docile little animal» – must be removed?
I was stunned both times, asking myself whether I really had to explain. Since gut reactions are worthless, however, here are a few strictly objective notes to clarify.
There is no way around the fact it was a crime
Before any other consideration, it is worth remembering that “local mistresses” were indeed common among Italian colonists, but such fraternization was officially a crime nonetheless, by royal decree. Platoon commander Montanelli was obviously aware of that, and he should have been jailed for one to five years. End of the story.
The “good colonist” tale is bunk
This clearly is a reductio ad absurdum, but claiming that buying a little girl was a way of conforming to local habits – almost an exercise in ethnic respect – just won’t do. If you respect a culture you don’t invade it with your army. On the other hand, if you swear by the abhorrent tale of having done that “for their own good and to spread our superior culture” you obviously cannot stoop down to the “primitives’” level.
This is not a matter of colonialism nor of sexuality, but of human rights
We could infinitely discuss colonialism, cultural colonization or anthropology and fail to make anything of it. We could reason about the opportunity of selling one person in exchange for the survival of many. Or we could even dip into historical-social sexology and ethnography… but at the end of the day that is just parlor palavering fit for spending the time between a tea biscuit and the next.
The sole valid argument is about plain human rights. Is it right for a person – whatever their gender or age – to be treated like a commodity, or to have their body and feelings subjugated by somebody else, especially under the threat of a whole army ready to obliterate all of their family? Exactly.
With sex, just like with everything else, ethics is always the best judgment parameter
You might remember that this website is about extreme eroticism. That is a protean topic with just one unchanging element: the founding concept of ‘safe, sane and consensual’. In addition to be a great journalist, Montanelli was – unquestionably and long after that period – a fascist. And, beyond any political consideration, the very definition of fascism is an organization of fragile individuals who gather to find the strength to hit like one weapon those who stayed vulnerable.
When you remove the rhetorics, it really looks like the same definition for bullying. I never understood how can someone be enthusiastic about such a poorly founded ideology, and one that has always been defeated and ridiculed throughout history; you sure don’t have to be a genius to see that it has nothing to do with consent, however, and that bullies are always wrong, in every point of time and space.
If we really must simplify this further, you just have to remember the golden rule: «do unto others as you would have others do unto you».
Did I really have to explain this?