Thursday, February 25, 2010

Women in Sicily 25/02/10

This morning a man in his 30s followed me slowly up the hill on his motorbike and gazed back as he passed me, almost causing an accident with oncoming traffic. He then waited for me at a carpark halfway up the hill and watched my backside as I went up the steps to the borgo, a big sleazy grin plastered on his face. Welcome to Sicily, home of repressed maniacs.

I was recruited on Saturday night to a most interesting cause – a Women’s Group for Milazzo. I had just been talking earlier in the day with some English teachers here that it was odd that there were some many clubs for men here – ranging from various sporting activities to card playing etc, but nothing for women. A Spanish girl married to a local man, and a girl of Greek origins were the headhunters. I couldn’t refuse. We had the meeting at the Greek girl’s house, about ten of us in total. They said they wanted to set up a women’s group because women are not represented in Milazzo, no women’s support centre, no rape crisis centre, no sex education in schools. The most interesting thing they said was that they wanted to discuss male-female relationships in a Sicilian context, but also relationships between women here, as the basis for the latter is often predicated on rivalry and jealousy. The Sicilian woman, they said, feels her most potent weapon is her sexuality, so when she meets another woman she sizes her up in terms of the threat she poses to her. Totally foreign to Irish thinking.

But as I have said before, girls coming into our locale will always check me out, stare at me for most of the night, look me up and down to check out my style. But they get over themselves when I smile at them. And of course it helps reassure them when they discover I am married to the man behind the bar.

They wanted to know what we foreigners thought. I said women don’t have much of a chance here since you are bombarded with stereotypical outdated images of women on TV and on billboards; at entrances to the motorway you have huge posters of women in bikinis and thigh high boots holding petrol pumps … or what about that beautiful woman in her lacy bra in the car advert along the ring road? Women, posing as adoring mothers advertise bread, milk, pasta - bringing wonderful meals to the family table in TV ads; and of course, we still have the prancing dancing girls on the family TV shows. And as I pointed out, the worst thing is, that women are complicit in the chauvinism here. It is many girls’ dream to become one of those dancing girls. An English university teacher said many of her 20 year old students told her that after getting their finals their goal was to get married. So what was the point in getting the science degree then? Imagine being brought up to believe that you would only ever be judged by your beauty. No wonder there are no ugly girls around. They must all be kept at home. This explains the excessively tight and revealing clothing at the weekend.
But we can’t forget that not long ago arranged marriages were still the norm here. Mio marito’s parents had to elope in order to get married. My mother-in-law’s parents had picked out another man for her, but she had already fallen in love; so she and my father-in-law had to run away for a night and stay together – with the implication being that when she came back she was no longer a virgin so he would have to marry her to save her honour. And that was in the 70s.

Anyway, the idea of the Women’s Group is to think of projects to strengthen and enhance the position of women in Sicilian society, and propose these projects to the Comune. We shall see. At the minute the Comune is caught up in the farewell to the mayor since elections are coming up in May. All over town billboard size photos have sprung up entitled, ‘la nuova Milazzo’ – the new Milazzo, with pictures of a new carpark, a restructured piazza and the restored castle in the borgo. Hilarious, since none of these projects has been realized, and just below each photograph there is a ten metre wide and two metre high two-week old rubbish heap.

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