When living in the United States, it is easy to believe that everywhere all of the expectations about gender are the same. These expectations include that women have the same rights and educational benefits as men, that “courtship” follows the same guidelines, or that everyone has the same view on what sexual harassment is. In short, neither gender has overwhelming power over the other.
The time I fully realized how the gender norms are more diverse and intricate than I imagined was at a meeting after school. I was not going just anywhere – I was going to Italy! I had signed up for the trip through my Latin class, and on a Thursday or Tuesday each month we travelers and adult chaperones got together and discussed Italy and what we needed to do to prepare for the trip.
At the last meeting, the chaperones notified all the girls to meet in a secluded corner at the end of the lesson to discuss “feminine subjects.” Great. All of us girls slowly made our way to the location. Two of our female sponsors met us there. At once they launched into a sermon about feminine products. Soon, however, the topic changed to the issue of Italian men and their interest in young women. Men in Italy had the freedom to pinch those they liked. To watch out for such characters, we girls could not smile at them (or it would only encourage them), and could only walk about in groups. We were especially encouraged to have a male escort accompany us.
I was outraged. Just because the Italians can at any time hit on us, we girls had to give up our own freedom and endure it!?! They were usurping our control, power we had over ourselves and our movements!
On the trip, however, some of my fears were put to rest. No man actually pinched us. We could walk about in groups without a male friend or teacher and come out mostly unscathed. The most we got were stares and flirtations through words. Maybe men did not have as much control as I thought they did in Italy. Maybe women were gaining power, having control over their surroundings and the attitudes of men. I hope this is the real answer, and not just because in my limited power as a foreign female visitor I was oblivious to the power wars between the two sexes.
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