Running in Italy, from a hopeful Feminist

Let me preface by stating that I believe we still need feminism. On the spectrum of just how desperately we need it, let me tell you that the situation in Italy is critical. Italy has made me more and more grateful for America in all its progress. (Paradoxical sigh). But, seriously. Let this comparison of my typical running experience in America vs. Italy show you just how much my femme heart bleeds for Italy. P.S. Mom, don’t freak out, I’m safe I promise.

Running along the Olentangy trail on a warm, July evening in Columbus, Ohio–if I happened to pass or be passed by any men, the most interaction we had would be innocuous eye contact, maybe a friendly smile. If I happened to pass that one guy in the neighborhood who I nicknamed “super encouraging high-five guy”, at the most, I might receive the occasional shigh-five. Note: It was not uncommon for me to see many other women running alone or in pairs at all hours of the day or evening.

Running in the park in Florence, Italy, always during the mid-morning or early afternoon–quite a different story. Let’s take today for example. My husband drops me off on the scooter so that I can get in a long run while he goes to work. Not 30 seconds after he rides away and moments before I can put in my headphones and take off, an old man starts in on the comments. “CHE BELLISSIMA GIORNATA DI SOLE, EH? HAI DELLE GAMBE TONICHE DA BELLEZZA, FAI GINNASTICA?” // What a beautiful sunny day, huh? You have extremely toned legs of beauty, do you work out? LONG sigh. Same day same run, later on, I get a “CIAO BELLA” from a guy on a bicycle and more once-overs than I cared to pay attention to. Other times I’ve gotten whistles, and more than once I’ve had men come up to pass me on bikes from behind and openly stare backwards as they pass. Once an old man stopped me to give unsolicited advice on correcting my running form and said some more bella-bullshit. Considering that I have only lived in Italy roughly 4 months and have taken more than a month off of running in that time– you can estimate for yourselves how frequently this sort of incident occurs. At the beginning, I would get so irritated and it would be the only thing I could concentrate on during my runs, making me miserable, obviously.

Considering that I have only lived in Italy roughly 4 months and have taken more than a month off of running in that time– you can estimate for yourselves how frequently this sort of incident occurs. At the beginning, I would get so irritated and it would be the only thing I could concentrate on during my runs, making me miserable, obviously. I rarely come across other women running by themselves, but they are out there and I try and make a concerted effort to smile at them as we pass one another. I’ve been fed up and I’ve argued this up and down with my husband, who told me my options were these: either I could strategically try and go running at times of the day when there are less “GUARDONI” // “watchers”; I could stop running outdoors and run on his mom’s treadmill; I could always wait to go running when we could go together, or, I could choose to stop caring and look down as I passed and keep running.

I can’t say that I enjoy running with the same freedom as I had in the U.S. and my options of where and when I can run are much more limited. I try to remember all my tried and true culture shock mantras: I’m on their turf and I have to play by their rules, I can’t change Italy, and it’s different, not stupid. But I gotta tell you, despite all this crap and despite the fact that culturally, it is still really rare to see Italian women running for exercise, I have to keep running. This is for me and my sanity, but this is also for them. I’m not even interested in trying to change Italian men, but every woman I see running that smiles back reinforces that we’re allowed to be here and that we have to fight for it together.

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3 thoughts on “Running in Italy, from a hopeful Feminist

  1. This is awesome!
    It is very different being a women in Italy. Whistling and cat calling is basically part of the culture. It can be very uncomfortable visiting when you are not exposed to all the watchers and weirdos.
    Glad you wrote this.

    1. I absolutely agree! My husband is always saying, “Italy is this way, it will always be this way”, which is kind of disheartening. I am trying to get used to this as a part of my permanent life and it’s definitely not easy.

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