Article 3

2021-06-08 Simona Cuomo

Privilege is Invisible to Those Who Have It

Too often, those who have (gender) privileges still do not recognize the economic and social significance of their condition. This lack of awareness produces effects of normalization of certain attitudes – such as insults, denigration, or a certain culture of rape – that should be publicly denounced.

Three recent cases in the news demonstrate that reflecting on the nature of one’s privilege is the first step necessary to question it.


Three episodes regarding gender discrimination have dominated the news in the past two months. The episodes are apparently unconnected, including due to the different levels of gravity and impact for the women involved.[1]

The first[2] dates back to April 6 of this year, when during a meeting in Ankara with Erdo─čan the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen was left without a chair while the Turkish head of state and the president of the European Council Charles Michel were seated next to each other with the flags of the EU and Turkey behind them. According to the protocol it was not improper, but in 2015 von der Leyen’s predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker sat next to the Turkish leader with no problems. The slight was not only institutional, but personal as it was aimed at the president as a Western woman.

The second[3] regards the case of group sexual violence reported last April by a student that is under investigation by the public prosecutor’s office, which involves Ciro Grillo, the son of Beppe Grillo, and three of his peers. What is striking about this act of collective violence is the justification of rape and the blaming of the victim by someone who represents one of the largest parties in our country’s government.

The third episode[4] refers to the words pronounced by the general director of the singers national soccer team Gianluca Pecchini (“You’re a woman, you can’t be here”) to Aurora Leone, a singer from the group The Jackal. Aurora had been called up to play in the “Partita del cuore” (Game of the heart) scheduled for May 25, 2021. But during the dinner before the match she was asked not to play and not to wear the jersey that had been made for her: “Since when do women play?”

We have already written[5] about how the word “violence” implies force and physical coercion, and cannot but bring to mind all of those actions that constitute less explicit but equal forms of violence: deception, psychological conditioning, verbal persuasion, or intoxication. Such behavior, even though it is less visible, is adopted to offend and delegitimize; yet those who embody power consider it legitimate.

Gender parity is a subject that should interest everyone, because talking about it means interpreting the society around us, considering its limits and contradictions, and making evident the privileges that, having been crystallized over time, seem to appear normal. Without this process of emersion, to offend, rape, and denigrate seems to be a customary and correct attitude. Too often, those who have privileges do not recognize their significance, and this lack of awareness leads to considering (gender) parity an issue that doesn’t regard them; something that is even annoying.

What the three cited episodes have in common is the normalization, by those who manage social and economic power, of insults and violence. Reflecting on the nature of one’s privilege is the first step towards questioning it and being able to empathize with those who are offended or raped, assuming that the other is a person independent of their identity and social position. Without an adequate and deep process of reflection, the image of the self remains limited and thus misleading, making privilege invisible for those who have it. This becomes manifest only at the time one is able to consciously relate to the experience of others, with the experience of people who are in a position different from that of privilege.

The events we have spoken of, due to the attention received by the media, become paradigmatic and make us reflect on other models of relations based on privilege: for example, those in the world of work that define the relationship between bosses and employees. These are relationships that, if experienced without reflecting on them, are the basis of phenomena of exclusion and discrimination.