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A Woman’s Role: Changes in Cagli

by Emily Wirth

Elena's Profile PictureA friendly Italian bar is tucked inside the cold and damp stones of a 17th century palace. Inside, the sounds of milk being steamed and customers chatting greet all who enter. A smiling young woman welcomes patrons with a “Ciao.” One after the other, customers walk away with smiles, fondly remembering their server. Elena Luchini has worked at her family’s bar for 20 years. She is known and respected by many. She loves her job and plans to use her modern Italian perspective to make this business thrive.

Who is the modern Italian woman? Americans see her as beautiful, goddess-like, and at the forefront of fashion. She is mesmerizing. But what is her role? Although they are greatly respected, Italian women have traditionally held fewer rights than men—a tradition which derives from the country’s strong historical ties to the Roman Catholic Church.

Elena is 29 years old and along with her brother Lorenzo, spends her days serving beverages and their mother’s famous antipasti and fresh pastries. She was born and raised in Cagli, and holds a degree in Journalism from Urbino University. She manages the bar, which was started by her parents in Old Cagli.

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Though Elena truly represents the ideal Italian female in her beauty and character, her education and successful career do not necessarily fit the traditional role women play in the culture. She is independent-minded, and her boyfriend helps her with household chores. One day when she has children, she hopes her husband will help raise them so she can continue to work.

Most of Elena’s friends from Cagli are highly educated, as well. The number of women attending universities in Italy is far higher than that of men, and women tend to perform better in examinations. However, they are rarely able to find jobs after receiving prestigious degrees. Although Elena is happy with her job and loves the contact she has with customers, she would also love to work in the field of journalism. This is difficult for her as a woman, even more so if she lacks recommendations from prestigious individuals.

If a woman does find a job, there are incentives for her to have children, but her bosses may lawfully tell her to avoid starting a family. A woman could be fired from her job if she refused to follow this request. “It happened to one of my friends. They did not tell her why she was fired, but everyone knew,” says Elena.

Most surprisingly, women are paid far less than men, even if they are more qualified. When a woman holds a powerful position in an organization, she is not usually respected by her male coworkers.  “They don’t accept that a woman can be more important than them,” Elena says.

Most Italian businesses are owned and operated by men, and politics are dominated by men, too. Many women feel that Silvio Berlusconi’s actions as Prime Minister are making it even harder for them to find work. Young ladies involved in his sex scandals are receiving positions of power in government.

Ironically, Berlusconi appointed a former erotic model—young and uneducated—as the Minister of Equal Opportunities. Maxim magazine named her the sexiest woman in world politics.

Elena is highly educated, fluent in four languages, and experienced in the business world, yet a young call girl has more opportunities than her.  This situation is often replicated, especially in large and prosperous corporations. A woman may experience difficulties finding work in the organization of her choice if she is unwilling to sacrifice her morals, and women like Elena would rather sacrifice their dreams.

Elena says she does have hope for the future. She sees how America elected an African-American president, and she hopes Italy, too, can soon learn to accept the underdogs as leaders. She thinks doors are opening for young girls. “Do anything you want but also have respect,” she says, adding that if women in Italy respect others and themselves there is hope for better opportunities.

Who is Elena’s inspiration in a world dominated by men? “I know everyone says this, but it’s my mother. She taught me everything. She worked hard and had three children.”


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