On 13 February, women will take to the streets for a nationwide day of protest. News of the planned demonstration, which has barely been mentioned in the press, has spread like wild fire on the internet — further proof of the increasing dominance of the web as the medium for the free and rapid circulation of information.

Following the example of democracy activists in Egypt who used web to mobilise thousands of people to protest against the arrogant despotism of the Egyptian government, Italian women are spreading dissent on the Internet. But what exactly do they aim to achieve with their demonstration? Paradoxically, in a country that is supposed guarantee freedom for its citizens, they are campaigning for the same rights as those demanded by the young people in Tunisia and Egypt: freedom of speech and opinion, more democracy, better access to the working world and more action to combat corruption.

Italy, which is one of the world’s most developed countries, is increasingly marked by waning respect for women’s rights and aspirations, and growing pressure to keep women at home. In an atmosphere of general indifference, women have been forced to contend with dwindling job prospects and declining prestige. Italy is now the country in Europe where women are least likely to work outside the home. It is also the country where – setting aside certain high-profile exceptions – women are less and less likely to be actively involved in state institutions or to occupy positions of power.

Bodies of young women sold to the highest bidder

In the minds of today’s young generation, ideals of meritocracy and the value of the individual have been supplanted by a mercantile understanding of human relations. Young men are encouraged to develop intellectual abilities that will increase their chances of selling themselves on a globalised labour market, while young women are advised to act quickly to obtain the highest possible price – because unlike intellectual skills, sexual capital is subject to rapid depreciation – for the only value that still commands the respect of the market: the value of ready-to-use bodies. What else can we say of this attitude except to remark that it is an insidious and ghastly incitement to feminine prostitution?

Perhaps we should remember that there is nothing new in this situation which already existed in the time of Tolstoy. In his novels and essays, the great Russian writer had the courage to take issue with a society that equated marriage with a meat market, where the bodies of young women were sold to the highest bidder; and to take a stand against a mentality that led to the sacrifice of several generations of talent and ability, and the mutilation of minds and willing hearts. And whereas no one cared about these sacrifices, at least at that time, families did all they could to fulfill the needs of young people and to respond to their aspirations for freedom. Today, this role has been taken over by a market culture, which is perpetuated by the factitious appeal of television, fashion and most of modern cinema.

It is no coincidence that this mercantile mentality is closely associated with an anti-democratic predilection for strong leaders. In his essay on mass psychology, Wilhelm Reich has shown how an interaction of fear, illusion, hatred and frustration is at the origin of every attempt to impose an authoritarian regime. And women whose atavistic need for a leader – interiorised by real and symbolic attacks on their sex – are easy prey for this kind of project. This is the weakness that the bosses and unscrupulous manipulators of the global market plan to exploit.