Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Awesome Wrath of Italian Women

Is there anything more nurturing than an old-world, first-generation Italian woman?  Is there anyone more slyly humorous and passionate than an Italian woman? And is there anyone you want to stay out of the way of more, than an angry Italian woman? 

How about tens of thousands of them?

When I heard about the mobs of women in Rome and elsewhere in Europe rising in solidarity against the sexism and scandal of Prime Minister Silvio Burlusconi, I  smiled with amusement and pride. 

Pride, because I know how much these women sacrificed to rally together in a male-dominated culture.  Amusement, because I know firsthand that even though these women are patient, even indulgent, with the males in their midst, they are formidable when patience gives way to annoyance and anger at male buffoonery, or worse.  (Read the article on Reuters here.)

I was proud of these women for demonstrating their displeasure against Burlusconi, whose misogyny reflects badly on Italy, whose contempt for women and his abuse of power is an insult to Italy's remarkable women.  Even Italian men, thousands of whom also protested, are fed up with this poor example of what has traditionally been acceptable masculine behavior.

I send a late Valentine to these women who rallied with one voice.  Italian women are the ones who run the households and the country, and merely allow men to pretend they run things. The women are quick to love, forgive easily, but if you want to eat (and you will eat WELL) you know where the lines are drawn, and try not to cross them. 

Burlusconi and his ilk are in for it.  At this writing, an indictment has been handed down after a long investigation into sexual improprieties.

I fondly recall the Italian women in my family: my grandmother, her sisters and those of my grandfather, and all of their aunts and female cousins, providing the heart and good nature from the kitchen, while the men schemed and cajoled in the back yard. 

On those rare occasions when one of the uncles made a stupid remark, or was revealed to have caused a family outrage, the collective anger of these women was frightening.  As a small boy I would giggle at the raised voices in clipped Italian, the almost slapstick cacophony of voices and fluttering of hands.

Now, of course, I understand this intricate system of checks and balances, one that has just played out on a grand scale on the streets of Rome and the squares of Italy and Europe.

In these women's voices, I hear the voices of the relatives I loved: of Lucy and Johanna, Mary and Josephine, Carmella and Connie, Bertha and Louise, Angie and Muffy.  If they were here, they would wave their ladles and rolling pins and wooden spoons proudly, circling the wagons to preserve their dignity along with the brave women of modern Italy.


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