This is my first IWD post as an Italian resident after 25 years in the UK, and as I have come back with an academic job financed specifically to attract human capital back to Italy, I was going to give it the ‘repatriated’ title.
On reflection, though, most of what I want to talk about this year is what it feels like to come back to live and work in Italy after 25 years in the UK, and because so much of it is related to the different social norms that govern my life here, and because so many pertain to the way patriarchy works differently in Italy than in the UK, I decided to change the title to talk about what is happening to me since being back.
A lot of it feels like an attempt to downsize my aspirations in some areas (areas clearly reserved for men) and redirect them to others (areas ‘reserved’ for women that I would gladly not be master of), so that it feels an attempt at repurposing my aspirations to fit the new (old) environment. There is a certain perplexity as well in people to my reactions to these attempts (both in noticing them occurring, talking about them, and responding to them) as I clearly am and look Italian and am not expected to behave like an outsider by most people, which makes things more complicated (though the optimist inside me hopes also potentially more revolutionary?).
Examples include the repeated pieces of advice to outsource to paid help as much responsibility for family and domestic arrangements as possible as men are not only not expected but also not deemed capable of taking on their share of them, the constant male and especially female judgmental gazes on women everywhere, the ‘himpathy’ where female victims of violence and discrimination are routinely blamed, the ‘hepetition’ that magically confers value to what women say at work and in social life, the acceptance of gender inequality as natural as if sex (gender assigned at birth) was the explanation for it in public and private discourse alike.
Of course a lot of my response to these subtle and not-so-subtle attempts is mediated by the fact that I was (long ago) brought up here, so I veer between angry, bemused, depressed, feisty and shocked and I haven’t honestly formulated a clear strategy yet, other than not letting it go unnoticed and forcing myself to not accept it as inevitable.
It is rather exhausting at times, but I am not alone: I got involved in the Women Committee of the Italian Society of Economics, I got involved in Mindthegeps (where I am also a mentor), I give talks in schools on gender stereotypes, I do research on gender inequality in Italy and am promoting education for equality in schools, I teach gender stereotypes and inequality in my courses.
And in all those activities I meet women and men who strive to bring about change much like I did in the UK, where the job is far from done anyway. I also talk a lot about all this with my two daughters who bring their own reflections to these topics and make me hopeful that things will be better by the time they hit the work&family wave that awaits every brilliant and driven girl after their education. I hope the wave will be smaller by then, and to have helped them build sturdy boards to ride it.
Happy IWD23 wherever you are: keep noticing, keep active, and stay connected!