IWD 2014: Time to smash female stereotypes in Italy

by The journalists of Corriere della Sera's La27ora blog
Friday, 7 March 2014 16:17 GMT

Italy's Member of the European Parliament Licia Ronzulli (R), with her baby Vittoria on her lap, talks with a fellow MEP in Strasbourg during a session on women’s working conditions on October 20, 2010. REUTERS/Jean-Marc Loos

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Twenty-seven is the number of hours per day that a woman would need in order to grow in her profession; be a wife and a mother; cook just like her grandmother did and keep in shape.

One March afternoon three years ago, thirteen of us gathered in the Sala Albertini, a historical meeting room at our newspaper, Corriere della Sera, in Milan. We had different ages, backgrounds, and expertise, but we shared a common goal: to launch the first multi-author blog about women’s issues in a country that is at the bottom of the lists measuring equality.

On that day, a new space for expression was born, and also a new way of working. There were signed articles but also collaborative projects, Twitter campaigns, web documentaries, and events designed to bridge the gap between the virtual and real world.

The number of project participants increased. Soon there were dozens of journalists, some of them men; there were readers – female and male – who shared their personal stories.

Not all of us agree with everything that is posted on the blog. Our aim is to build an eco-system that is fed by different sources, rather than an ego-system with stronger distinctive traits but that is less open.

Three years passed and today we feel that some things have changed. In England and in America 2013 has been referred to as “the year when feminism became mainstream”. Women’s issues are indeed breaking through in Italy as well. Newspapers are paying attention more than before: subjects like violence against women have moved from total obscurity to a new visibility in the national consciousness. The higher number of women in the House of Representatives, the last national government which was formed by 8 women and 8 men (even though the undersecretaries are not as equally divided), the recent summit about the Ukrainian crisis addressed by two women as Italy’s ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense, not to mention the addition of laws about gender quotas, make many people – men and women – think that the equality gap is finally closing.

However, the reality is that this increasing equality in our democracy, which is obviously a good thing, hides a culture that is still greatly unbalanced. It’s a culture where sexism is alive and well, though it hides behind a screen of some improving statistics.

We did incessant work on words, to tear down the mental habits and the practices that nourish a vision of women and the feminine as inferior to men and the masculine.  Yet today, many young women are convinced that feminism is an old construct. Theyy fear that identifying with other women will be seen as a sign of weakness, and they ask people to call them “avvocato”, “dottore”, “direttore” - lawyer, doctor, director - without using the gender-specific forms of these Italian terms in which they perceive a displeasing ideological echo.

When our blog was born, the central theme was reconciling the different aspects of women’s lives, as our name shows: “La 27ora” (the 27th hour). Twenty-seven is the number of hours per day that a woman would need in order to grow in her profession; be a wife and a mother; cook just like her grandmother did and keep in shape.

To be old-fashioned and technological at the same time requires a huge effort. It’s not surprising that, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the happiness index of Italian women is 5.8 (compared to an average of 6.7). With reconciliation of the personal and professional aspects of life as the goal, we realized that it’s not just a matter of “time”, whether we are talking about couples or about the society in general. We realized that reconciliation is only possible through sharing.

First, women must share their extra-professional commitments with men. There should be a dialogue with men about the journey that women have undertaken in the transformation of society. We should not forget that freedom of choice, beyond gender-based prejudices, is also in the interest of men. Ask yourself how society judges a man who – even only temporarily – decides to reduce his workload in order to take care of his kids. Men should be able to dedicate more time to their families without risking “a loss of virility”.

The second aspect of sharing involves other women. Unless “privileged” women share their ideas with unemployed or immigrant women or the girls who grow up educated by the television with the idea that what matters is beauty and image, our journey will be a lonely one.

Three years later, we are still trying to build a freer society, where you are not judged if you are a woman who doesn’t want to have children, where the jokes about gays are not the norm, where a father is not derided for taking paternity leave. Three years later, we believe that in this historical time it’s fundamental to break up conventions and stereotypes about women.

--Journalists at the Milan-based newspaper Corriere della Sera created the blog “La 27ora” to explore and discuss women’s issues in Italy.