by Damian Killeen OBE e Guglielmo Greco Piccolo – pictures Courtesy of On. Nicola Fratoianni
D Magazine: The Weekly from Repubblica for Women Who Know How to Talk To Men
A Journey Into the Female Centre of Gravity Led and Recounted by Daniela Hamaui.
Italy 1996, after an effective publicity campaign, the popular daily newspaper, ‘La Repubblica’, announced the release in the news kiosks of ‘D – La Repubblica delle Donne’, a weekly fashion, trends, culture and lifestyle magazine entirely created for and addressed to women. At least, that was what most people thought.
At that time, while stopping at one of the many newspaper kiosks in the heart of Milan, one of many skeptical and curious men shared that meeting point with the newborn magazine, his gaze defying the derisive glances of the newsagent who rudely pushed to the edge of the counter one of the first copies, enclosed with the newspaper.
The newsagent began to tease; “Is it really any good…..?”, and the customer answered “We’ll see ……”, leaving with the weekly which was already open at page five. It was one of those typically muggy days in Milan in which the customer tried to find a shady corner in Piazza Duomo, with time to sit and to begin to explore why ‘D’ might be or might become, in time, a model of innovative information and an open window into the little known world of women.
Today, almost twenty years after its first issue, ‘D’ has become, through its numerous articles and features on social issues, science, medicine, food and wine, beauty and fashion, lifestyle, cultural and political topics, an established weekly which has become a moderator of ‘closer encounters’, new dialogues which are as open and cooperative as possible and are aimed at two groups which are still quite separate and entrenched and that persist in expressing anger born of historicized ideological frustrations and cultural legacies that are not yet completely dissolved. In twenty years of regular publication ‘D’ has been able to attract the attention of and contributions from characters such as: Umberto Eco, Natalia Aspesi, Javier Marías, Norman Mailer, Julia Roberts, Arianna Huffington, Linda Blair, Zygmunt Bauman and, not least, Umberto Galimberti, the much followed inconvenient gentleman of the new contemporary thinking.
All these guest contributors have participated and are still participating as active collaborators in an open observatory on different socio-cultural themes that are in constant movement and transformation. These contributions anticipate every possible benefit and effect without missing out, and why should they, the natural polemics and contradictions typical of changing societies.
Because of its depth of content and breadth of avant-garde visions, that only a courageous journal with an independent spirit can promise, ‘D’, scrubbed out some time ago its pay-off: ‘Repubblica delle Donne’, and redesigned new female (and male) identities to project, perhaps towards other future definitions that go beyond simple descriptive categories, to modify them into more powerful vehicles for a much more thorough, informed and equal exploration for both genders. This, at least, is what we like to imagine.
In all these years, the male species has come a long way in trying to understand and share the cultures, attitudes and potential of the feminine universe which still demands a level playing field and the proper consideration of new ethical codes; all this is thanks to the magazine, which is constantly engaged in research and massive circulation of alternative visions, repeatedly explored and offered by the leadership of Daniela Hamaui, historical founder of the magazine. Daniela, originally from Cairo, was among those invited to be ambassadors of excellence for the troubled and, at the same time winning, Expo event in Milan. After all these years she has committed to telling, discovering and sharing a new society of women talking to men, Tablet2.0 decided to ask Daniela Hamaui if the women of ‘D’ have now learned to learn from all those men who now regularly buy their magazine.
1) Mrs. Hamaui, we would like to thank you for your participation. Let's start immediately with the original title, ‘D - Repubblica delle Donne’, then simply ‘D’, probably one of the few magazines addressed at a female target audience but with a wide range, it seems, of male readers. What happened, did you perhaps have the wrong target?
D.H. When, in 1996, the daily ‘La Repubblica’ asked me to research a women's magazine to be attached to the newspaper, they gave me the market research on male and female readers which highlighted some points. The readers of ‘La Repubblica’ were 50% men, 50% women but the purchasers were mostly men. These women, then, did not read traditional women’s magazines and they threatened to abandon the newspaper if it decided to create one.
The challenge turned out to be very interesting. Out of it was born the idea not to create a traditional women’s magazine but to think of a journal a for women, something in which I was greatly interested and in which I saw potential for a change in Italian society.
Before ‘D’ was released everybody thought that the women of ‘Repubblica’ were hardened feminists, still wearing clogs and flowered skirts and disinterested in fashion, beauty and other women's issues. It was not like this. I was going to make a journal that follows the rhythms and routines of women who get up in the morning and, while listening to the news on the radio, dress, put on makeup and prepare the children for school in a stream of activity in which everything has its own importance. The women of ‘Repubblica’ were beautiful, smart, groomed, educated, well dressed, with great spending power who do not want a traditional approach in any of the part of the newspaper.
Publishing as part of a newspaper that has in it all the information anyone needs to know, I could make space for all those things that people would like to know but that are not found in the newspaper; major reports from famous photographers such as Salgado and Don McCullin and articles by correspondents, that given the length of the pieces, could tell interesting stories. The result of all this was a newspaper made for women that men love to read, well written articles, high quality photography and a surprising and deep approach to reality; an approach that is, in my opinion, more modern than the traditional division between the male and female weekly.
2) It isn’t common to read in the pages of a widely distributed magazine articles and features by such distinguished writers such as Zygmunt Bauman, Umberto Eco, Norman Mailer, Javier Marías and many others. These are not articles to read under the sunshade, despite their incredible accessibility. What is the D-factor of your publishing success?
D. H. The D-factor of our publishing success is that I have always thought that my readers were even better than we usually think. I think women can talk about everything. The important thing is to give them the instruments to understand. When, in the early issues, I put between one fashion article and another, for example, a strong report about child soldiers in Mozambique, they told me: “Are you crazy? Women want to have fun, be distracted, they do not want such shocking subjects.” I answered: "Women want to laugh when something is funny, cry when there's something touching, discover things that they do not know and broaden their horizons. The world is a big place and it helps to understand its reality and its possibilities." That is what I did. The personalities that you mentioned have told important and sometimes difficult stories, but they did it with passion, intelligence and first of all, from a distinctive point of view. Not ‘the truth’, but an angle that probably had not been considered and that helps us to reflect.
3) 4 or 5 of the journalists in our community, both Italians and foreigners, during discussions between people of different nationalities regarding, for example, topics such as the abuse of terms such as male chauvinist or feminist have referred to editorials published in ‘D’, outlining new angles and alternative ways of writing about and of exploring these terms from new sociological perspectives. It seems that many men today, thanks to much more extensive and careful information, have absorbed new perceptions. They continue, however, in many cases, to experience aggressive reactions from a wide range of women. In your opinion, how far do we still have to go before men and women really start to walk and possibly meet on common ground?
D. H. Women still have a long way to go to achieve equality but part of this process has been achieved. Young women today are divided, some of them reject the term ‘feminism’ because they consider it too aggressive, and outdated. Others still claim it. But all of them live their lives more equally because of the battles of their own mothers. Giving up the power you have is one of the hardest things and men are struggling to reduce the dominance they have in many areas in favor of women. I was originally opposed to pink quotas but forcing institutions and companies to reserve quotas for women has helped change the perception of women's skills. I think that men and women can complete the rest of the journey together but I am convinced that women have still to find the strength to believe in themselves. Maybe one cannot have everything, but we must, at least, try to have what we want.
4) On the 13 December 2003 in issue 380 of ‘D – Repubblica delle Donne’, you published in the section ‘Movements’ an editorial entitled ‘Chauvinist and Happy’, in which was reported the contest for power in different parts of world in which men were portrayed as building a kind of defensive wall against change, through an obtuse and herd mentality that does not take kindly to an escalation of women in power; a power that, currently, several categories of women in power practice very often to the detriment of the rights of many men, with the same, if not worse aggressiveness and consequences. Of course, we say this on the basis of very many facts, reported over time in the international media. This latest, equally dangerous, turnaround is not discussed enough, however. Considering matters today, in the light of what you said at that time, in your role as director of a progressive magazine such as ‘D’ and now 'DLui’, would you publish that piece again?
H. D. Perhaps I have partly answered this question earlier but I would just add that women have not yet found a way to manage power differently from men. When people talk about Angela Merkel, Margaret Thatcher, Christine Lagarde, the most commonly used words relate to metals, “leader of steel, iron, inflexible, hard." I think women should realize that power is not only exercised by wearing trousers and showing no feelings. Real power lies in the ability to take responsibility, to know how to choose and to take the consequences. Women are now able to network and to delegate decisions but a new feminine style of command is still missing.
5) In the twenty years of its life ‘D-Repubblica delle Donne’ and ‘D’, have offered many personal testimonies and experiences, lived and told by different characters, known and unknown, that have greatly contributed to accelerating various changes that are today more or less recognized as rights and are actually practiced in different social levels. Does that mean, therefore, that where our imperfect welfare system fails, we will have to depend on personal testimonials and celebrities to promote and to indicate other possible positive changes?
D.H. Testimonials and celebrities can help raise awareness of a just cause and get the attention of people who otherwise would not know the importance of certain issues. Why not use them? Having Emma Watson speaking to the UN about women is a way to amplify a message and make it accessible. George Clooney has brought to the fore the drama of Darfur that many did not know existed.
6) Leafing carefully through sections of ‘D’, such as fashion and trends, compared with the format of earlier editions, you have left much more room for sections such as health, technology and social issues. Even some advertising pages, initially much more apparent, seem now to be much more balanced and discreet, in favor of a fully readable magazine. Is this a reversal of the commercial strategy or does it represent a real need for more information and a wider range of contents?
D.H. In the early life of ‘D’ advertising was at its zenith. When the paper reached 500 pages we stopped. The crisis that hit the economy with the consequent reduction of advertising has enabled us to continue our path, perhaps with more balance but the vocation has not changed. ‘D’ has never been a newspaper to browse; it has always been a magazine to read, to which to dedicate time and attention.
7) ‘D’ is a classic example of a national icon. The magazine, however, continues to address a variety of topics and focus that come from other countries, characters and trends included. So why don’t you consider seriously the publication of an international version?
D.H. We thought many times about an English version; we also had several contacts with foreign publishers, including some from China but then the publisher has chosen to focus on the Italian issue.
8) Our community is very often active in areas of the North East UK where contemporary and modern Italy is not well appreciated (excluding London), except when it comes to food or bad-politics. Yet, many areas, especially fashion, design, food and contemporary visual arts, beyond the obvious difficulties that Italy is going through, are recognized in many nations. From the point of view of an expert in the field of international publishing, how is it possible to bridge this gap?
D.H. Italy is an extremely rich country; the Italian lifestyle is known and admired around the world. Italian fashion and design are perceived as examples of creativity, innovation and quality, then unfortunately we have our problems of corruption and inefficiency that ruin our reputation but, for example, Expo went very well and told the world that Milan is a part of Italy that perhaps not everyone knew.
9) As regular readers of ‘D’, although living abroad, we accidentally discovered your new monthly ‘DLui’ explicitly targeted at men. Remaining, however, ironically, on the subject of excessive power (female, this time), what does ‘DLui’ mean exactly (‘W-Him’: ‘Women with a capital H?) More than a few conservative misogynists could claim it is an abuse of a female power by men. On the other hand, however, more than a few anti-chauvinist feminists might remark on a particularly misogynistic choice which renders, in a not really correct way, the integrity of and distinctions between two categories still in conflict. Did you think about that?
H.D. ‘D’ is a point of view, a way of seeing things. ‘D’ is a curious eye on our society and its metamorphoses. ‘Dlui’ stems from this sensibility. Very often men's magazines talk about cars, money and sex as if they think that these are the only interests of men. The fashion in those papers is very extreme, niche, for almost inexistent fashionistas. I think that women may know men better than you think. No abuse of power, just a way to tell interesting stories to curious men, extraordinary because they are ordinary.
10) You, along with many other prestigious representatives, took part in an unusual all-female embassy for the most discussed event for several months: the Expo event in Milan. We guess you are fully aware of the various controversies and scandals around this event. For example, in an event promoting ‘biodiversity’ and ‘feed the world’ in ways that are much more ethical and correct, what were mega-brands (fast food oriented) doing there and other organisations not exactly in line with the mission and communication ethics for an event of that kind? What was, in any case, your Expo experience? We know you as a cautious person but also ironic and pungent, so: the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth! You Swear?
D. H. The whole truth, I swear! Expo has received a lot of criticism but also a lot of compliments. 21 ML people, many enthusiastic young people. For we who have traveled the world or had access to much information Expo can be disappointing or appear as a huge country fair, but going there I realized, once again, that in our life we need the humility to accept that even if a piece of a topic, such as the hunger in the world, has entered the minds of people, it is a success already; that women have had an interesting space; that when I participated in a debate on how cities would be if they were run by women, the room was packed and it was a Wednesday morning, a working day in a usually distracted Milan.
Maybe it isn’t the ideologically perfect exhibition and is much changed from the original plan but it has definitely had an effect. Expo brought together diverse people who for six months discussed questions such as: ‘What is healthy eating? Who produces what? Why do we waste so much?’. Eventually I am glad I went and gave my contribution.
11) Daniela Hamaui, you have led several newspapers. With a background like yours, what might be a new magazine, totally fresh, from which you could truly start again and, maybe, which everyone would talk about?
D.H. This is the Million Dollar question. I believe that the printed page would need to be rethought from zero. Do you know what was my fortune in 1996? Having the possibility to create a newspaper that did not exist, choosing the editorial staff based on the idea that I had. Here I'd like to have carte blanche and to invent a new newspaper very different from the ones are currently around.