In The New York Times, August 27, 2009, Chiara Volpato wrote from Milan. Chiara Volpato is a professor of social psychology at the University of Milan. Professor Volpato said, “Many outside Italy seem to assume that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi gets away with his sexist behavior because Italian men condone it and the women at least tolerate it. But this is no longer true. Today there are two Italys: one Italy has soaked up Mr. Berlusconi’s ideology either out of self-interest or an inability to resist his enormous powers of persuasion; the other is fighting back.”
I think there has been for a very long time a misperception that women in Europe have a huge tolerance for cheating, sexist husbands. It is not true. I believe that this fantasy is created by the European men who enjoy having illicit affairs still keeping wives in their lives and perpetrated in this country by male journalists. It is what so many males all over the world dream about and many achieve.
There are many women willing to tolerate their husband’s cheating, and might even appear indifferent on the surface. But, I venture to say, most seethe inside whether they live in the U.S., France, England or Italy or other developed nations. I would love to see a study done on the long-term health of the women who stay in such marriages – whether they have a higher incidence of medical issues as compared to other populations of women. In my own small world, I have seen what I think are an inordinate number of women who stay in relationships where the male partner is an outlandish, in-your-face cheater develop cancer and other serious ailments.
I have often seen the underlying anger of the women in these stressed relationships played out in social situations. Some women cling to the men who cheat and try to anticipate and watch for missteps 24/7. They are on the emotional draining lookout constantly. Other couples live totally separate lives and meet perhaps for weekends or vacations. Others stay together, maintaining the image of a traditional marriage, but run in different directions and activities whenever they can.
At a social event, you might see a woman who appears indifferent to her man or snipes at him. He might give a strong impression of being Mr. Nice Guy. That sets off gossip about how nasty the wife is to that nice husband of hers. Think of all the pent up anger and rage she harbors. She is aware others know about her husband’s cheating and is humiliated. Of course, she has chosen to stay. She can divorce, but so many women are terrified of the notion, image and implications.
But Italy seems to be more entrenched in maintaining a patriarchal culture than many other developed nations. In a country highly influenced by the Catholic Church and conservative ideology it is shocking that they have an unusually low birth rate. Volpato suggests “…Italian men have 80 more minutes of leisure time per day – the greatest in the 18 countries compared. This is probably explained by the additional time that women devote to unpaid work, like cleaning the house. It is no surprise, then, that many Italian women are unwilling to take on an additional burden of raising children. As a result, the country has an extraordinarily low birthrate.”
Isn’t it time we revived the Women’s Movement? Somehow the air had been knocked out the momentum started years ago. Maybe it’s because so many women work, either single or married, for survival. We have no groundswell occurring here in this country to demand more equality for women or to break and destroy the glass ceiling. But it seems to be happening in Italy.
Volpato says, “But what can Italian women actually do? An important step is to make dissent known, a difficult task considering that true free speech is largely limited to only a few independent newspapers and, importantly, the Internet. We need to start working on a systematic documentation of incidents of discrimination against women.
“We also need better organization. Existing groups that would be the most naturally engaged in the emerging dissent (like the opposition Democratic Party, which seems distracted by internal fights) have not been sensitive to the many signs from below. Women will need to exert greater pressure on the opposition parties to represent their demands.
“But first of all, dissenting women (and men) must speak up with greater confidence. Our country, long defined by its old-fashioned attitudes toward women, is finally ready to rally.”
Women of the U.S., take heed. Listen to the wisdom of women in other countries. We can no longer buy into the misrepresentation that Europe women are tolerant toward philandering husbands. We must watch what Italian women (and men) do in making greater demands for equality among the sexes, and replicate it here.
The sexyG firstname.lastname@example.org