July 04, 2011

Spain vs Italy, gender relations

A couple of years ago Spain overtook Italy in the GDP per head – something unthinkable 30 or even 20 years ago. In fact, when I first visited Spain in 1994 I could not avoid the unconfessable impression that the Spanish were our poorer cousins: very similar, but a bit old-fashion or run-down, simpler, less smart, in dirtier cities and with more provincial attitudes. Well, now it’s better not to compare Naples with any Spanish city...

But the field were the Spanish have overtaken the Italians at fasted speed is not the economy, fashion, cuisine, football or urban management. It is gender relations. Spain, with until just 35 years ago the most retrograde regime and Church in Europe, has gender parity in the government, fast growing female employment rate, gay marriages. In Italy, 35 years ago at the forefront of women movements, machismo has been elevated to a government ideology, female employment is stagnating as the lowest in the EU, and just forget about civic marriages or gay marriages: hate violence against gays is on the increase and there is no regulation against homophobia. As Teresa Jurado and Manuela Naldini have shown in a recent joint Italo-Spanish paper (“Towards a Dual-Earner Family Model: Italy and Spain in Comparison”, SASE Conference 2011), for a complex set of reasons gender arrangements are much more ‘modern’ in Spain than in Italy.

That calls into question Italian men. They are an easy target for any sort of jokes, stereotypes and denigration. When these come from Northern Europeans, an Italian man can just smile and perseverate in the secret belief that such denigration only betrays protestant repression, industrial-society frustration or just simple envy of ‘our’ (supposed) capacity to enjoy food, music, flirts, sensuality. But when it comes from Spanish cousins, the criticism cuts much deeper.

Take the brilliant article by Elvira Lindo in yesterday’s El País, ‘Berlusconeando’. She describes the Italian men she sees in Rome (of course, in Milan it would be different!) and she sees many Belusconis: ‘I must say that they are extremely likeable to the sight, that included the ugly are handsome, even more, I’d say the ugliest are the most handsome (...); but that beauty does not blinds me I often meet a male self-esteem that is very Berlusconian’. On an honest note, Lindo concludes that she also sees many Rajoys and Camps in Spain, but that is not as demeaning on Spanish men than the Berlusconi charge on the Italian.

I will postpone in-depth observations of Italy to the time I go there later this year. But it needs to be added that the incredibly fast women emancipation and cultural change in Spain have also produced what seems a strong case of what feminism calls ‘male backlash’. Women are getting their way in the economy and in politics, but at the margins some men are escaping in the worst ways. Spain has been described, for instance by The Independent, as the ‘world’s capital of prostitution’, and even if statistics on this topic are by nature unreliable, what anybody can observe is how prostitution is pervades Spanish life. Even a serious and progressive paper like El País has pages of sex services classified ads every day: I can’t imagine not just The Independent, die FAZ, Gazeta Wyborcza or Le Monde doing the same – even for Repubblica or Corriere della Sera it is unthinkable. Even worse, Spain has bas records for domestic violence. And when the fight in the Socialist Party for Zapatero succession came to the tie between Carme Chacón and Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, it also took a strong traditional-gendered tone, with her in tears and him boasting his sporting career. But then again, at least the Spanish government takes domestic violence seriously, and hgh number may reflect higher reporting; Carme Chacón has been a strong minister of defence; and indeed the Spanish prime minister is unlikely to invite underage prostitutes to his home.


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