Saturday, February 20, 2010

A female president for Italy? - maybe in the 25th century14/02/2010

At the bar down by the fishermen’s port, two Saturdays in a row we run into the local Tom Jones. Sitting with his wife and her friend, he stares at us through the haze of his cigarette, without removing his shades. He wants to know where we are from. He is delighted to know we are Irish and not English, whom he dismisses with a flick of his cigarette as boring and unfriendly. Do we like it here? he wants to know, and beams at our positive reply. We know better than to mention the negative sides of living here; the pollution from the refinery, the filth around the smouldering rubbish heaps every 100metres, the lechy old men. Ahem … what are relationships like in Ireland, he demands to know, abandoning the small talk to cut to the quick. I mean, who wears the trousers? He leans forward in his chair, keen to see our reaction. We both proclaim the equality prevalent in male-female relationships in Ireland, unlike what we see here. Aha! He gets excited, and what is it like here? We both know by now that this kind of question can lead to dodgy territory here, and, not wanting to offend the amiable Tom Jones, I come up with the joke I have heard before – in public, men like to be seen to be in control, but everyone knows at home he is under the thumb – ‘la scopa dietro la porta’ as they say here, the broom behind the door.

Tom and company burst out laughing, delighted we have picked up this idiom; he leans back, satisfied in his wicker chair, but has one more question. ‘What about the women in Ireland, are they as jealous as they are here?’ he gives a big smile and the female friend smiles too, looking hopeful that we will have a good answer. It is true that Sicilian women are jealous; they often seem to me to be more jealous of each other and more in competition with each other, than of their partner. Some girls spend their entire evening watching me at the restaurant, checking out what I am wearing, and others try it on with mio marito, flashing him special smiles and flicking their curls at him. But when they realise that I am immune they get over themselves, and find it hard to put on their jealous-competitive performance when I am especially friendly and charming to them. So we tell Tom and company that actually the men are very jealous and possessive here, and he pretends to be surprised. ‘who have you met?’ he asks, laughing. Next time we see him he tells us he loves us because we are always in good form, and magnanimously invites us to his music night in the bar, when he will be playing piano bar music. (cheesy smulchy Italian lovesongs). He will be honoured if we can make it, so we tell him we are honoured to be invited and hope we can make it.

His relationship question is interesting as it comes up again and again here in a variety of guises. My friend who teaches English to men at the oil refinery (attendance is up since she started, last year they had a male teacher and the school nearly went bankrupt) says the topic comes up often and they joke about women being inferior and having to stay at home and do housework and look after the children. The ‘bar-humour’ I am subjected to by the late-night male drinkers propping up the bar is of the same ilk, albeit clothed in ‘witty’ sayings, or anecdotes. But unfortunately, it is nothing to joke about at all. My 35year old English student says she has a hard time in her job at the chemical plant, being one of the only female engineers. She has to work twice as hard as her male counterparts to get any kind of recognition for her expertise, and says that she has no chance of promotion now since her bosses assume at her age she will be having children soon and so they won’t waste the money. At her age, she says, she would have difficulty getting employment elsewhere for the same reason.

This is one of the prickly issues that lurks under the jolly ‘sole, gelato e pasta’ idea we have of life in Italy. And if men weren’t convinced enough that women are inferior creatures, just for adornment and housekeeping, then you just have to turn the TV on at any time to see women in bikinis playing arm candy to the male host. Think Bruce Forsyth in the 80s with his card bearing dolls. To make matters worse, it is the aspiration of many young girls to become one of these bikini-clad dancers for TV shows. In fact, my problem with chauvinism in Italy is that many women are its accomplices; with their tight clothes, stiletto heels, chests out and hours spent on hair care, they play at being dolls as soon as they’re too old to play with dolls, playing right into the hands of chauvinism. Plus, the mamma is guilty too. She never stopped washing her son’s clothes, feeding him just whatever he wanted and at whatever time he dragged himself out of bed, while she and his sisters cleaned the house, so the Italian male has been surrounded by images of women catering for his every need from an early age. A female president for Italy? Maybe in the 25th century

1 comment:

  1. It is nice to know that there are women in Italy pointing out these chauvinistic principles that are considered the norm in Italy. I hope that some of the locals can learn from/by your example :-)