“I’m very sorry,” my Italian teacher*** Sara replies when I share that I’m married to an Italian.
“But he’s not Italian* Italian,” I counter knowingly. “Or, at least he’s not a traditional Italian man. My Italian American mother told me not to marry an Italian, too.”
“Yes, yes, the women know,” Sara responds with a sigh and shake of the head.
I had a Rosie the Riveter poster in my college apartment, so Alberto knew what he was getting into from day one. Wait, I don’t like how that sentence sounds as if he were “putting up with” something. Let me rephrase: Alberto knew that he was on the precipice of having the profound privilege of getting involved with a bomb-ass feminist.
And we all know what I mean by a “traditional” Italian man, although the behavior isn’t limited to Italians. If I must spell it out: macho, sexist, controlling, insensitive; doesn’t clean, doesn’t cook, doesn’t actively raise children. Loves (depends on) his mother an unhealthy amount.
That last one is particularly apt for Italians, though. We even read articles at school about mammoni, those Italian men whose mothers still do their laundry and clean their room, if they’re still at their childhood home, which they probably are. One (possibly outdated) article we read in class claimed that 70 percent of non-married men live with their parents and when they get divorced, 25 percent go home to mom.
Or, mammoni like those men whose mothers come to their own apartment to clean it, as in the case of my classmate’s boyfriend, whose mamma pops in to spruce things up once a week. Or, those Italian men who don’t take jobs or study abroad because it’s too far from mamma. Look, most of us love our mammas (Hi, Mom — miss you), and there’s nothing wrong with taking care of the people you love (given there’s reciprocity) but…
In school, we discussed a PSA-type campaign in Italy for gender equality. The first phase confronted gender discrimination with the tagline, “In Italia, le donne non possono esprimersi al 100%” — In Italy, women can’t express themselves 100%.
For example, one poster showed a woman saying, “Quando torno a casa, vorrei…” When I get home, I would like… And you’re supposed to mentally fill in the blanks with thoughtful dialogue about what women might be feeling but not expressing, like, “When I get home, I would like to sit in peace and read a book, not wash your poo-stained tighty-whities.**” Or, “At work, I would like…to be paid the same as my male colleagues who do a shittier job than me.”
This reminds me of one day when we were still living with my suoceri; my full-time working mother-in-law, who has a mostly retired husband, came home at an unusual hour. “Yes, I’m home early,” she confirmed to me, “because I have a lot of ironing to do.”
At dinner I see a gash on her hand. “Did you burn yourself ironing?” She looks down and then gazes back up through her eyelashes like the fawn from Bambi, quickly hiding her flesh wound under the table; “It’s nothing, it’s nothing.”
Me? I think I ironed something once in 2015. If I had lost a chunk of skin after coming home early to press Alberto’s shirts, I’d shove that seared flesh in his face as if I’d given him one of my kidneys: “Oh, you have no idea how much you owe me,” I’d say as he baked my frittata and poured my wine (a normal night #blessed #loveyou).
As we’re analyzing this campaign, my teacher asked if gender equality was an issue in our home countries, and one male student responded: “No, it’s not a problem in modern society. Maybe just in Saudi Arabia.”
OBVIOUSLY, this lady’s head exploded as she shouted into the abyss: “You see?! This is Reason #87246 why feminist theory MUST be injected into our children’s bedtime stories!”
“Actually,” I interjected after a rapid cool-down, “it’s a problem everywhere. For example…” Then, I inhaled deeply in preparation for detailing the subjugation of females since the beginning of time, but in that moment, a young German woman publicly concurred with me, and we had to move on to a passato remoto grammar lesson: Caravaggio dormì con una prostituta.
Of course, the PSAs were vandalized at bus stops and subway stations, where asshats scribbled vulgar responses onto the posters. But, the organizers said, the vandalization actually put a spotlight on the intention of the campaign: to make discrimination visible and to remind the public of the necessity and urgency of changing attitudes in Italy.
Then there’s the U.S. where we have our own special, dare I say worse, version of the famously misogynistic Silvio Berlusconi in the perpetually sexist Donald Trump. Then there’s the U.S. where we just secured a coveted spot on the top 10 list of most dangerous countries for women. Then there’s the U.S. where we separate breastfeeding mothers from their children. Then there’s the U.S. where…
Moral of the story? Things suck everywhere; feminism is da bomb; don’t be an asshat.
I certainly haven’t lived here long enough to do a thorough analysis of the status of women in this region, but if you know any feminists (and you should), you know we always have more to say later. So, BRB.
*Contrary to what my Korean friend Felix said after meeting Alberto: “He’s very Italian!”
**This example came to mind because I had the pleasure of observing, from our kitchen window, a 25-year-old man in his tighty-whities chilling on the balcony across the street with his mother/grandmother
***Update: The day after I published this post, I started lessons with a new female Italian teacher who had the EXACT SAME RESPONSE