This week we honor the 100th birthday of pretty much the only woman in Italy who is truly respected for her mind, Rita Levi Montalcino, Nobel prize winning scientist and senator for life. And to think that she did it in an epoch in which women could barely make it to the upper echelons of anything but the top shelf at the Esselunga Supermarket. And while she is a source of pride for all of Italy, she’s still, unfortunately the exception that proves the rule.
Our new token, the ‘woman of steel’ at Italy’s ConfIndustria must have graphic artists from Trieste to Trapani all atwitter – they finally get to type the letters, r – a after the Sig. on invitations. But that’s not even entirely true, as, the men are called reverently, Dott. (Dottore), while the women still get to be called Mrs. And even in this they got it all wrong; women keep their last names, so, even the Mrs. is a misnomer.
The European Parliament decided to take action, recently decreeing that those endearing suffixes, like Dott.ssa, Avvocatessa, etc. be removed from titles in an effort to finally achieve parity. I recall when a friend from an elite American media outlet was to sponsor a business conference in Milan. When he asked, ‘Why are there no women on the panel?’ He was laughed out of the room. ‘Parish the thought’, ‘Not Serious’, ‘This isn’t America.”. Well, he briskly got up and left, taking his toys (and his money) with him. He would have gotten in the last laugh if he wasn’t so darn mad about the whole affair.
Now that we have women Ministers and Cabinet members, this situation could have changed, except that Berlusconi’s prerequisite -- that they be good looking to serve -- doesn’t help all that much. In Berlusconi’s world, Cabinet posts are car tops at automotive shows. But, we do have one thing to look forward to.
In Italy, women live so much longer than men, that eventually, we’ll get to hold the highest honors in the land and be esteemed from the top of the boot to the tip of the toe, just because we outlived the ones who couldn’t see our brains for our bosoms.