The Italian Almanac

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mamma and kids (the way we were)

Italian News - October 14

As stereotypes go, the Italian 'mamma' is one of the most enduring and appealing. But for the nation's women, especially those with aspirations, it can be a handicap. Any politically correct Italian female knows that these days to be 'complete' she cannot be satisfied with staying at home to cook pasta for her man and kids. She has to seek a role, or at least money, in the workplace. But the myth of the 'mamma' - that high-performance cleaner, cook and nurturer - is hard to ignore.

A new study by Censis, the Rome-based research institute, confirms that most Italian women now aspire to rewarding jobs. But it also shows how this clashes with their deep attachment to the traditional role of wife and mother. Italy, in fact, has the lowest female employment rate in Europe, with only 45.3% of women between 15 and 64 in part-time or full-time employment.

"Italian women have taken on board much of the ideology of the feminist revolution, but in terms of self-realisation outside the home most haven't really got very far," said Ketty Vaccaro, director of the Censis research project. The result, it seems, is that a lot of women have the nagging feeling that they are not getting everything they should out of life.

One surprising aspect of the study, researchers said, was that there were practically no women who said they would be perfectly all right without having children and a family. "We just don't have dinkies here," Vaccaro said, referring to the 'Dual Income No Kids' bracket of adult couples that is now a recognised section of British and US society.

One of the six categories which emerged in the survey, representing 12.4% of the total, was made up of single women. Many of them were young and relatively successful in their work. But here too, the myth of the 'mamma' was clearly evident. A majority of these women said they were, at the very least, 'open' to new relationships and most wanted children. Another group was made up of young women still at university who saw raising a family as a primary life objective.

The sixth category consisted of older women, often pensioners, who had lost their partner through death or divorce and for whom work was rarely an option. Apart from the sixth group, all the categories in the survey claimed to be reasonably content with their lot. Asked when in life a woman was happiest, the most frequent answer across the board was "when she's expecting a baby". This, clearly, is a time when her status as 'mamma' is beyond all doubt.