Doing Things Alone - As an Italian Girl: New Freedoms in an Ancient Culture
If I were to take one of those online quizzes in the likes of “which adjective best describes you?”, I don’t think “sociable” would be a particularly wrong answer. I have a lot of friends, I enjoy parties and, when introduced to somebody new, I can perform small talk pretty well. However, I don’t dislike some solitary activities such as a quiet Saturday night in with a movie and my cat, or waking up early to go for a swim. I like spending time alone, and doing things by myself, and apparently, this makes me a strange individual.
Here in Italy, going out alone is still something that doesn’t feel quite right, especially if you are a girl. Shopping, going for a walk, going to the theatre - all these are group activities in the opinion of the majority of people. To some extent I understand - a young girl who is alone in the streets is catcalled or harassed most of the time she walks or waits for the bus, and it’s a common fear that inappropriate words might turn into physical harassment. I was honked at for the first time around the time I reached puberty. I was walking to the local library to borrow a Harry Potter book. However, I am not of the opinion that boorish drivers are an acceptable reason to separate a girl from her basic right to walk to the library.
Being catcalled is so rooted in our Italian souls that girls don’t even get too upset about it, however, the sense of discomfort caused by whistles and vulgar appreciations is rarely perceived as “normal”, and we walk with a subtle fear in the background of our minds. So, the common tendency to hang out in groups is perhaps partly because of that. There is safety in numbers. Meeting acquaintances outside a shop in the city center instantly means having to answer the question “Are you alone?” (along with a surprised look). When none of your friends are free or interested in going to the cinema after dinner to watch a French film, it is common to think that it’s more appropriate to stay home instead of going out by yourself. Not to mention traveling alone: when I went on my first European road trip, I first flew to Spain by myself for a couple of days. My hostel mates, who I had just met, looked at me in dismay and asked me WHY I was alone. I was tempted to reply that I am delighted to be by myself, but I didn’t want to sound rude or start a whole conversation about it.
It’s always been like this: as a 13-year-old kid, these “outsider traits” fuelled some rumors about me such as “she’s a weirdo who always wears black and does seances” (21st century? Anyone?). Now, as a 25-year-old woman, nobody associates my independence with witchcraft tendencies, but still, you can sense some sort of judgment in people’s eyes when you tell them what you did that day with no one by your side. There is some kind of stigma lingering around this for women - being alone. If you have friends or a man, you are just not supposed to do things alone. If you have a boyfriend, he’s supposed to drive you or walk you home safe and sound after every date (don’t get me wrong, acts of kindness and chivalry are amongst the finest things in life - it’s the sense of obligation that a woman has to be accompanied like a child or a dog is just plain wrong).
A young girl’s independence is often seen as an anti-social trait. However, until proven otherwise, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it - I’m not hurting anyone and I’m clearly not hurting myself. There is a stigma embedded in the culture that must shift. I love being with other people as much as I love spending time alone - going shopping, going to the cinema, and going for a swim all by myself. Why should I feel like there’s something wrong with it? Why should I feel weird, self-conscious, or worse? That’s just not happening. Unescorted and proud. Sorry, not sorry.
by Chiara Maxia
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