Thursday, August 27, 2009

Women in Italy

Food for thought in today's New York Times op-ed by an Italian professor, Chiara Volpato. The article deals with the current condition of women in Italy. It is unfortunate that the NYT has resorted to an unimaginative, trite illustration of this very important matter, crudely depicting a female hand reaching out from, what else, a bowl of spaghetti, like the final scene from the horror movie Carrie. Spaghetti (which I had for lunch, with tuna, cherry tomatoes, fresh parsley and thyme, white wine and garlic) is the least of women's problems. Spaghetti is your friend.
I know a lot about this subject. Most foreigners think that Italy has no tradition of feminism. One of these is British author Tobias Jones, who penned the best-selling The Dark Heart of Italy, in which he maintained that Italy is the country feminism forgot.

Not true, Toby. Italy had a vigorous and even radical movement called Il Settantasette ('77), from the year (1977), in which it was at its peak. I was there, and I took part, like early feminist Isabella Rossellini, who at the time was a journalist for Effe magazine (see photo). There was even a sort of feminist "uniform," of long, wide flowered skirts and clogs. The Seventies saw Italian women fight and win for their rights, education, and participation in the work force, with massive numbers of them attending universities in male-dominated areas such as medicine and law. There are now very many women who are successful in these fields, as in others.

But Italy remains (as in so many other cases) a study in contradictions. Media is indeed dominated by degrading images of females as sexual objects, and the power imbalance is greater for Italian women in the couple than it is, say, here in the US. Adultery is widely tolerated on the part of men. Of which Prime Minister Berlusconi and his women problems are just the classic tip of the iceberg.