Greta Magnani (21), who is half German, half Italian, smiles when recalling the first steps she took towards her thesis. “It was difficult. It took me a long time to properly define my topic.” Just following the developments of the MeToo movement wouldn’t be enough, said her supervisor, philosopher Sjaak Koenis. “He encouraged me to take a more philosophical approach.” That’s how she ended up focusing on female anger. As she quickly discovered, little has been written about this topic. “Which made it all the more intriguing to me. It also meant I could actually contribute something, no matter how little, with my bachelor’s thesis.”
Our interview takes place over Zoom. She is currently preparing to move from Milan (her parents’ house) to Basel, where she is doing an internship at a PR agency and art curator Hans Ulrich Obrist of Serpentine Galleries in London. “One of the things I’m working on is an artist’s archive. I’ll research artists whose exhibitions will open soon. The information I gather will be sent to journalists and other interested parties.”
In other words, she’s taking a gap year. “I wanted to get some work experience before pursuing a master’s degree.” She already knows that she wants to go to university in the Netherlands again. “In Amsterdam or Utrecht, a degree in theatre and art.”
Back to her thesis. She came across a book on anger, forgiveness and protest movements by Martha Nussbaum, an American philosopher and professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago. The book asks how effective anger is. As Magnani explains, “Sometimes someone wants to hurt the perpetrator of a crime like sexual harassment and teach him a lesson. It’s understandable, but according to Nussbaum, payback or retribution is unproductive. You won’t get back what you lost.” Instead of looking back and focusing on the past, it’s better to acknowledge and address the injustice that was done. “That’s how you can control your anger and begin a transition towards change for both the individual and for the world.” Nussbaum cites Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, all of whom had every reason to be very angry, but whose protest movements weren’t about retaliation – not at all.
What about the MeToo movement? “It’s a difficult and complex situation”, says Magnani. “Female anger must be understood within a social, political and cultural context. Many people see male anger as a sign of strength, whereas women’s anger is often not appreciated. There are MeToo advocates who use their anger to punish someone – and the bad guys have to be punished – but others use their anger very deliberately, as a tool to change things in our society at a deeper level. How do we treat each other? What kinds of power plays are happening? This approach will ultimately achieve more.”