On the New Year’s Eve, in Cologne, dozens of women were harassed, raped and robbed by dozens of men. According to current surveys, it appears that the attacks have not been concerted and planned; moreover, the «supposedly Arabs» which, according to preliminary reports, have committed those attacks were not, at least not all of them, refugees arrived in Germany in last months. The fact is, therefore, that dozens of women were harassed, raped and robbed by dozens of men who have found a sudden harmony and community of purposes in sexual violence, despite their origin, religious or cultural affiliation and of their legal status. But there is another equally indisputable fact, that many of those men were migrants. The possibility to take note of this and think about the consequences for women seems closed or at least limited by the symmetrical dynamic that took place both on the mainstream media and in the debate started within social movements, a dynamic which sees an understandable and legitimate feminist anti-racism opposing an unacceptable and violent patriarchal racism. Thus, the rejection and the fear of being accomplices to the racist rhetoric pushes women and feminists to firmly take up the defense of migrants, starting from the recognition that patriarchy is everywhere and that the «rape culture» was already present in the civilized Germany before it was «imported» by newcomers. However, if it is true that patriarchy is a global social phenomenon, it is worth thinking about the different ways through which it shows itself, that have nothing to do with culture or religion – even though they are unavoidably influenced by both – but with the configuration of the relations of power between sexes.
That all harassers, rapists and pickpockets in Cologne were males should be enough to highlight what lays behind the ideology of the «clash of civilizations» aroused by many men and women as soon as the news break in the front pages of all European media. In those women partying with other women – and therefore «alone», released by the male property and protection – those men have seen only a full availability: of their bodies, of their time, of their things. This is without doubt the most striking evidence of the logic that drives male violence against women, made all the more apparent as was shared and practiced in the same moment and in the same place by a large number of different men. However, to say that it happens everywhere is not enough and it is even dangerous. Every woman in Europe knows what does it mean to be «appreciated» by a group of men while walking downtown, to be groped on a bus or discriminated in the workplace. Sexual violence against women is not practiced only on the New Year’s Eve, in the crowded squares, in dark alleys or in the threatening suburbs of the multiethnic metropolis, but also at home by the very western husbands and fathers of the family. Once recognized this, however, it must also be recorded that there are specific differences regarding the ways, the size, the public legitimacy of this violence. And it should also be recorded that these differences are not due to universal values, but to the power that women have been able to express both in the West and elsewhere.
The difference, in other words, is not made by culture, but by the power that women are able to express inside and against whatever culture. Today German women are denouncing what happened because they consider it intolerable. The Indian women who three years ago demonstrated in mass against some rape cases – cases the world has been informed of for their brutality and cruelty – have strongly denounced the ordinary nature of this violence, demanding not only adequate legislative reforms aimed at punishing the perpetrators, but also the radical transformation of a culture that made that violence not punishable and not prosecuted because justified by specific power relations between the sexes. To affirm the universal character of patriarchy – the homogeneity of a conception of woman as a fully available object – risks obscuring much different conditions within which patriarchy acts, as well as the struggle that women have carried on and that are still fighting to change those conditions and conquer spaces of freedom.
Recognizing these differences requires thinking them on a global scale. This means that they cannot be confined to this or that place in the world, because they are simultaneously everywhere and move together with individuals, men and women, who bring with them, who practice or contest, the different forms of global patriarchy. It should be strongly affirmed the need to deny the equation migrant/rapist or Islamic/rapist, the need to counter any generalization functional to the justification of the far right- or democratic racism. Opposing racism is urgent, as much as recognizing that the facts of Cologne have only offered an ideological support to those who, after the summer of 2015, tried to govern the crisis unleashed by the migrant through a tightening of controls and of selective closures of the borders. And yet it cannot be denied that among the males in Cologne there were also some migrants: to suffer daily racism and exploitation does not make anybody innocent of harassments and rapes. It must be recognized that also forms of negative subjectification are possible, namely that in the struggle for freedom and for a better life, in the rejection of the power of capital, it can also be reproduced a patriarchal view of women’s freedom and bodies. Many Egyptian women have had to learn that Tahrir Square was not a place for them. Only by assigning a political priority to the free presence of women it can be defined a field of struggle that does not have to fear any complicity with racism. Anti-racism is not enough, as it knows every woman that everyday fights together with migrants and must deal with the more or less occasional denials of acquisitions regarded as given, starting from the legitimacy of speaking publicly as women and, consequently, to speak publicly and politically together with migrant women.
Instead of being worried only about the sordid manipulation, with the unique result to have as annoying counterpart those who asserts the superiority of Western civilization over any other culture, instead of making of European women’s condition the highest point of an emancipation that should fit all other women of the world, it must be emphasized that only women establish the limit of patriarchy. If so, then women have to look for those discourses and practices that are up to the challenge imposed by the global patriarchy, especially when the movements of migrants, men and women, produce and intensify transformations of the sexual relations of power at any place in the world. A feminist politics cannot be content with antiracism, but must be able to act against the order and the law of patriarchy. Looking at the New Year’s Eve of Cologne it is only possible to radically take the side of women.