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Italian Women Getting Ahead, Say Men Must Catch Up

December 14, 1988

ROME (AP) _ Italy’s hottest anchorwoman hikes her skirt on the evening news, gets sozzled on champagne from male admirers and, before signing off, invites men to call her on a special line.

It happens in a television spoof of television, written and directed by women, but real life is getting closer. One of the women news readers now on state television has become the subject of magazine articles and, according to a survey, highly popular among male viewers.

″When you feel secure, you can poke fun at yourself,″ said Serena Dandini, one of three authors of the new weekly show, ″TiVu Delle Ragazze″ (The Girls’ Television).

An increasing number of prime time newscasts feature women, and Italian women are becoming prominent in many other fields once closed to them.

Women drive Rome’s orange-colored buses in bumper-to-bumper traffic ever more frequently directed by female traffic officers.

Policewomen wave automatic rifles out the windows of squad cars as they escort ministers and dignitaries. Until 1981, the national police force assigned women only to cases involving prostitution or children.

Sunday afternoon soccer, that ultimate male bastion, now has a woman as one of the play-by-play radio commentators. The games are not televised live.

When the first woman justice was named to the Supreme Court in September, she was asked what it meant to enter a world previously reserved for men.

″It signifies that women are present, that they’re doing their job,″ Maria Gabriella Luccioli said. She began her judicial career in 1963, when women were permitted to become magistrates.

Marisa Occhionero, a Rome University sociologist who has done studies for the government on the future of women, said the movement into top positions is increasing and remains merely a ″question of time.″

″Professors at universities ... engineers, businesswomen, architects,″ she enumerated. ″They’re not content to stay in civil service jobs. The woman is changing. She has changed. It’s the man who hasn’t changed.″

Women in fields ranging from politics to banking echoed her comment in interviews. They reported tremendous gains at work but much less success in persuading men to help mind the house and children.

A survey of city families with both spouses working found the men put in an average of 3-5 hours a week at such chores as home repairs and cleaning the car while women did 33-35 hours of housework.

Carole Beebe Tarantelli, an American who serves in the Parliament, said changing sex roles are difficult for an Italian man ″whose mother would respond to every whim.″

Newly married Italian men often are dismayed to discover that their wives, working or not, will not iron their underwear like their mothers did.

″The Italian woman’s (struggle) is especially hard″ because of the importance placed on the family and the concept of the mother as its pillar, Ms. Occhionero said.

It often is difficult to run an Italian family, given the structure of Italian society, especially for working mothers.

Mrs. Tarantelli, a mother, noted that public schools don’t have team sports or other extracurricular activities. That means babysitters for children who finish classes at 1 p.m., five or six hours before parents finish work.

Stores close three hours for lunch and only a few stay open past 8 p.m. In the Tuscan hilltown of Arezzo, complaints by factory workers that the only day care center shut down before the factory did prompted the town to open another with more suitable hours.

Gioia Longo, a cultural anthropologist who founded a hotline for abused women, said a survey she did of 700 teen-agers in an Adriatic resort town indicated girls see no limits on possible achievement but boys are confused about their changing roles.

Ms. Occhionero said stereotypical Latin males ″are afraid of these women. They want to protect them but don’t understand to what point, (and) they are threatened.″

Stefania Zappanico, a journalist in her 20s, says many women don’t help their cause.

″Italian women are still different from northern European or American women,″ said Ms. Zappanico, who has spent time in Britain and the United States. ″They’re not mentally independent. Even women who work think they have to depend on men. They don’t value independence that much in itself.″

In a nationwide study of women’s lot in the 1870s, the first years of a unified Italy, an official in Bari said ″an ass, an ox, a sheep are always worth more than a wife to the peasant, and the wife obeys her husband like a slave.″

A simple rendezvous could get a wife convicted of adultery a brief generation ago but a husband could be prosecuted only if he brought his lover to live in the house. A 1969 Supreme Court decision led to adultery being abolished as a crime for either sex.

Birth control pills were legalized in the early 1970s and abortion in 1978.

Children of an Italian man who marries a foreigner always have qualified for citizenship automatically, but those of a woman in the same situation did not qualify until 1984.

Dictator Benito Mussolini thought a woman’s place was home making babies, but some historians feel his policy of getting women out of the workplace helped them in the long run because many enrolled in universities when they could not get jobs.

As more and more Italian women enter politics, their issues are certain to get more attention. Ms. Occhionero said women are ″ever more present″ in the field but still scarce ″in proportion to their effort.″

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