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On Being a Feminist in a Land of Traditional Gender Roles in Italy

While I'm not extreme about it, I have always considered myself a feminist. I believe men and women are equal and are capable of doing the same work, physical capabilities allowing.

Chalk it up to me being too impatient for my ex-husband to get around to putting IKEA furniture together and doing it myself like a boss, or to being single for seven years, which meant there was no one but me to change lightbulbs, move heavy things, squash bugs, and run a household on my own.

But now, living in Calabria, where gender roles are much more pronounced, I'm beginning to reconsider my stance.

Is It Misogyny...or Chivalry?

I have always stubborn, ever since I was a child. Ask my mother. I've always wanted to prove that I was capable of doing anything that someone else could do (even if sometimes I couldn't). So when it comes to a man driving the car, carrying heavy groceries, or opening doors, in the past, I've always stubbornly pushed to do these things myself.

Because I can.

You see, I always felt like a man stepping in to do these mundane tasks meant that he thought I wasn't capable. Because I was a weak girl. And I wanted to prove to the world (and to myself) that I was anything but weak.

But here in Italy...I see things differently.

Actually, I love it when Fra drives the car. It's one less thing for me to stress about. And who really loves lugging heavy groceries? No one. So it's nice to have help. I've been doing it all for so long, and now I'm relaxing into having assistance.

Because it's not that he (or his male family members who help me) thinks I'm weak. It's that he wants to take care of me and help.

In a world that's still so tied to ancient traditions, is it any wonder that the men here often still cling to the idea of chivalry?

This has really knocked the wind out of me. I've given up fighting windmills and I'm leaning into having help.

Traditional Gender Roles in Italy

So what do those traditional gender roles in Italy look like? In many families, the women run the household and cook. That has never been my jam, but I see now just how much work it can be, especially when you're cooking and cleaning for three grown men. I don't know how his mother does it, honestly.

The women also, as I've shared, make the salsiccia and soppressata that will feed the family for months. No easy feat, I assure you.

The men do the physical labor. Francesco's dad cuts and stores wood (enough for the Apocalypse, but he admits he's a bit over the top when it comes to preparation). His dad and brother, along with a cousin and friend, plant crops in the large field next to the house.

These roles have worked for generations, so why change them? But Francesco knows he's with a modern American woman, so our household is shaping up a bit differently.

He's eager to learn to cook, which is unusual for a man whose mother has furnished all his meals his entire life. I've established the "I cook, you clean" rule for meals, though he grumbles every time.

For me, sharing household responsibilities is important, and that may be a stretch from the culture here. But lucky for me, he's willing to do just about anything. And that better include ironing his shirts, because I refuse to do it!

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