Why So, So, So Many Italian Women Are Frigid
David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930), prose writer, poet and painter, passed some time in Italy (1919-1922) away from the hostile environment of his birthplace, England (Eastwood in Nottinghamshire), and where later he would be severely chastised for many of his anti-establishment writings which fundamentally embarrassed the British monarchy—but obviously not enough! One of his best-known novels, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, was privately printed in 1928 in Florence, Italy, but was banned in the United Kingdom until 1960. DHL called his exile the “savage pilgrimage,” and when he died his ashes were interred in a chapel east of Taos, New Mexico in the southwest of the United States.
Although DHL did not spend a good deal of time in any one particular locus in Italy, and, too, he did not master the Italian language, it might first appear that his understanding of Italian culture was flimsy, dilettantish—anthropologists suggest that an individual would have to stay fixed in one position in a foreign land for four or five years before sufficiently acclimating to that berth.
Yet, first impressions are lasting, no? DHL was an astute commentator on human behavior, and his literary masterpieces verify that this endowment was truly unique. Because of that, when DHL observed that Italian women “are sensual but not passionate,” we should not so quickly brush off this telling image of his—impressed on our senses—as being one that was not quite thought out so well as to be believed—to be carved in stone.
Nonetheless, the observation is honorable, and this essay will set about to lay out some compelling justifications to confirm its authenticity. Firstly, the attempt will particularly deal with Italian women in the context of post-twentieth-century Italy to bring to the fore how the events of World War I and World War II now affect these women entwined in the present day twenty-first-century Italian reality. Secondly, the author urges his readers to think back to when and how women were treated throughout European history concentrating on the horrific influences of religions, military leaders and their wars, the feudal system, the roles of women during the Middle Ages, women in the Renaissance, women wherever handled as property, et alia, in order to consider the “density” of European history and its effect on womanhood. Thirdly, this composition does not pretend to imply that all the problems Italian women, and other women, brook are caused exclusively by one factor, or a combination of constituents, which make of women some sort of freakish club, some kind of mass membership in a mater dolorosa lodge. All women are human beings and they experience all the absurdities of human existence. Rather, it is the intent of this endeavor to show that Italian women, even perhaps sharing a more excessive amount of physical and mental brutality during their lives, are like many other women in the world: individuals not treated as they should be, individuals not offered their just desserts.
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It is impossible to reflect today on modern European society without referring to the devastation of the two world wars consummated so inconsolably in the twentieth century. To do so would be naïve. The slaughter of an estimated two-hundred-million human beings, combatants and non-combatants, is still now a nightmarish actuality that Europeans deal with in varying ways: from negation to trying to divert their expressions of rage and grief into ones considered more socially or culturally acceptable. (It is reckoned that thirty million Soviets, a tenth of the Soviet Union’s population, perished during World War II; tens of thousands of German women were raped by invading Soviet depredators as the war drew down.) None of these defense mechanisms have yet been able to relieve the dreadful anguish that afflicts all the European peoples. Perhaps time, a very long time, will heal these European wounds. But will Europe, then, still be Europe? Definitely not.
The “twentieth-century trauma” is particularly relevant to understanding the descending glide path of the entire European community. No other cycle of time, in the two-thousand-year yesteryear of European beingness, offered such a vicious blow to the very social, cultural, economic and political foundations of the continent. The twentieth century literally negated whatever respectability, whatever ethical integrity the landmass possessed, and set it into what appears today to be a madness of corruption, hedonism, political turmoil and interminable despair. (Italy alone, today, is a cesspool of corruption, hatred and racism [“We aren’t racists. We are Italian racists We hate everyone!”] and Italians often despise themselves more than the immigrants they loathe.) A sense of hopelessness pervades the spirit of Europeans all of whom dread what had taken place during the outrageous twentieth century, and all of whom are emotionally debilitated thinking that that bloodcurdling circumstance might repeat itself. World War III? No. But, has something been concocted still more sinister?
This backdrop helps to put into perspective the plight of Italian women. Within this rich soup of History, poisoned by the “twentieth-century trauma,” Italian women must contend with, must pull through against an unquestionably hideous state of affairs—a burden so much more complicated by the exigencies of the inequality constantly doled out to their sex.
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In the last few months of 1983—after I had reached Montecatini Terme having come from Caracas, Venezuela in May—a series of events befell me which would set me astudying in hobby fashion, just as Hitler and Mussilini had done decades before, one Italian nonesuch. I had come to Italy to seek fame, fortune and peace of mind, not to try to untangle something else that is too knotted even for sociologists and psychoanalysts; but, what I had experienced off the bat at that Tuscan health spa so piqued my insatiable curiosity, I knew at once I was still again on that trail to set about to understand something I might never be able to: the Italian woman. Here are three of those first impressions:
I could not speak Italian then. It had even taken me a while to stop saying vino rojo instead of vino rosso. I looked for people with whom I could speak to in Spanish and found none; and, I looked for individuals who spoke English and found some. One was a shoe saleslady who boasted to me about her love affairs with Arab men to whom she sold shoes made mostly in Monsummano. She wore a bulky gold necklace, a Rolex watch, was on the chunky size, almost attractive, had beautifully polished fingernails, and her makeup—while put in place heavily—was very elegantly rubbed on to achieve the best results for her. Her secretary was a South African woman married to an Italian man. One day the pursy one invited me to a birthday party she had organized for herself. Fifteen of us (ten women) drove to the costa versiliana for a stupendous fish dinner. At that moment when it had been decided to return home, the South African took out her calculator, divided the bill by fourteen, then made the rounds around the table collecting from us our share of the outlay for the night’s festivities.
Wherever I went, by bus or train, I concluded that most Italian men did not rise and offer their seats to women.
Notwithstanding, what whetted my appetite for more—the most—was this: A group of young adults, some professionals, most of them university grads, in their late twenties-early thirties, “Italian communists,” from Montecatini Terme, and who all lived with their well-to-do parents, invited me to a beautiful medieval villa in Vinci to celebrate the coming-in of the new 1984. There were fourteen of us—seven women; seven men. The women had each prepared, at their homes, the various parts of a wonderful dinner, and as soon as they arrived, set about organizing, preparing, and heating the delicious foods we all were anxiously waiting to devour. There were astounding fiaschi of young Chianti wines, cakes, and fruits, too. The entire episode was farfetched, and it remains happily fixed in my memory still today. After the sumptuous delights, when the donne began clearing away the plates and dishes and silvery receptacles, the men—almost automatically—moved to one end of the long, time-worn table. When I asked if I could pitch in to help, seven voices resounded their “no’s;” and, one commented contradictorily so: “Why don’t you teach them (she particularized the Italian men) how men should help women just as they do in the United States!” Later, with all put away, in a spirit of abandonment and lightheartedness, the ladies began dancing together, at the other extremity of the table, to the beats of a stereo player they had brought along. They whirled and swayed to aerobic music. They joshed through cancans. They had prepared a “show” for us. At the finish of each and every dance routine, all seven of them, in unison, after a loud 1-2-3!!! count, uprighted The Finger of their right hands, crossed their left arms to the bends in their right arms, and saluted us men with giggles and liberating laughs which made me feel perhaps I should encourage them to go further; but, I did not. I had been taken aback. Just as when once, at a cocktail party in Palacio Miraflores in Caracas, Venezuela, I saw President Carlos Andrés Pérez, not more than two meters from me, stick his right index finger in the tall glass, which held his Scotch, and then twirl around and around the ice cubes in it holding always the glass with the same hand! I let on for the Italian men—as I always had done in Caracas trying to be as diplomatic as I could—that nothing had occurred as far as I was concerned. After a pause, I looked at them and they just shrugged their shoulders at me. They felt perplexed, but had nothing to say about that most disparate display.
These events, taken whole, reflect a superficial set of observations which beg additional interpretations. Is it needless to ask if not all Italian women are timid housewives derailed from a “normal” existence—what is normal?—that provide them with unlimited liberty to express their inner desires as they wish, and also enjoy the happiness of family life next to a kind and supportive husband? Unfortunately, the chattels of ancient and also modern society have imprisoned most Italian women in an atrocious correctional institution of conformity to the pinches of Italian men, Italian society. The malodour of a veritable Battle of the Sexes is reeking the Italian peninsula and maneuvering the Italian society, in a slow motion procession, towards extinction.
Umpteen Italian women have rebelled against this almost perennial “penalization.” The consequences have been embarrassing. The European Psychoanalytic and Psychodynamic Society discovered that Italian women are the most violent in Europe. They are more aggressive than their German, English, Spanish and French sisters. Slaps, punches, verbal humiliation, material and psychological blackmailing, uncooked meals, and self-imposed sexual abstinence are tactics employed by Italian women to rise up against the injustices levied upon them. They often prefer not to kill their husbands or lovers, but rather be killed by them to prove some existential point. (The Roman Catholic Church plays a formidable part in this anti-women perversion. Historically, the RCC has crusaded, with all its might, to restrain women and keep them in loco refusing to grant them that “equal” status liberally accorded to their fellow masculine companions. In this anti-women environment female persons have no control over their bodies and are turned down rights to abortion even when their pregnancies endanger their lives. Woman are second-class citizens from a legal standpoint, and for centuries the RCC has lobbied governments all over the world seeking to maintain a medieval status quo for them. Women who join religious communities must “marry” God, wear wedding bands to celebrate their unions, and must not be seen alone with men at any time. [My itemization of depravity is here lacking.] There exists an infinite number of ways the RCC, led by ecclesiastical, despotic men, subjugates women with gothic machinations and fairytale verbal creations. One that comes to my mind is this: When I attended St. Bonaventure University in upstate New York, an alcoholic [are there more alcoholics than pedophiles enrolled in the RCC?] Franciscan monk, our Roman Civilization instructor, arrogantly arranged the thirty-odd men in his class in alphabet order so that he could easily keep attendance. The five women in the class were placed at the head of our group, in the front row. The grotty Franciscan eagerly looked forward to tell off the women with this quip: “Cross your legs and shut the Gates of Hell!” He laughed. There were chuckles, howls and some razzes to encourage the inebriated priest while the five ladies squirmed in their seats embarrassed and towered over by the opposite sex.)
Many Italian women can be excruciatingly authoritarian. (One would guess!) If you come across one of these despots who are, and rarely so, ensconced in a public or private (family) Italian power source, watch out! (Once, one of them jumped on me so magisterially, I shocked her into a reality unknown to her with this sally: “Sweetheart, did you study public relations with the Gestapo?” Her eyes bulged. Then she changed her tune to “soft” not knowing what to do with someone who had challenged her authority. I’m still waiting for her to try to stab me in the back!) Eurostat, the European statistical administration, reports that in Italy 11.9% of Italian women are managers—the lowest share in Europe. But it must be understood that the majority of these cases are women who have been put in charge by their fathers who own the company the ladies work for, or these women have married a man whose father has afforded them a golden opportunity—a “wedding gift.” (Never marry a person for his or her money. Marry for the money of his or her father!) Occasionally, these women are well-educated and prepared to offer the business a bright future. But, for the most part they run back and forth to their fathers or father-in-laws seeking advice about what they should do “for the company.” The gentlewomen are impeccably decked out in the latest fashion, wear expensive jewelry, drive luxury cars, are frequently suntanned in winter, and impress you with a confidence in themselves unknown to mere mortals. Their children are spoiled, bored and unhappy. If they are teenagers, they very well might be alcoholics or drug dependents. Their school work is abominable, and they blame—justifiably so to a great degree—the pathetic Italian school system for their blatant ignorance. If these often chesty striplings pose too much of an embarrassment for their wealthy families, the kids are shipped off to England where, with fingers crossed, parents and grandparents pray they will be “straightened out.”
The 88.1% of the other Italian working women is still another repugnant subject matter that needs defining and which will enable us to better understand the Italian dilemma because the sheer number of the “have nots” way outweigh the amount of the “have’s.” The salaries of the 88.1% are expended on mortgages, car payments, dentist bills, computer games, et alia, and they function as a complement to their husbands’ pay checks. (Less than 8% of Italian families earn more than €3000 a month!) If a woman is divorced, she winds up going back home to mom and dad, and the divorcée believes her husband will not be able to pay the alimony payments due her by court order simply because he does not earn enough to do so. (Most Italian married couples cannot afford the lawyers’ fees to break the knot even if they anguish for a lifetime wishing to dissolve their torturesome unions. Divorce is for the rich in The Boot.) You can observe these “have not” women nervously racing to do this, to do that. They are afraid. They have to be on time for work—or else. They have to tow the line. They race in their cars in every direction. (In 2010, there were over 600 recorded accidents which took place on pedestrian crossing zones. Ninety people were killed. Tourists should be reminded that before entering a pedestrian crossing in Italy, they should look both right and left and do not expect speeding vehicles to stop, slow down, to allow one to cross in safety; and, do not be stupefied if you are greeted with insults and chosen words if you have obliged a car or truck to stop for your safe passageway!) So many Italian women will not get pregnant for fear of losing that almost sacred source of income. If you see an Italian woman with two or three children, you can be sure she did not marry her husband for his money, but rather she wed for the medium of exchange of his father! These members of the fair sex are stressed, insanely efficient, must take the kids to and fro school, help them with their homework, cook and iron after work, clean their homes if they cannot afford domestic assistance or are assisted by their mothers and/or mother-in-laws, and then are threatened day in and day out, at work, with sexual blackmail on the part of their male co-workers and superiors, and at home by “loving” husbands who have been taught by their mothers to expect their wives to do it all for them. Their “motors” are running at full blast from morning to night (Haste is the worst enemy of pleasure said Herman Hesse), and the despair that they stomach is not easy to enshroud. Unlike the “have” women, they must be always fearful of losing their posts. Nor is it so user-friendly for them to open the “Gates of Hell.”
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Some years ago, I appealed—cheekily!—to the Marchesi Antinori (famous Florentine winemakers) asking them if they would kindly sponsor an experiment I had earnestly wished to perform. I wanted to find twelve Italian women who could drink, with me, each a bottle, from a case of exquisite Antinori Chianti wine, in un arco di three hours. Italian women are notorious teetotalers. To find twelve willing women wine imbibers would be challenging. The in vino veritas would “open up” twelve Italian female adults—often very shy; almost always taciturn—and let us all come to interesting conclusions about life, love, and indeed, soldi. To have some fun, some laughs. There were no takers. The Antinori PR department, stuck somewhere between 1952 and 1959, did not even respond to my request; so, I jettisoned the idea—sadly. I continued, nevertheless, struggling to pin down the opinions of Italian women trying to get them to reveal themselves to me. I was not very successful. Boca chiusa. It is an exceedingly unenviable task.
One day my efforts were finally rewarded. A slim book, Con gli occhi di una donna (With the Eyes of a Woman), published by the Associazione Tirrenica Cooperative Consumatori, 1997, hit the stands (distributed without charge in a Florentine supermarket) and I jumped at the occasion. In it, fifty Italian women spiel out, in very short stories, all they want to say, all they have to say. There are some very good scrittrici among the yarn spinners—mostly housewives. They were not paid; there was no prize money nor prize.
I found—in only one-hundred, twenty-seven pages—the Italian tender gender’s in vino veritas I had been seeking for years. And the book shocked me almost into disbelief. It is one of the saddest documents I have ever read in my life. It is surely not on a level with acknowledgments divulged by holocaust victims: there is some physical brutality in the book, however. Here we are primarily concerned with mental barbarity. Almost all of the fifty stories deal exclusively with some lugubriousness, some vexation, some dream not lived up to, some violence…
Of women in the throes of identity crises…who want to go out alone, free to be babies, free from mothers’ ideas, free from fathers’ soundings off…who want to escape the prison of marriage…who want jobs…who have been dismissed…who are living on that faith that comes with desperation…who are drugged on legal and illegal drugs…who, at ninety-two years of age, widowed and without a man since 1944, fall in love with a sixty-five-year old television personality…who—all fifty of them!—have not laughed in one-hundred, twenty-seven pages…who break up with boyfriends…who go right back to them…who daydream of trips never made…who are murdered by their husbands with a rifle bullet in the forehead…who kill their husbands…who hunger and thirst for liberty…who say that the only thing “super” about their lives is the supermarket…who have not had time to marry…who have never loved…who have never danced…who are experts with makeup…who say that all the memories of their infancy seem beautiful even if at the time that was not really so…who must get permission from their boyfriends to wear panty hose…who are tormented by an invalid mother who nags all night for the bedpan…who see their sons, in the distance on a park bench, dying from heroin…who is raped by squads of German infantry brutes all afternoon while other Germans hold at bay her entire village constrained to witness, outside her house, the barbarity, and who, after cleaning away the afternoon’s blood and semen, sits down to knit and never speaks another word for the rest of her life…who watches United States’ GI’s line up to buy the winning lottery ticket that entitles one of them to the virginity of her daughter…who, now grandmothers, chide their grandchildren thusly: “If you don’t eat your vegetables, I’ll call the Germans!” (John Barry and Evan Thomas wrote in their Newsweek article, At War Over Women, 12 May 1997: “But biology makes some problems unavoidable: men and women will always desire each other, and women will, on average, remain physically weaker. The real test will not come until America fights a long and bloody war.”) Are we going crazy?
It would be hard to get—in one-hundred, twenty-seven pages—any more sadder than that. You can, of course. You can get to where you might want to shoot your brains out. (But, all fifty?) Here are women who, for the greater part of the day, are depressed. Many of them have lost all interest in anything and they cannot find joy anywhere. Their energies are depleted. They have no confidence in themselves. They feel guilty. They feel useless. They see the future pessimistically. They smoke heavily. They have thoughts of death. They sleep badly. They do not eat properly. They eat too much. They eat too little. They have lost their powers of concentration and attention. With men they often play the victim. They are in a hurry to go to bed with them—to “satisfy” them. They do not know what they desire. No man knows what they desire. They are often man-eaters. A week does not pass in this twenty-first century that the Italian news media does not report on a woman being murdered by her husband or boyfriend. One after the other. They are great emasculators: Italian men are always touching their testicles—to see if they are still there! (Italy is the Land of the Vendetta.) These women are all over the place. Regards the place of women and men in society, Italy is an elegantly dressed, beautifully made-up Republic of the Congo. They are doing what they should not be doing. Why?
The kids of these Italian women are given privileges reserved for kings. Women sacrifice all their ambitions for the “little monsters.” Life for these small fries is not difficult and it is not honest. They are taught to be adults even before their bones are formed. They are always being corrected, chided by their grandmothers, aunts and parents’ mother-in-laws. The nippers go to study tired of watching television instead of going to watch television tired of studying. They must realize the aspirations of their parents and grandparents. They do not have to tidy their rooms. They do not have to clean dishes, sweep floors. Sons think like their mothers, speak like their mothers, and feel like their mothers. They are over-over-protected by them. Children are suffocated by mothers, aunts, mother-in-laws, sister-in-laws. They are forced to copy the behavior of others. With families exerting excessive control over their children, the juveniles are taught to expect things to be done for them. Never ask an Italian what he or she did for his or her country today. They want their country to do it all for them. There is no discipline in schools and universities, and on Sundays thousands of police are called out to control the lawlessness of youth in football stadiums.
One Italian psychiatrist, Piero Rocchini, explains that there exists the Syndrome Mother Mediterranean. These women produce castrated men who lack any sense of responsibility. The Mediterranean mother satisfies all the desires of her son and takes away any sense of duty with the end of keeping her child tied to her for ever. The mother represents unconditional love and unfortunately the father figure is lacking in Italian society. The father should represent reality, society, rules and regulations, and severity. The Italian mother says to her son: “Nothing is too much for you.” This behavior creates persons with an infantile optimism, individuals who feel as supermen, untouchable. (Optimism is the basis of pure terror said Oscar Wilde.)
In The Centaur of John Updike, we find this thought: “We are weak in the arms; but strong in the thighs. Our thighs must be strong; the world’s rooted between them.” Italian women are not strong in the thighs. Look at the Caesarian section statistics in Italian hospitals. Next to Germany, Italy has the lowest birth rate in the world. After Hong Kong and Spain, it has the lowest fertility rate. Forty percent of Italian families have one child. Almost twenty percent of Italians are over sixty-five years of age (The Economist, 1997). Italy reads as a statistical nightmare does. No provisions are being adopted to thwart a demographic disaster. Italians do it better?
“For my part, I am continually astonished that a mark so simple is not recognized, or that men are of so bad faith as not to admit it. What is the end of political association? The preservation and prosperity of its members. And what is the surest mark of their preservation and prosperity? Their numbers and population. Seek then nowhere else this mark that is in dispute. The rest being equal, the government under which, without external aids, without naturalization or colonies, the citizens increase and multiply most is beyond question the best. The government under which a people wanes and diminishes is the worst. Calculators, it is left to you to count, to measure, to compare.” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract; New York: Everyman’s Library, 1973, page 231.)
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Authored by Anthony St. John
15 May MMXIII