Feminist Suffrage Parade, New York City, 1912 - public domain

Women’s Equality Day

Feminist Suffrage Parade, New York City, 1912 - public domain

Feminist Suffrage Parade, New York City, 1912 – public domain

So, apparently today is Women’s Equality Day. You know, one of those bullshit, made-up, inconsequential holidays (in this case, made even more ridiculous by purporting to celebrate a thing that doesn’t even exist). It’s a thing that gives people permission to sit back, relax, and do next-to-nothing for the other 364 days each year, since – hey! I gave at the office on Women’s Equality Day, used the hashtag and everything.

I woke up irritated this morning, because I went to bed irritated. Last night, I saw a message on Twitter from a guy I’ve followed there for several years, a message about Beyonce’s VMA appearance:

“Have just come across the Beyoncé/VMA thing. The most self-involved shit I’ve ever seen. Girl’s bat-shit crazy.”

I hadn’t seen the show, so I went online and watched her whole performance. It was, in a word, perfect. It doesn’t matter what you think of her music, she is a perfectionist when it comes to her shows, and she put on a show that was right on the money. Then I replied to that Twitter message, asking if it was her performance he objected to, since I thought it was spotless. His reply?

“Hypocritical to the point of insulting. Don’t build your career as independent woman & then perform songs about ‘pleasing your man'”

Okay. Umm, what?

It’s very easy for me to forget that outside of my progressive little bubble – both where I live literally in Portland where I live virtually online – that many, many people still have no idea what feminism is. None. If my Twitterer had been paying closer attention to Beyonce’s VMA performance, he would have heard the definition loud and clear:

A feminist is a person “who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”

The words were spoken by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Beyonce stood silhouetted against the enormous word FEMINIST behind her. It was a powerful moment. It made me smile. And apparently not everyone was listening.

I challenged my Twitterer:

“Being an independent woman doesn’t mean you don’t want to please others. What exactly do you think being a feminist means?”

And he replied:

“Probably not spreading your legs in front of your infant daughter. But that’s just me.”

And then I got angry. I probably shouldn’t have said what I said next, since I was already tired, heading for bed, and about to turn off my phone. But I said this:

“Here’s what I think. You’re spectacularly ignorant about what feminism is/is not, but have no problem calling people crazy.”

So I went to bed agitated. I woke up with a headache, still thinking about the exchange. (He didn’t reply.) I was reminded of an exchange I had on Facebook not long ago, when I posted a graphic that read, “Feminism isn’t about destroying families, turning people into lesbians, destroying America, bashing men, bashing conservatives, communism. Feminism is about equality.” My Facebook friend declared that “all feminists should be made to recite that before they put pen to paper.” I take issue with statements that begin “All members of X group should be made to do Y,” and I said so. He shot back with, “The sexist feminists do more harm than good.”

Yes, sexist people suck. And sexism goes both ways. What my Facebook friend doesn’t like is that the people he’s referring to are sexist. Which is not feminism.

I didn’t have the wherewithal to continue the Twitter conversation last night, but the more I think about it, the more I wish I would have said:

A feminist is a person “who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” Being an independent person doesn’t mean one is a hermit who hates other people. Feminists come in all shapes, colors, sizes, and degrees. They can be promiscuous and chaste. They can be extroverts and introverts. They can be gay and straight. They can be boasting and modest. They can be strippers and schoolteachers. They can be men and women. Because none of those things has anything to do with what feminism means. What you took issue with was, perhaps, a moral compass that’s pointing in a different direction than yours is. And that’s fine. That’s okay. What is not okay, however, is to cover that moral disagreement with the veil of “feminism” and pretend they’re the same thing. You have put the proverbial apples and oranges in a bowl, declared them all the same thing, and decided they are bad. That is, it seems to me, ignorant and foolish.

I am tired of these conversations. I am tired of having to spend more time explaining what feminism is not than people spend learning what feminism is. I am tired of people objecting to something – getting judgemental about something, getting defensive against something – that they fundamentally don’t understand. And I am tired of so many of us looking away when we hear comments like this, pretending it’s someone else’s job to speak up. Because when we stay silent, we perpetuate the falsehoods. Let’s call bullshit when we see it.

And let’s start with a bullshit non-holiday that, really, must be mocking us it’s so obviously not celebrating a real thing. I’d give up and call it Tooth Fairy Day, but I think more people believe the Tooth Fairy exists than equality of the sexes exist.

Good reading: Beyonce’s VMA Performance Was the Feminist Moment I’ve Been Waiting For

Stop the NRA -- creative commons photo by Elvert Barnes

Gun. Control. Now.

Stop the NRA -- creative commons photo by Elvert Barnes

creative commons photo by Elvert Barnes

I don’t know how anyone can look at this latest mass shooting and fail to see a crisis around this country’s attitudes toward both guns and women. We needed gun control decades ago. Our government is complicit in these murders so long as they let the NRA bully them into inaction or – worse – actions that actually inhibit efforts to keep people safe from gun violence.

Gun control now.

  • How the NRA Enables Massacres
    In the USA, "we’ve allowed a group of rich, entitled thugs who run an operation fronting for arms dealers—guys who represent a minority position on pretty much every issue having to do with reasonable regulation of firearms even among gun owners—to dictate our policies to cowardly, careerist politicians."
  • Elliot Rodger’s fatal menace: How toxic male entitlement devalues women’s and men’s lives
    "Just as we examine our culture of guns once again in the wake of yet another mass shooting, we must also examine our culture of misogyny and toxic masculinity, which devalues both women’s and men’s lives and worth, and inflicts real and daily harm.

    “I think of the millions of other women and girls whose names the public does not know, but who have been forced all the same — by institutional forces larger than themselves, by systemic and enduring misogyny and racism, by the sheer bad luck of being at a given place at a given moment — to become statistics or symbols of our culture’s profound disregard for the humanity of women and girls. I am reminded of all of them and I don’t know where to put the pain and anger that comes with that. There is no possible vessel large enough to hold it all.”

  • Christopher Michael-Martinez’s Father Gets It Right about Guns
    "The war against euphemism and cliché matters not because we can guarantee that eliminating them will help us speak nothing but the truth but, rather, because eliminating them from our language is an act of courage that helps us get just a little closer to the truth. Clear speech takes courage. Every time we tell the truth about a subject that attracts a lot of lies, we advance the sanity of the nation. Plain speech matters because when we speak clearly we are more likely to speak truth than when we retreat into slogan and euphemism; avoiding euphemism takes courage because it almost always points plainly to responsibility. To say ‘torture’ instead of ‘enhanced interrogation’ is hard, because it means that someone we placed in power was a torturer. That’s a hard truth and a brutal responsibility to accept. But it’s so.

    “Speaking clearly also lets us examine the elements of a proposition plainly. We know that slogans masquerading as plain speech are mere rhetoric because, on a moment’s inspection, they reveal themselves to be absurd. ‘The best answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun’ reveals itself to be a lie on a single inspection: the best answer is to not let the bad guy have a gun. ‘Guns don’t kill people, people do.’ No: obviously, people with guns kill more people than people without them. Why not ban knives or cars, which can be instruments of death, too? Because these things were designed to help people do things other than kill people. ‘Gun control’ means controlling those things whose first purpose is to help people kill other people. … And the idea that you can be pro-life and still be pro-gun: if your primary concern is actually with the sacredness of life, then you have to stand with Richard Martinez, in memory of his son.”

  • I Am Not an Angry Feminist. I’m a Furious One.
    On the awful backlash toward the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter:

    "They don't believe us. Hundreds of thousands of women from around the world can weigh in and tell their first hand experiences and there are men out there — seemingly reasonable and intelligent men — who still refuse to admit that maybe, just maybe, we have good reasons to be afraid. A 22-year-old kid spouts the same misogynist rhetoric that my coworkers and I receive in our inboxes on a daily basis and goes on a shooting rampage with the expressed purpose of punishing women for not giving him the sexual attention he felt entitled to and we're still told that we have no right to be scared because #NotAllMen are like that."

Contact your Senators and Representatives. Ask them to stand up to the NRA – for the sake of everyone you know and love.

being a woman in italy

Being a Woman in Italy: It’s Complicated



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.