being a woman in italy

Being a Woman in Italy: It’s Complicated

Italy

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You may have noticed that everyone at the Italy Blogging Roundtable is female. This wasn’t by design, but it has led us to this month’s blogging topic: WOMEN.

being a woman in italy

Milan 2007 | photo by Jessica Spiegel & may not be used without permission

Being a woman in Italy is – to put it in Facebook status terms – complicated.

There are things about being a woman in Italy that I rather like, actually. The old-fashioned notion of chivalry is nowhere near old-fashioned in Italy – it’s alive and well. And it’s refreshing, in a way, to assume that nearly everyone is on the same page with regard to what might be called “chivalrous acts.”

For instance, in the U.S., if I reach the door first and open it, I expect any man I’m with to go through the door I’m holding open. I’ll even get a little irritated if he refuses, propping open the door above my head as if I’m not perfectly capable of continuing to hold it for the both of us. In Italy, I don’t expect any man to walk through the door first, so I don’t get annoyed when men hold the door for me.

Does this make perfect sense? Of course not. Like I said – it’s complicated.


In many ways, calling Italy “old-fashioned” feels so obvious as to be unnecessary. It is, after all, a country we visit in droves for its ancient ruins, cobblestone streets, and the sorts of dishes, views, and traditions we like to describe as “unchanged by time.” We’ve been known to lament modernization, wishing the things we love most about Italy would stay forever as they are. We’re eager to put Italy in a bottle, hit the pause button, and not let time destroy all the things we adore about the country.

What we forget, however, are the Italians who live there long after we’ve gone back home.

It can’t be easy to try to live a modern life in a country probably best known for all sorts of very old things that the outside world would prefer remain unchanged, particularly when what appears to visitors on the surface of Italy to be “charming” or “atmospheric” often has a more complicated story behind it.

Those buildings we love in Venice, so photographable with their brickwork showing through peeling layers of who-knows-what on the outside, they’re so pleasingly dilapidated, aren’t they? Never mind that the owner may well be an absentee landlord who bought a Venetian palazzo as an investment and now rents out apartments to vacationers and maybe some of the few residents left in the city. “Pleasingly dilapidated” feels entirely different when you’re living in a leaky building you don’t have the authority (or funds) to repair.

How many of us have in our Italy photo archives a photo (or twelve) of laundry strung between buildings on the narrow lanes of an Italian town? We’re charmed by the sight, taking it in as part of the scenery, not realizing that the incredibly high cost of electricity in Italy means that having a dryer is a luxury most Italians can’t afford.

Being “old-fashioned” in Italy means both good and bad things, sometimes simultaneously.


Which brings me back to the topic of women. It’s easy for me to say that my personal experiences of being female in Italy are overwhelmingly positive. I’m convinced that one of the main reasons for this is very simple: I do not live in Italy.

My relationship with Italy is that of an outsider. Even when I was working on the assumption I would one day live in Italy, I knew I would continue to see the country through the lens of a visitor – my role as the writer of an Italy travel guide compelled me to do so.

This isn’t to say I’m ignorant of the trials and tribulations of being a woman in Italy. I have expat girlfriends there who talk about the surprised looks they get when they tell Italians they have a job outside the home, and others who have left the country entirely, fed up with trying to get anywhere professionally as a woman in an Italian business. I have watched with disgust as Silvio Berlusconi has made a mockery of women by (for instance) giving a showgirl and former nude model the cabinet position of “Minister for Equal Opportunity” and repeatedly treating the German prime minister with juvenile disrespect (not to mention those so-called “bunga bunga” parties Berlusconi is now infamous for throwing) – and then with further disgust as he rises to power time and again, supporters brushing off his dalliances as unimportant.

My mother raised me to be a proud feminist, and that is what I am. I bristle at the way so many Italians seem to accept as par for the course behavior I have long thought of as incredibly sexist. I’m sure I would find it even more frustrating if I lived there – especially since I’m a woman with a career and (this may even be worse) one who has never wanted children. To me, Italy’s old-fashioned attitudes toward gender roles are nothing short of maddening.

And yet? I can’t say that being a woman in Italy doesn’t have its perks, too, some of which stem directly from those old-fashioned attitudes.

There is really no way to simplify the conversation about “being a woman in Italy,” unless you believe the status quo is perfectly fine and needs no adjustment whatsoever. (In which case, let’s assume we won’t be very good friends.) Let’s face it: being a woman just about anywhere on this planet is challenging.* Living in a place that throws additional road blocks in the way of half the population for “cultural reasons” makes it even more so.

At the moment, being a woman in Italy is complicated. I hope it won’t always be.

* Don’t believe me? Give “Half the Sky” a read.

Other Voices at the Italy Roundtable

Are you as intrigued as I am to find out what the rest of the Italy Roundtable has to say about WOMEN IN ITALY? Let’s find out. Click along with me through to the following links to read each of their posts – and please leave comments, share them with your friends, and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic!

Are we connected?

Have you LIKED us on Facebook? Are you following us on Twitter? Please drop by and say hello, we’re quite friendly. And we’re always taking suggestions on future topics for the Italy Blogging Roundtable! Drop us a note on Facebook or Twitter, or leave a comment on one of our posts.

Amuse-Bouches [Links I Love]: April 16 – April 25

Amuse-Bouches

Here’s the latest list of stuff I found interesting on the interwebz, April 16 through April 25:

  • 25 Things Writers Should Know About Traveling
    When a writer extols the virtues of travel, not because he's a travel writer but because traveling makes any writing better, that makes me go all big-toothy-grin. When he does it in a delightfully sweary way, that makes me even happier. So, y'know, thank goodness for Chuck Wendig and all that.

    I really, really love this. I hope you do, too.

  • Venice imposes short Grand Canal boat ban
    So, authorities in Venice banned motorized boats from the Grand Canal for a few hours one Sunday in an effort to draw attention to the environmental problems such boats cause in the canal city.

    That's all well and good, but here's the thing… If you're the "authorities," can't you do something about it? Other than a temporary and symbolic gesture?

    (via @DreamOfVenice on Twitter)

  • Why grad schools should require students to blog
    Now, this is fascinating. The author says writing consistently on a blog is immensely helpful when it comes to writing a dissertation, and not just because practicing writing more often makes you a better writer (this we know). She also says the kind of interdisciplinary research bloggers do, not to mention the need to take complex concepts and make them more universally understood, are incredibly useful tools for academic writing – and should be encouraged.

    (via @MJManzanares on Twitter)

  • The future of online etiquette is already here — it’s just unevenly distributed
    Awhile ago there was a post on etiquette issues for modern communication, in which the author said he ignored his father's voicemails in (what he described as) an effort to encourage his father to get with the modern times and send a text message instead. I found that post to be more than a little irritating, so I was glad to read this response piece.

    Here, what I like is that the point of communication etiquette isn't solely about what works for YOU. Communication involves more than one person, after all, so the etiquette surrounding it has to include both your needs and the other person's. It should be common courtesy, but I think that's not so common anymore.

  • Petal Songs
    So, umm, in case any of you guys want to find out more about my band – the one I sang in back in, oh, 1996-1999ish & am singing with again now – here's the Facebook page. It's also where guitarist Ken promotes his solo stuff, & when we finally get around to playing anywhere you can be sure we'll post that information here.

And this week I’ve got a couple videos to share, too.

First, this is a clip of Prince with his current band, 3rd Eye Girl, while in rehearsal for their current tour. There are no visuals, but it’s still worth listening to the whole thing because it’s the new, slow, supremely funky version of “Let’s Go Crazy” with which they opened the show I just saw in Portland. It’s just so, so good.

LETSGOCRAZY from Madison Dubé on Vimeo.

And this? Well, this is a cat. In a shark costume. Riding a Roomba. Chasing a duckling. With a pit bull. Also in a shark costume. In short, it’s either precisely what the internet was designed for, or a sign of the End Times. I can’t decide.

Amuse-Bouches [Links I Love]: March 30 – April 10

Amuse-Bouches

Here’s the latest list of stuff I found interesting on the interwebz, March 30 through April 10:

  • You Can’t Tell the Attorney General She Has an Epic Butt, But Here’s What You CAN Do
    There is a part of every single day – and that is not hyperbole – when I wish I could channel Lindy West. The woman writes with the perfect combination of sass, humor, and barbs while still being incredibly articulate and NOT GIVING AN INCH to assholes. I cannot say how much I love her. This piece is but one example of why.

    (via @doniree on Twitter)

  • It’s finally Spring in Tuscany!
    This month's Italy Roundtable topic is SPRING, which we chose because of the season – which Alexandra celebrates with this gorgeous photo-laden post on spring in Tuscany.
  • The Roman Spring of Tennessee Williams
    Tennessee Williams may be most famously linked to the American South, but as Melanie reminds us with this post – he was also inspired by Rome in the spring.
  • Italy Roundtable: Spring in My Step
    Rebecca may have lived in Italy for ages now, but it turns out she still exercises like an American.
  • Hot Springs in Southern Tuscany
    Did you know there are, like, a bazillion hot springs in Tuscany? Well, there are. Let Gloria guide you to her favorites in the southern part of the region.
  • Italy Blogging Roundtable: Springing to Confusion
    And this month we're welcoming our first new addition to the Italy Roundtable since it started – Kate of Driving Like a Maniac, who is righteously funny and who lives in Sicily.
  • Siena cathedral opens up sky section to visitors
    In another episode of "no matter how old Italy is and how many people have already visited, there's always something new to explore," a section of the uppermost part of Siena's cathedral is now going to be open to visitors – it's been off-limits for centuries.

    (via @Ars_Opulenta on Twitter)

  • This is Tuscany too: Monte Amiata
    Gloria's Italy Roundtable post for March was a little delayed, but it was worth the wait. It's a beautiful profile of Tuscany's highest mountain, Monte Amiata.

Dental Work

Personal
antique dental tools - 1868 illustration

antique dental tools – 1868 illustration

I have had a rocky relationship with dentists my entire life. I remember one appointment when I was a kid – I couldn’t have been more than five or six – when the number of tiny cavities found during one visit numbered in the teens. My teeth have extremely soft enamel, which has led to many fillings over the years, and some of the dentists I’ve seen have seemed more like sadists than doctors. So there were several years in my twenties when I just didn’t bother going to the dentist at all.

These days, although I have a great dentist and what I’m fairly certain is the world’s gentlest dental hygienist, and reminders about upcoming dental appointments no longer fill me with fear, those check-ups have come to symbolize something more melancholy.

In 2012, when I went in for my appointment it was after a three-year hiatus. The break hadn’t been intentional. I remember the conversation I had had during my visit in 2009, when setting a date on the calendar for a year out seemed ludicrous. It seemed then like just one more thing I’d have to cancel or reschedule, so I decided that not making the appointment was the smarter option.

See, by 2010, I reasoned, I would no longer be living in Oregon. I would be living in Italy.

Of course, by 2010 I was not living in Italy. Nor had I moved by 2011, or 2012. And not only did making that appointment last year come with a heavy sigh of recognition that I was not where I wanted to be, setting another for a year later sent me down a spiral I still remember a year later.

It takes nothing at all for me to go from marking a date on the calendar 365 in the future to thinking I’ve let yet another year go by when I haven’t gotten back in touch with the nice girl from the relocation office in Milan who helped me with all that confusing paperwork, because I’m embarrassed that I’ve made no progress toward actually moving, and in fact I’ve actually taken more than a few steps backward on that front. I try not to think of the money I spent on her services – money my father left me when he died – because then my stomach turns over a little more and sends a lump into my throat that I have to fight back down.

My life was supposed to be different by then, according to my “no, I don’t think I’ll make my next appointment” self years ago. The me who says yes to making next year’s appointment these days is – what is she, a pessimist or a realist? Beaten down by years of continuing to put off a dream that’s prepetually “five or so” years away, perhaps I’m finally resigned to the fact that I’m not moving to Italy – or maybe I’m just tired of sounding like I was trying to talk myself into it every time I told someone of my goal.

As she was finishing tending to my teeth last year, my hygienist pulled an angled mirror from my mouth and asked, “So, should we just send you a reminder in a year? Or should we not bother?” I wanted to tell her it wasn’t personal. I wasn’t avoiding them. But explaining my reasons for such a long time between visits was too complicated, too painful, and – most important – not her problem.

My 2013 appointment came up on my calendar last week, and with it a fresh round of sadness. Yes, there went another year of no progress toward Italy. And yes, I made an appointment for 2014 before I left the dentist’s office. But the sadness is more complex now, as I’ve rediscovered making music – something that makes me happier than I’ve felt in years, is very much rooted to where I am now, and that I can’t quite fathom giving up. Even for Italy.

Maybe it’s a coping mechanism. Maybe it’s just one more piece of the upheaval that seems to be par for the course the last year or so. Maybe I’ve simply changed my mind. I don’t know. At the moment, what I know is that I have a dental appointment in April of next year, and that makes me less unhappy this year than it did last year. And I guess that’s something.