International Women’s Day: Italian Women
My experience studying abroad in Rome could not be more incredible. Every day, I find myself discovering Roman ruins in every nook and cranny of the city. I eat the freshest and most delicious Italian foods. I walk down narrow cobblestone streets. And I converse — or at least, do my best to — in Italian with street vendors and sales assistants in shops across the city. Everywhere I turn, I find friendly locals and street artists and musicians fill my favorite piazzas throughout the city. I am completely immersed in a brand new culture, surrounded by the warmest and most welcoming of people.
Among these are Italy’s women, who are celebrated in Italy on March 8, International Women’s Day, or as the Italians call it, the day of the Festa della Donna. Festa della Donna celebrates the social, political, and cultural achievements of women in Italy, and around the world.
What’s more, Rome is one of the best places to be on International Women’s Day since many of the city’s museums are offering free entry and hosting events “to celebrate the feminine world,” according to the Italian culture ministry. In particular, a Roman exhibition at Palazzo Braschi is featuring the works of Artemisia Gentileschi. A Baroque painter, Gentileschi was a powerful woman who achieved professional success as a master artist in a time that was overwhelmingly male-dominated. Her Biblical and mythological paintings feature strong and defiant women, often suffering. This exhibit is just one of many that celebrate Italy’s women and the momentous impact that they made in molding the art and culture of the country.
But, in my time exploring the city of Rome and traveling Europe at large, I have noticed just how distinctive the contemporary Italian woman is. First, fashion-forward. If you find a woman dressed in a fitted, black outfit, carrying a designer handbag, rocking a pair of heels on the far too notorious European cobblestone streets, you’ve likely found an Italian woman. Not to mention, Italy is also home to the most brilliant and famed female designers of all time, including Miuccia Prada, Frida Giannini, and Donatella Versace.
Also, Italian women exude confidence through body language. They tend to hold themselves tall, take larger strides and keep their heads held high. They are fashion-savvy and definitely pay closer attention to appearance than the average U.S. woman. When I pass an Italian woman on the street, I notice body language that portrays confidence but in an elegant, refined way. It all stems from posture, which is at the heart of confidence. Italian women tend to push their shoulders slightly back and keep their eyes up, whether entering a building, carrying groceries, or walking down the street. They give off the impression that they are truly proud of who they are.
I’ve also noticed that, by and large, Italian women have a healthy relationship with food. Many U.S. women perceive carbs as the enemy. They see eating pasta, pizza, and bread as a recipe for weight gain. While a conscious effort to limit consumption of these foods is wise for women trying to lose weight, the obsession with restriction of these foods for the ordinary U.S. woman is common and is not really justifiable. It is here where we may want to look to the Italian woman, characterized by a slender figure, always on the move, and not thinking twice about indulging in the pasta, pizza, and panini delights of Italy. In stark contrast to U.S. women, Italian women are always moving. They tend to walk much more, in distance and duration, than the average American woman. This trend becomes all the more apparent in larger Italian cities, such as Florence, Naples, and, my personal favorite and current home, Rome. Granted, the narrow, cobblestone streets and crowds in these cities make it difficult for anyone to drive a car. So, the natural alternative is to walk. Nonetheless, I admire the behavior of the typical Italian woman: enjoying the wonders of Italian carbs, all the while, staying active throughout the day. In my own experience walking down the streets of Rome, I find women indulging in carbs everywhere and at just about every time throughout the day. From a morning caffè e cornetto (translation: an espresso coffee and Italian croissant) to a panini or slice of pizza, to a midday gelato snack, Italian women eat throughout the day, and are absolutely fearless of carbs!
Finally, Italian women — and Italian people in general — are warm. They make you feel comfortable and welcomed wherever you go. They are close talkers, tending to stand closer in conversation, and will greet you with a kiss on each cheek. The staff on my study abroad program along with the Italian female student I am living with in my apartment really embody warmth and motherliness. I have been treated to the best of Italian cooking. I have been cared for while sick. I am always asked about my day, how I am feeling and whether I am comfortable. Italian women are kind and tender. They are selfless, always seeming to put the needs of others before their own.
Being in Rome, I have come to notice these distinct features embodied by Italian women. And these qualities seem to converge to a single trait: boldness. While Italians do fit the stereotype of being loud and using big hand gestures, the women in particular carry themselves with confidence and act boldly. I am inspired just about every day, as I watch these women from a distance. They have made me embrace my womanhood, and have reminded me to be fearlessly bold in the way I act, speak, and carry myself. Fittingly, this year’s International Women’s Day campaign is #BeBoldForChange. Through this mantra, the IWD organization motivates women around the world to take “groundbreaking action that truly drives the greatest change for women.” As we seek to support female leaders in accelerating gender parity, women must start by behaving boldly through small actions. And Italian women are to turn to for inspiration.