Sep 7, 2012

Italian Sugar-Misogyny


A member of the Arcigay (an Italian association whose aim is to defend gay rights) walks in a bar and — I imagine — order an espresso. While putting the sugar, she notices what is written on the packet: 
“The difference between a toilet and a woman is that the toilet is not chasing you for nine months after you've used it”.
She feels offended, disgusted and picks up another packet “What is the difference between a battery and a woman? That the battery has at least one positive side” and another “The difference between a mirror and a woman: the woman speaks without thinking, the mirror reflects without speaking”.
The italian LGTB community reacted and an article on the local edition of the Corriere della Sera finally appeared Frasi sessiste sulle bustine dello zucchero (Sexist phrases on sugar packets). The marketing manager of the company, Techmania, replied: “The message has a clear ironic purpose and was conveyed without wanting to offend anyone”.
I may perhaps stop here — there is enough information to formulate a clear opinion about the issue — but I won’t stop, and, in a certain sense, surrender. While I continue to write, I feel a bitter taste, a strange and uncomfortable sentiment. I keep it under control because I hope — I hope — that another Italian professor, female, who is also introducing Italian society and culture to American students, is doing the same. According to Maria Laura Rodot√†, Italian women today are an incomprehensible hybrid:

"Today's average Italian woman is a hybrid incomprehensible to foreigners: she's overdressed, overworked and has the lowest self-esteem in the western world. If she has a job, she has to work overtime inside and outside the home (Italian men rarely clean or cook, and spend less time looking after the children). Unwritten laws demand that she is cute, thin, elegant and well made-up. For Italian men it's normal to have a wife and a lover, which is why many have been amused by the adventures of the prime minister. The number of women in positions of power is small; in politics, almost all owe their status to men. The fear of being caricatured as a bitter feminist (who probably hasn't got a sex life) is always strong. Women who overcome that fear are often ridiculed". (Italianwomen have to fight sexism in every aspect of their lives, Guardian Sunday20 September 2009).

To get started, you can watch the documentary “Ilcorpo delle donne (The Body of Women), by Lorella Zanardo and read the article WomenTake On Sexist Image in Italian Media.
Then let’s go back to the bar where everything started  (re-started?). The bar is in Eboli, a little town in the province of Salerno, southern Italy. The name Eboli is known mainly for the book Christ Stopped at Eboli (Italian: Cristo si √® fermato a Eboli; movie adaptation by Francesco Rosi). It is a memoir  by  the antifascist Carlo Levi, giving an account of his exile from 1935-1936 to Grassano and Aliano, remote towns in southern Italy, in the region of Lucania which is known today as Basilicata. In the book Levi gives Aliano the invented name 'Gagliano'.
The title of the book comes from an expression by the people of Gagliano who say of themselves, 'Christ stopped short of here, at Eboli' which means, in effect, that they feel they have been bypassed by Christianity, by morality, by history itself — that they have somehow been excluded from the full human experience. Levi explained that Eboli, a location in the region of Campania to the west near the seacoast, is where the road and railway to Basilicata branched away from the coastal north-south routes. Below the full incipit of the book in its English translation (Farrar and Straus, New York 1947). 

Because of his uncompromising opposition to Fascism, Carlo Levi was banished at the start of the Abyssinian War (1935) to a small primitive village in Lucania, a remote  province of southern Italy. In this region, which remains unknown not only to tourists but also to the vast majority of Italians, Carlo Levi, a painter, doctor, and writer, lived  out a memorable time.

MANY years have gone by, years of war and of what men call History. Buffeted here and there at random I have not been able to return to my peasants as I promised when I left them, and I do not know when, if ever, I can keep my promise. But closed in one room, in a world apart, I am glad to travel in my memory to that other world, hedged in by custom and sorrow, cut off from History and the State, eternally patient, to that land without comfort or solace, where the peasant lives out his motionless civilization on barren ground in remote poverty, and in the presence of death,
"We're not Christians," they say. "Christ stopped short  of here, at Eboli." "Christian," In their way of speaking means "human being," and this almost proverbial phrase  that I have so often heard them repeat may be no more than the expression of a hopeless feeling of inferiority.
We're not Christians, we're not human beings; we're not thought of as men but simply as beasts, beasts of burden, or even less than beasts, mere creatures of the wild. They at least live for better or for worse, like angels or demons, in a world of their own, while we have to submit to the world of Christians, beyond the horizon, to carry its weight and to stand comparison with it. But the phrase has a much deeper meaning and, as is the way of symbols, this is the literal one.
Christ did stop at Eboli, where the road and the railway leave the coast of Salerno and turn into the desolate reaches of Lucania. Christ never came this far, nor did time, nor the individual soul, nor hope, nor the relation of cause to effect, nor reason nor history. Christ never came, just as the Romans never came, content to garrison the highways without penetrating the mountains and forests, nor the Greeks, who flourished beside the Gulf of Taranto. None of the pioneers of  Western civilization brought here his sense of the passage of time, his deification of the State or that ceaseless activity which feeds upon itself. No one has come to this land except as an enemy, a conqueror, or a visitor devoid of understanding. The seasons pass today over the toil of the peasants, just as they did three thousand years before Christ; no message, human or divine, has reached this stubborn poverty. We speak a different language, and here our tongue is incomprehensible. The greatest travelers have not gone beyond the limits of their own world; they have trodden the paths of their own souls, of good and evil, of morality and redemption. Christ descended into the underground hell of Hebrew moral principle in order to break down its doors in time and to seal them up into eternity. But to this shadowy land, that knows neither sin nor redemption from sin, where evil is not moral but is only the pain residing forever in earthly things, Christ did not come. Christ stopped at Eboli.