Brace yourself for stereotypes. Intentional? Maybe.
My first visit to Italy took place in the 1970’s and was a “school trip”. As the itinerary included Naples the girls were warned of the dangers of bag-snatchers and bottom-pinchers, the prospect of which some found mildly exciting. The Italian male was seen as predatory and well-equipped for the role with his innate sense of style and seductive accent.
The Italian women were divided into two categories; the rotund and verbose “mamma” dressed exclusively in black and shouting from the kitchen, or the highly sexualised beauty such as Loren, Cardinale or Lollobrigida. La Lollo’s Wikipedia page lists her occupation as actress, photojournalist and sculptor. Photojournalist and sculptor? Who would have known? (They should add philanthropist incidentally.)
Marzio Barbagli, an academic at the University of Bologna, conducted a survey a few years which showed that whilst 81% of Italian men abhor infidelity, only 14% manage to avoid it. (The figures are 89% and 50% for women incidentally).
Trish Thomas is a journalist working in Rome, who writes a blog entitled Mozzarella Mamma about her life since marrying an Italian, quotes an Italian saying
‘Italian men are the world’s best lovers and the world’s worst husbands.’
which she sums up hilariously from her own experience when her husband protests that even though she is too ill to wash the dishes he is unable to do so because he doesn’t know how. Her response?
I was tempted to say: “I’ve seen you turn on women age 20 to age 70 with a smile, maybe it is time you learned how to turn on a dishwasher.” Instead I said, “Buonanotte.”
The stereotypes have been continued of course during the era of Berlusconi and his showgirls (on his TV stations and in his cabinet). Women’s role is to look beautiful and tend to their men. Every town in the UK may have a lingerie display on one of its streets; usually courtesy of Ann Summers. In Italy it seems to be every shopping street, be it Yamamay, Intimissimi, Oysho or more.
As most of Europe and the US continue to tackle sexism, it seems Italy is dragging its feet. Which is surprising in the home of the Catholic church surely, where sex is purely for procreation, where all are equal in the eye of God? Or perhaps it isn’t so surprising. Like many other religions the Catholic Church is a boy’s club with immense power and influence, but they take it further in their fascination with the Virgin Mary. Great role models.
The strange juxtaposition of piety and lust that is part of the Italian cultural mix was brought home to me when I spotted this sex shop almost under this street sign. Perfect!