By Jessica Carter
Workplace competition hinders women. According to a 2006 report of 38 nations issued by the OECD, only Mexico, Turkey and Chile had fewer women in the workplace than Italy. While the maternity leave laws might sound nice from an American perspective, the five-month-plus leave has a downside. Many employers think twice before hiring women of childbearing age.
That was bad news for me, a just-married ragazza with a rapidly-ticking biological clock and on the lookout for a new job.
When I landed my first interview, I pulled out some of my old TV anchor-wear and presented myself as a full-fledged professional.
To my surprise, my new potential boss simply ignored me and spent the entire interview hour talking about himself. Finally, he said, "Look, what I really need is a personal secretary. Why don't you send me a proposal." He then walked me to the door and casually said goodbye with the words, "Ciao princess."
My mouth dropped. Mr. Ciao Princess had my four-page resume. No matter. It was in his eyes: Woman plus office equals secretary. I hit the street below in the primary phases of that aggressive and cynical state that the Italian women had warned me about.
Where, I wondered, were the normal jobs?
"Fashion, communications and advertising," said Mafai Giorgi. The media world, she told me, had made serious room for women. The caveat was pay. It wasn't equal. (That must be why the waiters always bring the check to my husband, I thought sarcastically.)
While I carried on with my search armed with Mafai Giorgi's insights, I still secretly sought an "American" solution. I dreamed of a million-woman march through downtown Rome, the launching of an FCC with fines for every TV station, offices ransacked, bosses sued and scandals played out on primetime news, complete with blue Gap dresses.
But my vivid imagination still didn't put my recurring question to rest: Why didn't Italian women feel the same way?
Franca Macci, a mid-level manager from Campagnano, said the answer lies in the absence of choices. "It's not that women are complacent," said Macci, 56, "rather they are subject to this because they don't find alternatives."
Most attribute this standstill to the collapse of the feminist movement in Italy. For Fabiana Chiari, 23, who works with Ibbadu, feminism doesn't exist. Mafai Giorgi said it is a matter of degrees. Feminism, she suggested, was associated with the mass protests of the 1970s. "Today," she said, "I think feminism needs to be screamed less, but sustained more."
The European Parliament recently condemned promotional ads in which women are exhibited in sexually discriminatory ways. It hardly seems like a solution.
My answer is a personalized form of social disobedience. Now, when my boss says, "ragazze, I have a visitor, we need some coffee in here," I ignore him. After all, he’s not talking to me; I'm Jessica, not ragazza.
If he repeats the same request I still ignore him, and the ragazze (aka: the women who respond to this name) make the coffee. How’s that for cattiness? I recommend it to all working women in Italy.
As for Mr. Ciao Princess, I did send him a proposal, one that emphasized professionalism. It was also well out of his financial league. Needless to say, he never responded.
At home, Italian variety show TV is now completely banned. When my husband and I go out to dinner and the waiter brings him the check, I immediately take it and ask, "Can I pay with a bank card?"
And as for that biological clock, I've decided that when I do have a baby and take my five-month-plus maternity leave, I want a boy. That way I can teach him that ragazza is no way to address a lady.
— Editor's note: Jessica Carter has since found new employment, and relief.
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