ITALY: The feminists’ inheritors
Stefanella Campana - 01/04/2008
They live different realities but almost all, with two exceptions, have place the word “love” on top of their scale of values. Yet they don’t dream of the white dress; “marriage” has a very low rating, whereas having children is everyone’s dream for the future. They had their first sexual intercourse when they were very young, between 16 and 18 years old. These young Italian women are self-confident and are able to make the first step if the man they like doesn’t declare himself. Pleasure is important to them and sex is an important factor for a sentimental relationship, though they also ask for a deep affinity and the sharing of common interests. They don’t consider beauty when defining their ideal man, but he has to be intelligent, trustworthy and especially, capable of making them laugh. They usually are confident with their bodies, often conquered after a shy adolescence. They’re careful about contraception – almost all are on the pill – and sex, except for a few of them, is not a taboo in the family, especially with mothers. None of them has suffered sexual violence: are they only lucky or has their strong self-conscience helped them to avoid this danger? Only one of them has had an abortion.
Sabrina, Giorgia, Gaja, Serena, Cristina, Maddalena, Marina, Valeria and Valentina: nine young Italian women aged between 23 and 29. Most of them still live at home with their families; however some live or have lived with a partner. They come from Turin, Milan, Rome or small towns. The majority of them are university students, but there’s also a factory worker, a scientist without a fixed job, a working student and an artist. They’re the daughters and nieces of the feminist generation who conquered sexual freedom and a new identity, who broke free from the sexual male model and voted for divorce and the right for abortion. This heritage is met by mature and aware women despite their young age. Next to the word love, they immediately place work, a symbol of woman’s conquered stability.
They can also be temporarily alone. “Now, I have learned to set my desires above the need for a man and I feel much better”, says Giorgia, a pretty smiling face, long blonde hair and a slender provoking body. She’s happy with her conquered independence. Two years ago she left her parent’s classy home on the hills of Turin to live in a small loft in the town centre, filled with coloured posters on the wall (“I believe in chromatotherapy”). She took this big step towards her independence on her way back from a year in Paris, where she achieved a double graduation in Law. In the French capital she lived with a university partner: “I was really in love with this hyperactive guy. At the beginning I found it stimulating but it turned out to be a negative relationship: he was a narcissist who made me feel so insecure I had to go to see a psychologist. I lived our relationship as if he was my father and never contradicted him”. Giorgia shows me a photograph of her smiling next to a handsome man. “This is my new boyfriend. I’m in a standby at the moment: he’s so nice but I’m not in love with him. I think the time for adolescent love is over for me, in which you idealise a man, you fall in love with the idea of love and then the relationship doesn’t work. If you open up your eyes, life gets more complicated. Men like me because I look like an open person at first, but then I scare them away when they find out that I’m complicated and I take time in trusting them”. Giorgia dreams of a foreign boyfriend. “I don’t want to live in Turin, I need to escape”. She defines herself as “rather feminist: I want children but I’m not sure I want a partner. I’ve understood that a son can come only after you’ve learned to take care of yourself”. That’s why she places marriage on the bottom of her list of priorities. She had her first sexual relationship at 18 and has been taking the pill for 4 years. “Sometimes you lose your virginity with someone who doesn’t deserve it, now it’s a value for me”. She says she has a passionate nature, “pleasure is important for me. I never had problems with sex”. Her ideal man has to have a lot of charm and intelligence, has to make her laugh and be stimulating: “I can’t stand nastiness, egotism or men who want to make you dependent from them or not take care of you”. She sees a fruitful future as “a woman and a worker who tries to settle between her mother’s role and her professional growth”. But what about the partner? She can’t really focus him in the future.
I meet Sabrina, 29, a long mane of black hair, at a bar: she arrives all dressed in black “because it makes you thinner, I’ve taken on some weight”, she says. She lives with her parents (mother from Lucania, father from Veneto, a married brother) within the area of Turin. She’s a factory worker at Bertone, a famous metal working company, and has been engaged for five years with a mason, after two important love stories. Although she’s dreamt of the white dress since she was a child, she doesn’t feel quite ready yet to take the big step. “I’m going through a crisis right now, because I feel oppressed by my boyfriend’s jealousy; he’s so possessive, maybe it’s because he comes from the South and he seems conditioned by that mentality, but I can’t stand it. We have a good sexual entente it’s the rest that doesn’t seem to work”. She knows she’s attractive “Men like me, they flatter me a lot”. She’s on the pill, “my mother knows it but we don’t talk about it”. She defends the law on abortion “it’s a positive thing; women have the right to decide on their maternity”. She would like to have two children in the future. To seduce Sabrina, a man should be funny, make her laugh, “I don’t mind if he’s also handsome, but it’s not the most important aspect. I would like to be with a man who makes you feel good, which you can share everything with and that you can’t wait to be with”. Consequently it’s not what Sabrina is living at the moment. She’s too shy to declare herself to a man and she’s convinced that marriage could give her more security “though I have nothing against just living together”. She likes her face, her body less because since she stopped going to the gym she’s grown a bit fatter. She admires Monica Bellucci, she likes Simona Ventura and Maria Defilippi “because they’re self-confident and tough”.
Gaja also admires strong able women and they represent a model to follow. As for her ideal man “he has to know what he wants, be mature, trustworthy, sincere and sensitive. I like a bit of romanticism, a sensitive man who has the courage to cry, I hate the macho kind, I wouldn’t mind if he was rich and handsome, but these qualities aren’t a guarantee for happiness. I’d rather be with a partner that understands me and is on my same wavelength”. Gaja is from Turin, she’s 24, has long legs, a slender body and frizzy hair framing a lovely face with dark doe like eyes. She’s sunny and friendly, goes out of her way for her friends, she’s sensitive, open and defines herself as self-confident and more open-minded than when she was younger. “Now I like myself. I’m living a happy period and I wouldn’t like to change my life.” This is also due to a beautiful love story she’s been living for a year. “My boyfriend is almost 10 years older than I am, but I don’t feel the difference: we share the same interests”. He still lives with his family, but is now looking for a place to live on his own. He’s graduating in Law, and earns good money as a tennis instructor. “I don’t know if he’s the man of my life. I live in the present. In a few weeks I’m going to obtain an important achievement, my second graduation in International Sciences and I don’t feel like speeding things up. Before I get married I want to live with a man, I’ll marry only to warrant my children, I’d like to have at least three. I’d like to have time for them but also to keep on with a job I like. Most of all, I wish their childhood to be different from mine, that their parents never leave each other”. Gaja’s parents divorced when she was 11. This is obviously still painful for her. “Seeing what my parents did, I don’t believe in marriage; nowadays nobody is willing to save it. Divorce is so easy, but I justify it only if the situation becomes unbearable for both. I think that for a successful marriage both partners have to make a continuous effort”. According to Gaja virginity is a personal matter. She had her first sexual intercourse at 17, during a stage in New Zealand:” I didn’t like it because I wasn’t ready. I had other partners after that, but making love was just physical to me. It takes some time to get along and it’s different with each one, but I like that. With my present boyfriend it’s an experience, a deep communication and I easily ask him what I like. Now I’m happy sexually, we both take the initiative”. She was free and easy before too though. “If I like a man I let him know and I ask him out easily. I only failed once because he was still thinking of his ex”. Gaja is on the pill. “I speak freely about sex with my parents. When I came back home from New Zealand I told my mother right away that I had made love. She asked me if I liked it and if I had been careful”.
There seems to be a similarity in the tastes that these young Italian women have in men. Serena, 25, likes them when they’re nice, fun, intelligent and “they have to make me laugh. We have to share some thoughts and experiences to be friends. I like to have an intimate complicity with someone. I think love is a pleasant and exciting experience and I like to fantasize. To me perfect love is a mix of sexual and mental pleasure, in other words I need to be involved in my body and mind. I find pleasure is very important for a good and healthy relationship. Sometimes I talk about it with my boyfriend, which I met at university. I wouldn’t have trouble to talk about it with my mother but I don’t usually do it. As a matter of fact I never did”. It wasn’t easy for Serena to take the first step with a man because she’s quite shy about her intimate life. An only child, medium length dark hair, light brown eyes and a fair skin, Serena was born in Rieti but lives in Trieste where she works as scientific researcher. Her tall size is quite striking. She jokes about it: “on the whole I take quite a lot of space” I find myself quite cute though I have some flaws. I don’t like my legs and my nose. I like to be noticed and appreciated for my look. I like to be flattered and loved. I think men find me attractive. I like my body, but not always. Anyways I don’t go on diets, but I like to eat healthy food. I like to know about fashion but I don’t follow it and I don’t take much care of myself, though I try to make an effort”. Her priorities? Love comes first, then work, travel, friendship, fun, maternity, religion. She’s on the pill, has never had an abortion and doesn’t really feel like getting married, “but I know that someday I’ll want at least 2 or 3 children”. As for virginity she believes it’s an overrated concept “especially by women”.
She started going to social centres at 14. She would lie and not say where she was going, on her first dancing nights out ‘till 2.00 AM and then as she grew up she went on weekend with her friends, got drunk, went to concerts, spent her holidays on her own, had her first tattoo at 17 and went on the Inter-rail at 18. Are you happy now? At the age of 23 Cristina answers wisely: “it depends. I try not to be a pessimist, to look on the bright side, but I’m also very realistic, so I can’t really say I’m happy 100%, it goes off and on”. She lists her priorities: love, friendship, travel, work, maternity, fun, religion.
Cristina, is a medium height (bleached) blonde, she considers herself to be a normal person, “not too flashy, not too invisible. I look like my mother physically and I’m proud of that”. She usually dresses with wide pants and tee shirts. “My female model is a woman who doesn’t try to prefabricate her femininity. I like being myself. My male model is an honest man who doesn’t lie to himself, ready to fight and protective”. She only follows snowboard and skate board fashions, her passion sports. “I don’t take care of my body, but of my health: I have a medical check up at least once a year”. As for love, she spares some wise words: “I see it as a simple thing that everyone wants to complicate. It’s more difficult to live love naturally than to create paranoia and doubts about it. We’re often afraid of falling in a routine and we leave each other before it happens; the challenge of living it everyday is what scares people. Perfect love wouldn’t be fun for me; I think there should always be an encounter-clash, an attempt to combine two different characters”.
Cristina lives in Turin and has cohabited for five years now with a young man from Morocco. She answers quickly: “Marriage is not important for me. I would like to have two children, but I’m afraid at the idea of becoming a mother considering the education and the world we live in”. Cristina tells us of her love story with a man of a different culture and religion with great sincerity. “I met him at a stage on body language organised by an association were I worked as a volunteer. Almost five years have passed in which we argued, cheated on each other, were jealous and had happy moments. It wasn’t easy at the beginning. My father was against him because he’s a Muslim. Now that we live together, they talk to each other and my father seems more relaxed about him. Meeting our respective parents was embarrassing for both of us, but now his family has accepted the situation too. His mother was very nice with me; this summer in Morocco we slept together, I didn’t expect it though. His mother then told me that she knew we lived together in Turin and it would have been hypocritical to change the state of things. To understand them better I took a Muslim History and Institutions test: when I spoke with him I realised I actually knew more about his religion and traditions than he did. We lead a normal life: he works all day long, I study and work. During the week we usually spend our evenings at home; in the weekend we go out with his (Italian) friends that have now become mine too. They’re his percussion friends, with which he plays on Saturday and Sunday. Some of my girlfriends, who were also his, don’t talk to him anymore because of various rows (they expect him to hit me sooner or later), so I’m happy to spend my evenings with different people. Sometimes we also go out with my girlfriends and boyfriends who are also his friends now”.
Cristina gives her recipe for a durable though not easy love: “We worked on each other to build the relationship we have now, it was difficult, not because of our cultural differences, but rather because of the different lives we led in the past: I try to see the positive side of things, he found himself alone in Italy as an adolescent, so he was used to be on his own. I don’t know how it will end. I don’t ask myself that anymore because I want to live and enjoy the present. As for sex, I had other experiences, but I grew up with him and he did the same with me: by living together our feelings have changed, though I believe it’s still very important for both of us. Sometimes we talk about it, jokingly, but we manage to communicate what’s good and what’s wrong. I’m full of complexes about my body: I don’t find myself attractive, but I consider him quite handsome and with a nice body. He always reassures me, I don’t know why, but he likes me. We’re both very jealous; the fact that we cheated on each other still weighs on our relationship, but it happened three years ago. I don’t give up at the first obstacle, that’s too easy. If I believe in a relationship, I keep working on it. If I see that even that doesn’t work then I give up, but this is not the case yet. We’ve fought many times, verbally. I left for a week then he came back to me understanding the things I found were going wrong. It’s a story like any other really”.
Maddalena is the only one who places work first on her list. Love on her scale of values only comes after travel, fun and friendship. Is she afraid of something? “Love would be simple, but in everyday life it’s very complicated. I believe it’s a strong power that can make us come out of ourselves, change us and come back in ourselves, and almost always inevitably changes us. Love changes you, spurs you to be sharper, to let out your creativity, irony and ability to invent yourself. Love connects you with the world, with Life”. Obviously love has found a place in her heart: “Yes, I have a boyfriend. We met when he came to live in my house, three years ago in Bologna, then we became super friends. Obviously I had other experiences before him and I missed being single for a while. I wish I could have met him at thirty!”
Maddalena was born in Milan 26 years ago. An only child, she presently lives in Rome. She thinks she’s happy. “I wouldn’t change anything of my life, but I couldn’t stop changing it (which I do regularly) or else it would be too boring!” Maddalena is witty and dreams of being as fit as an aerobics instructor! “I think we should take care of our bodies throughout the day, all you need to do is remember that it’s there and it needs its time! Most of all she likes to find time to run, swim and meditate. “My friends tell me that they remember all the perfumes and creams that were in my rooms. I do like to buy creams, even if I’m allergic to most of them, so I always end up fabricating my own masks with honey, yogurt and fruit; I like to take care of my body, especially when I feel sad”.
Maddalena knows she’s attractive, “because I’m straightforward and I can laugh. I’m a positive person and this creates a strong energy between the others and me”. To be her friend a man has to have strong ideas, he has to be creative, poetise on the world, laugh, be brave and be crystal clear. But to seduce her, besides having all the above mentioned qualities he has to be someone she can admire: “I think love sparks when, besides a set of qualities, you strongly admire the other”. “If I take the initiative? You get the feeling in the air and things just work out by themselves”.
She lingers on the concept of virginity: “For some tribal populations there is no word and no concept for it. We do not know how it feels to have this point of view; we’re soaked by thousands of years of history that have left a mark on us. Personally, I think virginity should stop being a symbol. No doubt the first sexual relationship is important in the sentimental education of a person and it should be constructive, a nice keepsake. But it shouldn’t mean more than this.” Her “first time” happened when she was 16 and he was 24, “a great love and model of life. He taught me freedom and the importance of building your own personality by being generous with yourself and with others”.
Also Maddalena believes that pleasure is important in sex as in any other aspect of life. “My partner and I often speak about it and he’s perhaps more careful about my needs than I am in his regard; he always spurs me to think about what I like in sex and to ask him to do it”. I speak of everything with my mother and also of sex. Up to some time ago she was on the pill, now they use condoms. “I must admit it bothers me that women still have to be the ones to sacrifice themselves, since we don’t totally know what consequences the hormones of the pill can have on our bodies, but I think it’s right to personally think of avoiding unwanted pregnancies. When I say this to my boyfriend he replies that I’m too much of a feminist and that there are also responsible men (they seem very rare to me)”.
Maddalena is against marriage, but on second thought she adds: “maybe if you meet the right person you wouldn’t ask yourself this question. I would like to live with a person for 60 years, create a relationship that can act as a magnifying glass to analyse the world with, a pair of glasses to laugh about it”. She would like to have children, three and more. Her dream? “Someday I’d like to have a house full of children, friends, travellers; a laboratory of people where everyone can grow, work, stay and learn from the others. But I don’t know if life has planned all these children for me”. She’s annoyed with the latest controversies on abortion in Italy: “This really sounds medieval. What’s more, they speak of the right to life of a lump of cells. Maternity is a personal choice”. She has never had an abortion, but when a friend of her got pregnant, she was surprised to hear how many of her own friends had gone through it in the past. About 2 out of 3. “It was like opening secret archives. This issue shouldn’t still be treated as a taboo”.
Marina is a young artist who isn’t aware of her full potential yet. She’s 23, was born in Melfi and now lives in Rome. She’s a medium height, wears dark glasses and her gaze is aggressive and shy, in any case frank and open. The third after a sister and a brother, she often felt ignored as a child and grew up with a great will for independence and imagination. She feels like she’s different from her family, in good and bad, because independence always has a price. She’s not too happy, though she wouldn’t really change anything in her life. Marina lists her values differently from the others: first comes travel, then friendship, love, fun, work, religion and last comes maternity. “I don’t want to get married and I don’t have a maternal instinct for now, but I think it could happen in the future”.
She had her first sexual intercourse at 18. Now she has a boyfriend she met at a pub. They use the condom. “Sex is not a superficial thing for me, I had few partners which I loved and had sex with. Pleasure is essential, but with my partner there’s a non verbal communication. Sometimes we have codes that make us understand each other without the need to speak”.
Marina says that she’s liked by the men who interest her: “to be seduced, I like the way a man looks at me. As for friendship, he has to be sincere; there has to be a contact, a feeling you get right away, mainly he has to be an open person, sincere! Marina thinks that love is a “great source of positive energy”. To her, ideal love is the union of two women and virginity is a phase of life. She also believes in the right for abortion: “a person has to decide of her own life. Luckily, I never had to have an abortion”.
Valeria is 24 and she’s most liked by Oriental men. “It happened to me often” she says. Dark and dynamic, she likes dressing with colours and smiles. She was born and lives in a town near Siena, but she is currently studying in Rome. An only child, she declares herself “mentally single”. She reads and listens to music, she’s very relaxing and open to contact. She doesn’t seem to want to engage herself too much: on top of her list there’s travel, then fun, friendship, work, maternity, love, marriage, religion. She admits that “love is important, but it needs a lot of commitment. It can also hurt you, but however it ends, it always leaves you with an experience, a series of things: energy, feelings, lessons which at the end make you overcome the pain. In any case it’s a positive experience”. To seduce me, a man has to be funny, intelligent, sharp and charismatic; he has to know how to win me over and be passionate. A male friend also should have these qualities, but without the physical attraction”. She has had an example of ideal love at home; her parents are “still in love. They respect each other, are intelligent, patient and have a good sexual entente”. Valeria is the only one who doesn’t remember her first sexual intercourse. “Everyone is surprised at that” Let’s say it was in the summer before my eighteenth birthday, my best friend says it was the summer after that. Anyway it was in August”. What about virginity? “You feel that way mentally and physically, and then at some point you feel like a woman”. She has a boyfriend. “He used to be with an acquaintance of mine and years after they left each other and months after I left myself with my ex, we fell in love. I had a lot of relationships before him. I never take the initiative when I like a man, though maybe unconsciously I do. Pleasure is everything for me, when you lose the taste in life it’s over”. Valeria finds it very embarrassing to speak about sex with her mother “because of her bees and flowers metaphors”, but magazines and TV helped her to find out about contraception. “She always pushed me to go to the gynaecologist and took me there and left me alone for the visits”.
She feels quite happy, but if she could go back, she would like to live in Bologna or Florence. Though apparently, the city is not really the problem, rather the boyfriend: “I would have been less conditioned by my love life, I would have been mentally independent”. She’s on the pill. She considers abortion a right because women should be able to choose: “I had an abortion”. She doesn’t know yet if she wants to marry, but she certainly wants a child.
Valentina is 25; she has long dark and shiny hair, a sweet face and smiles easily. She’s tiny but well proportioned and comes from Peru; she was adopted when she was a few months old by an aged couple of Turin who gave her much love and affection. She’s graduating in Law and has been engaged for 7 years with Matteo; a tall, dark, handsome young man with green eyes. “It’s my first important story: he’s my ideal man not only for his physical aspect but also because he’s sweet and shy, a person to discover. I don’t like braggarts. I like to observe people and try to understand how they are; I usually figure them out, especially men”. She knows she’s attractive (“but I don’t like it when older men look at me”), and she likes her body: “you can be sexy without mini skirts or plunging necklines. Women don’t need to imitate men; they need to be themselves, also because I think we’re ahead of them. We need to find a right balance”. She places love on top of the list, then work, friendship, travel, maternity, fun, marriage, religion. If you ask Valentina if she’s happy, she becomes cautious: “I’m fine; I don’t have any big problems”. And you understand that it’s a way of protecting herself, perhaps because she’s already had big grieves in her life, like losing her mother when she was born and then her adoptive father. She wouldn’t like to change anything of her present life. She lives in a beautiful house with her adoptive mother whom she loves very much. She chose studies that motivated her. She loves to dance (she started taking dancing classes when she was very young), to travel, read, go to the cinema and to exhibitions.
Her first time was at 17; “I’m the one who seduces though unconsciously. I think pleasure is very important. We talk about sex and contraception with Matteo but also with my mother”. She’s on the pill and has a set mind on abortion: “Maybe sometimes it’s taken on too lightly, but you have to give women the possibility to choose, in some cases it’s essential like for rape victims”.