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It’s not all Vespas and gelatos – the other Italy

Posted in Life & Love, and Women's issues

vespaLet’s play a word association game: if I said Italy, what would come to mind? Would you say gelato, good food, Vespa, cute guys, fashion and maybe history? When I think of Italy, now that I have spent half my life away from it, often I  romanticize it the way visitors tend to, while still being aware of the incongruities  my country harbors: nightmarish bureaucracy, corruption,  a general sense of selfishness, works of art left to rot, sexism, unemployment. Lately, to the list of ailments that afflict Italy we have been forced to add “feminicide”.

They used to be called crimes of passion: a man kills his woman out of jealousy,  betrayal or just sheer lunacy. No country is immune but, in the last few years, the old boot has seen more than its fair share, and not  a week goes by  without one such crime hitting the news. Xenophobes are quick to point the finger towards the new immigration from Northern Africa and Eastern Europe but statistics tell us 75% of such crimes are committed by born and bred Italian men, the majority of whom never suffered from mental illness.

Not particularly fond of numbers, I have nonetheless immersed myself in statistics lately – there have been days when I lost myself in the pages of Italian dailies, reading gruesome stories of violence and abuse, or expert opinions on why this is happening. I watched interviews with women who sought refuge in facilities dedicated to victims of abuse (14,000 women yearly take such a step) and talked to friends who still live in the old country to get a sense  what has changed. Some say such crimes have always occurred but were under reported, especially in the deep south, where a code of honor ruled up until a mere 40 years ago.

The economic divide between North and South is unfortunately still wide and, traditionally, Southern communities are more religious and family oriented, with more women  in the role of homemakers, taking care of the children full time. But these murders don’t just occur in impoverished Southern villages: they are equal opportunity offenders on the entire territory and they span the class divide.

As I write this, I think of the words of an Italian American woman, a college professor, I interviewed for a different post, who confessed she would never move back to Italy. And neither would I. Part of the reason being the fewer opportunities afforded to women. I never felt like a second class citizen while living there but I also never experienced the freedom to be who I wanted to be that I enjoy in America. This realization was slow in coming and only recently was I able to put it into words – sometimes, especially in uber-liberal California, the effort to be all-inclusive and respectful of race and gender is taken to an extreme: no one will whistle at you while walking down the street, nor will men stare openly or try to pick you up at the drop of a hat, all ego boosting and flattering Italian habits, but neither will American men crack sexist jokes in the office or subtly, but palpably, will they make you feel less than your male counter part. The contrast became more stark when I moved here and, all of a sudden, I felt as if I could breathe again.

Automezzo Carpigiani con a bordo macchina soft alla fieradiBologna,1958ArchivioGelatoMuseumItaly has the lowest percentage of women in the workplace (47%) in all of Europe. In 2012, 150 women were killed by their partners. If, in these times of economic crises, it has happened that some men, no longer able to look after their families, choose to kill them rather than face ruin, in most cases the murders occur because the woman dared to walk away from the relationship.

Killing what you can’t have, as the ultimate objectification. The wife or girlfriend as personal possession. Some stories hide years of abuse, verbal or physical – on average, an abused woman waits seven years before seeking help.

Despite tailgating their European counterparts, Italian women have made long strides in the last twenty years and I suspect that Italian men (or a minority of them) has not kept up, finding it hard to accept a more independent, assertive and opinionated woman by his side. Or could it be that a generation of men coddled and spoiled by their families, mothers in particular, is more prone to fall into depression when their partners  leave? Hence killing to satisfy a personal need.

I certainly don’t have the answers but it pains me to see my country struggling in so many ways. The centuries of important history weighing on its shoulders have set the course in many ways and have taught us many lessons worth learning. But the culture I was always so proud to flaunt is now mired in its past and not keeping up with the fast changing times. Attitudes towards civil duty, job mobility, entrepreneurship and, yes, women and minorities, are stale and outdated. The new world Italy is often ready to criticize as a bit crass and nouveau riche has, in fact, a lot to teach.  Many Italian women are at the forefront of this re-education – but the road is still awfully long.

All figures were found in either La Repubblica  or Corriere della Sera. Research was conducted mainly on both dailies and RAI.

A big thank you to Silvia and Annamaria for the inspiration.

Images found in the public domain

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13 Comments

  1. silvia
    silvia

    I was recently having a conversation with two female friends and we wanted to find out if there are data on these crimes and if it’s possible to make a comparison on how many women are killed these days and let’s say 10 or 20 years ago. Guess what? No research available.
    Violence against women is sadly frequent everywhere worldwide.
    Thanks to C&S for sharing this

    August 30, 2013
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    • I know. I couldn’t find any figures to compare to 20 years ago. I still feel that, for a number of reasons, violence and stalking have been on the rise.

      August 30, 2013
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  2. It’s so funny, I had in mind a post on a similar subject but never did it eventually. I became nauseated during holidays about this feminicide thing but I am persuaded the press has its responsibilities too. They describe any horrorous attack, murder or attempted murder in such details it really gives idea to troubled minds. In this sense, I think the series of acid attacks that took place in the past months was fueled by the press talking about it and showing pictures of the disfigured victims. Apart from this, I would never ever move back to Italy, but I’ll write more about it soon. I am happy to finally have the possibility to read C&S, I missed your posts 🙂

    August 24, 2013
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    • This post, like many others, started way longer than it ended up. I had amassed so much research. I think you are right – there is a certain voyeristic aspect to these crimes the media play into (I have been watching this show on Rai Tre called Amore Criminale that re-enacts these crimes. For a good cause, no doubt, but it’s quite morbid).
      So glad to have you back! Missed you too. Tried to comment on your first post since you got back but wasn’t able to. Vagaries of WP

      August 24, 2013
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  3. I spend half my life in Italy and I love the months I spend there every year, but you are so right about them being stuck in the past. I lived in Italy 40 years ago and many things have changed, but not enough. I am lucky that I can live there and ignore most of the things I don’t like while enjoying the sheer beauty of the place, unlike locals who have to put up with underemployment, ridiculous bureaucracy and an uncertain economic future.

    August 18, 2013
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    • I have been reading your blog for quite some time now. You have a deep understanding of and for Italy. Sometimes I wonder if anything much has changed since Victorian times, when wealthy English people took their “tours”. It is wonderful to be there as an expat indeed and I have deep affection for my country but, after 25 years outside of it, I am not sure I could live there full time anymore.

      August 18, 2013
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      • I’m not sure that I would want to live in Italy full time, partly because I love my life in Australia too.
        I think young people trying to find a satisfying job are having a very hard time. I don’t believe the government is doing enough to change entrenched, old fashioned ideas about employment and work practices, meaning that things won’t be improving any time soon.
        I hope something happens to improve the situation, because Italy is a wonderful country with much to love.

        August 19, 2013
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  4. Well so much for my “retire to a Tuscan farmhouse dream”. I fell in love hard with Italy a few years ago when I went to Rome, Florence and Capri for the first time. I mentally earmarked a summer’s stay to backpack throughout with nothing but my camera and few clean pairs of underwear. But sometimes, the grass isn’t greener on the other side, just asphalt.

    Becca

    August 17, 2013
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    • My intention is not to dismantle the pretty image of Italy – it is indeed incredibly beautiful and the living, if you are foreign and retire there, is easy. But, not to burst your bubble, every inch of Tuscany has been discovered – all the rage now is Basilicata and certain parts of Lazio. So, dream away – I am dreaming of retiring to a remote island off of the Venice lagoon!

      August 17, 2013
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  5. Omygoodness, I didn’t realise any of this. Reading this post has opened my eyes.

    August 17, 2013
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    • Every country has its dichotomies – I think Italy, as a Western country, has a few more incongruities than others.

      August 17, 2013
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  6. Annamaria
    Annamaria

    We have a brand new law and today for the very first time 6 men have been arrested for stalking.
    We all know it’s a small step, but it is something to start with.
    Thank you Claudia for having written about it.
    Annamaria

    August 16, 2013
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    • Now that my mom is here I am tuned to RAI (ever seen that Amore Criminale programme?) so I heard about it and it makes me happy. Thanks for inspiring it – it took so long because it was rather hard to write.

      August 17, 2013
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