You’re about to turn 12. Naturally, you roll your eyes when I launch into speech — “Mom’s getting hyped!” you warn your brother. You’ve gotten very good at dodging my monologues, so I’m writing you a letter. This way, I don’t have to watch the eye roll, and I know that you’ll read it all the way through because…
THERE’S A HIDDEN SURPRISE IN THIS LETTER (ONE THAT IS NOT IN ALL CAPS) THAT RELATES TO A SHOPPING TRIP AND GETTING A DOG!
You are growing up in Italy with an American mother. From the time you were small, you lived in and loved your body — your female body — in a way that I never did for my own body. I wish I’d had a fraction of your Italian carnality when I was growing up in Washington, D.C.! I wish I’d had even a touch of the joy you take in your physicality or understood like you do how to trust your senses. That isn’t something one can easily learn as an adult.
But you also live in a country that is one of the worst in the developed world for gender equality.
Italian women have only a small percentage of the leisure time that Italian men do, and they are terribly underrepresented in managerial positions and in politics. “But don’t we live in a matriarchy, Mom?” you might ask (if you were listening to me, holding eye contact, with your phone switched off). Yes, it is still a matriarchy, which means that where power really counts in Italy — in the home — women decide. These powerful, gorgeous, exhausted Italian women (who consider themselves victims of no one) call the shots. The important shots, like how to raise children and take care of the elderly. Or what to prepare for Sunday lunch. It’s confusing and maddening and inspiring all at once.
But so is the United States.
I consider myself a feminist. When Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election, I saw how my country that I love was not ready to choose a strong, smart, imperfect woman to lead it. I cried, and my Italian friends couldn’t for the life of them understand why.
“It’s just politics, Ketrin!” they tried to remind me.
But you understood.
You made me a glittery poster with HC on it and baked me muffins all by yourself. Those things helped.
When I tried to explain #MeToo to my Italian friends at a dinner party, and they responded with comments like, “Those little actresses, what do they expect?!” You discreetly came around the dinner table to whisper in my ear, “Breeeeaaathe, Mom. Breathe.”
On Friday, restaurants in Rome will be filled with tables of women. Men will give their wives and mothers yellow mimosa flowers, which I won’t get because they make your father sneeze. “Sorry,” he’ll tell me, “I got you lilies instead. Happy Women’s Day!”
I’ll kiss him and tell him that I like lilies better anyway, which is true. Then he’ll cook dinner so I can go out with the ladies.
I don’t want you to think that this day is about the flowers, or about Mom going out with her girlfriends for a pizza. In Italy, it’s easy to think that. It’s easy to think that it’s about a day when Italian men cook dinner and babysit. It’s not. It’s about the fact that yesterday you told me that you want to be a lawyer. The very fact that this occurred to you is thanks to women — normal, average women — who risked their reputation and their freedom to speak out. Society thought they were troublemakers: bossy, aggressive, and just plain weird. But that didn’t stop them. They risked and fought so that you and your girlfriends could decide to be a judge someday, or a veterinarian, or the President.
Changes don’t happen with a magic wand.
They happen when people persevere even though the world makes it really, really hard for them. Even though their family and friends call them weirdos. I’m not going to start a new paragraph here because this needs to be hidden — yes, I think we are getting a dog and Saturday afternoon we’ll go together to get you new sneakers at Via del Corso.
Happy Women’s Day, amore mio.