Today I tried to add up how much time I’ve spent in Italy. Six months on a mini-series, 3 months on a film, plus various other working trips to shoot advertisements, commercials, then of course vacations, this visit alone I will be here a month.
So…probably about a year and a half in total. Now, this is over maybe…thirty years? And let me tell you, things, they have changed in those three decades.
Mostly the Italian men and they way they behave. Of course, the cat-calling and licentiousness were always worse in Rome than in Venice, just as construction workers might be more vocal in New York than in, say… Atlanta. Environments, not to mention a heritage of imported culture, make people behave differently, so it’s hard to judge improvements in one off of another. Therefore, we will try to delineate.
One of my first visits to Italy was when I was 18, an ultra-blonde model in short-shorts. How did I know I was goose bait? Nobody ever pinched me in the states, not even in New York, and I always dressed that way, it was the eighties. On that trip, to make matters both better and worse, I was with my sister, two years younger and universally acknowledged as the Shattuck sister with ‘the body’ in the family. She’s also thankfully a bit tougher than me. I remember being with her in Venice and leaning down to look in a window. I felt a whoosh of air over my back and turned to see a young man on his butt on the sidewalk shaking his head in disbelief. Turning the other way, I saw my sister shaking out her hand, she’d decked the guy for trying to pinch me. Served him right.
When I shot my first film in Rome, I was probably about 26 or 7. The film was called “Arena.” My character’s dresses were tailored for me to fit my then still frequently-seen-in-lingerie-ads body to within a quarter inch. My hair was no longer platinum, but still blonde, and piled full. Suffice to say, that on that film I was hired to sing, act evil, and be the bombshell.
Of course, I didn’t leave the set and hit the streets in full makeup and tight dresses. For one thing, I didn’t have my sister with me, and for another, you don’t have to tell me to put on some damn clothes more than five or six times when in the company of licensed Italian males. I knew by now that exposing anything above the knee or below the neck in Rome would have been begging for death by testosterone. As a result, I only went out wearing a bulky coat and a hat, (thankfully it was winter) but I still had that blonde hair and the basic shape of something with a waist.
And in Rome, that was all they needed. I was hooted at, whistled at, pinched, grabbed and fondled. And that was when I was with a friend. Going out alone, especially after dark—which you might sniff at, thinking I was inviting abuse, but most people, I believe, consider early evening the traditionally appropriate time for, oh, I don’t know…dinner—was just plain impossible No, that’s not a strong enough word, it was infuriating and left me limp with the need to punch one of those arrogant, macho assholes right in his kissy-smacking face. I vowed to never again visit a Latin country without my baby sister.
One night, I was grabbed so many times before I’d made it two blocks that I finally spun around and took swing at a guy in the middle of a crosswalk. He ducked it, but left in a hurry. I returned to the hotel and told the concierge, almost in tears, how badly the men behaved and how awful it was. This cultured, dignified man looked at me with a complete lack of understanding and said, “But it’s a compliment, yes?”
I’m not sure exactly what the voltage was of the vengeful lightning bolts that shot from my eyes when I glared back at him, but it was enough to make his pupils pop forward like a cartoon and his hair stand on end before he suddenly found something really important to do behind his desk.
I was even leered at by the police, so no help or surprises there. The feeling of being abused and discounted as a human being is something that I will never forget. I can still feel the rage and the fury now. How the Italian women put up with it, I will never know. Not all the men were like that of course, please don’t be offended if you are Italian and you behaved like a gentleman. There are plenty of you out there, but I’m just saying that the first thing my Italian girlfriends taught me was how to swear at an offensive man in the street. I remember most of it—pretty rancid stuff, but standard survival procedure for a single girl on the streets of Rome.
But apparently my friends teamed up with other Italian women and decided enough was enough, because things began to change. I noticed it more and more when I returned year after year. There was less leering and more appreciative nodding. I was actually thrown off, ready for a fight that didn’t come. Like taking a swing and not connecting, you lose your balance. It left me off kilter, I would gear up to face off with a group of approaching street venders and then they would just smile and said “Ciao.” I felt like I’d been on a boat for too long and the ground was moving when it should be still. It wasn’t unpleasant, just disorienting. Who were these guys?
Then, a few years ago, my husband and I brought our daughters to Italy. In Rome, the shameless catcalling was much less frequent, but hubby still kept a close eye out, walking behind the girls, then 9 and 14 watching for the occasional man he caught sneering and cracking his knuckles to prepare for a pinch. Too focused on my daughters, the man would be caught off guard by my meaty hubby when he barked a loud, aggressive, “Ciao.” But after one quick, surprised glance up at him, (my husband has a look that I would best describe as ‘serious,’ not a man to pick a fight with) and the would be fondler’s hands would dive back in his pockets and the puckering kissy-mouth turn to innocent whistling as he suddenly found something else really important to do.
We continued on to Venice, where the behavior of the male population, traditionally an improvement over Rome, was none-the-less also proportionately better. At one point, our girls were crossing a bridge ahead of us and a group of handsome Gondoliers turned and watched them appreciatively, but respectfully. Another group of younger boys on the other side of the bridge looked up, saw the girls, and very politely burst into applause.
That was sweet, I thought. No lady minds an accolade. I wanted to wave and bow and say, “Thank you, thank you, no really you’ve been too kind. Don’t forget to tip your waitress.” They are, of course, my babies.
And on this trip, though only in Venice, my gorgeous, blonde14 year old was not once treated with anything but chaste kindness. Hallelujah.
So attitudes have changed here in Italy, yet something feels not quite right, I sense a disturbance in the force, a kind of absence of malevolent spirit. It’s odd, that vacancy, and it took me a while to place why I would miss something so egregious as bad behavior. And then I got it. I don’t miss it, but I never got an apology. As glad as I am that the character of the Italian men has evolved and classed up, it just isn’t right, this growing equality. I mean, can we move from enduring cave man techniques straight into accepting them as gentlemen?
I think not. History tells us that there is something between abuse and acceptance. A period of anger, of retribution, of carefully planned espionage and revolt, these are the things that result in real social change.
The women need a turn. I refuse to accept that the men just get away with years of behaving abominably, that they pay nothing for past sins. I’m a Scorpio, I don’t forgive without a little preliminary revenge, think of it as a blood type. So, after careful consideration and many secret meetings with the females of this fine country, here is our master plan.
We get a decade.
There are many beautiful women in Italy, I mean some real goddesses. But, the percentage of hot women to hot men is tiny. Now when I use ‘hot’ here, I mean in the magazine-slash-TV mass-consumption sense, because of course, there is beauty in so many different kinds of looks, but for the purposes of this blog we’re talking ‘hot’ in that socially stupid, foot slapping, tongue lolling, crotch seam-adjusting, ‘there’s no telling where all my money went but she was wearing most of it when she ditched me’ kind of way.
Yes, there are ‘hot’ Italian women, but a much larger percentage of the men in Italy are frigg’n smok’n. I mean, well, most of them; the bartenders, the guys unloading the sodas from the barges, the garbage men. Sweet Cesar, I’m talking searing dark eyes with lashes any woman would kill for, perfect olive skin, Roman noses, and full mouths, strong jaws. You know, the classic Roman wrestling sculpture.
So, we propose that the ladies get to hoot and holler and make kissy faces, and pinch bottoms, and grab at whatever they want for ten years.
I mean, it seems only fair.
And you know me, I’m all about justice.
We’ve decided that all the single women will start behaving badly tomorrow, tourists get to play too. Thankfully, I’m happily married to my manly man, and now that my revolution planning work is done, I will busy myself making sure he knows how much I appreciate him.
The weird thing is, I’m just not sure that the men will mind being leered at and grabbed. But, hey, I’ll feel better just knowing the ladies are finally getting theirs.
So pucker up girls, get ready to squeeze.
The decade of the Donna is upon us.
Shari, March 5, 2013