February 17, 2007

Italian women and TTO

Foreigners who write about Italy generally notice its women, it’s hard not to – plunging necklines, extravagant accessories, spiked heels that clatter on cobblestones somehow never slipping between the cracks, a fortune of make-up on faces surrounded by every strand of hair in place – they try and succeed in being noticed.

They make us feel dumpy and clumsy and mostly envious. Ahhhhh La Bella Figura.

"But what is behind the façade", we ask, feeling slightly superior for our lack of constant attention to outer appearances. We wear sensible shoes to do our errands in Rome.

Then there is Grazia. I met her on Tuesday at a TTO open mike session organized by an American woman who works in the field of gender equality in developing countries. We had to go around the room and each tell a story about how we had done something tough, fearless, maybe a little crazy, surely gutsy and perhaps outrageous. (TTO stands for “That Takes Ovaries” to distinguish women’s bold and daring acts from those of men).

Well, the sweet, pretty, quiet Italian thirty something sitting at the end of the sofa looking very demur and proper told us where she has been for the past two months – on an oil pipeline barge with 180 men and no other women. While they lay the pipeline, she observed the effects of its construction on marine mammals in the area for a pilot project through the Ministry of the Environment. We all leaned slightly forward to hear more. While she had not been victim to any physical abuse, she had clearly suffered “mobbing” and had lived virtually in isolation for the period. But she did her job and said that, if asked, would do it again.

So the next time you think that Italian women are a step behind us in the independence field, think of Grazia and think again. The lesson from Italian women is that you can comfortably live the ambiguity of being concerned with how you present yourself within the concept of La Bella Figura while also being someone with whom men have to reckon. TTO to Grazia!

a domani,

1 comment:

Decobabe said...

Hi, Elizabeth, here I am, as invited.
I do have an opinion about the place of women. I think that many women permit the perception of giving up control or do give up some control in exchange for having real power within the family. It unfortunately gives their sons the idea that women aren't the formidable creatures they are, so in business women are discriminated against in ways that are illegal even here, but nothing is done to enforce that. Men are not ready to allow the power to slip from their hands, and they refuse to hire, to pay equally or to train a woman to rise up in their places.
An entrepreneurial woman can bypass that, but what about the professional woman? I know a doctor who was left covering all the emergency outcalls for months because everyone else had some excuse and she was single. In the end she had to take sabbatical because she couldn't get holidays off nor could she take vacations. She felt she was losing the ability to do her job because she was so worn down. Unfair, yes! And this was the state health service.
OTH, women who marry and have a family often have the first and last word about every decision. They may have the sweetest exterior, and the toughest inner fiber. They take enormous responsibility and sometimes rule their children's lives forever. And that wears them down, too. Women my age often retire from all life outside the home. You see them out doing the marketing in the morning and the rest of the time you'd think they didn't exist.
I don't have a single idea about Italian women, but many. My sadness has to do with that very few of them are available for close friendships with other women unless they grew up with them. It leaves many expat women with only other expat women for girlfriends. Just because you both did something a bit odd, like moving to a foreign country, doesn't mean you necessarily have anything else in common.
Why are comments allowed only for Google accounts?