Readers of my other blog know that I often comment – mostly with dismay – on the status of women in Italian society. Today, the FT Weekend article by Adrian Michaels gives me a chance to rant here too.
In a nutshell, Michaels argues that the female image portrayed by media and advertising in Italy feeds on, and in turn reinforces, the low status of women in Italian business, politics, and in the professions. And I think he’s right: there are few role models for young girls beyond the veline (skimpily dressed TV dancers, for readers who aren’t familiar with the term), and hardly any visible women CEOs or entrepreneurs beyond those who have inherited their roles because they are the founder’s daughter, sister or widow. Outside these pockets of privilege, there are enormous constraints on the time a woman can devote to pursuing professional achievement if she’s trying to keep a family going (from schools that close in the afternoon to primitive retail and banking hours, as the author himself discovers when trying to buy milk on a Sunday). According to economists Tito Boeri and Daniela del Boca, only 25% of the hours worked by Italian women are paid work; the rest is unpaid, work hours spent outside the labor market, taking care of others for free (including, increasingly, older family members). Among women who work outside the home, only 30% return to work after having a child; for the careers of the others, maternity means game over.
I think we need a rather radical agenda to get out of this vicious circle. First, we need to be more selfish.
Let the house get a bit dirtier. Some scum in the shower never killed anybody. Cleanliness is overrated.
Go to supermarkets that sell ready meals. Yes, they’re pricey, but not as much as our time is worth. Better yet, order online or by phone. Arrange delivery when convenient. Bank online. It is retailers who ought to adapt to our needs, not we to theirs.
Let the baby wallow in a dirty diaper until Dad changes it. Let older children wash themselves, or go to bed dirty. Some exposure to germs is good as it increases resistance to diseases.
Let your husband pay for a nurse for your mother-in-law. If he does not have enough money, tell him to get a second job, or to act as a nurse himself. This may take until Grandma gets a couple of bedsores. Bedsores are a necessary evil in the education of men.
Get extremely organized (you might pick a few ideas from The 4-Hour Workweek). Then, use the time you rediscovered to play the power game. Be bold. Call a meeting with your boss at 8pm to show him your ideas for reorganizing his department, and engage him in a long discussion, so that he misses the first half of that Champions League match. Go out to breakfast with a head hunter. Network with other women. Write about your agenda for change, and become a columnist for your local paper. Bootstrap your reputation. Stand for election to your town council, or some other body where you will have the power to change things.
The point is: no one will hand power over to women. Not if we accept the state of things as they are, or if we merely entertain interesting proposals about quotas in company boards and so on. We have to want it, and we have to build our resumes for it.
Are you ready?