Becoming a mother is one of the most extraordinary experiences a woman can live. Able to rewrite the world around her: when we have a child, together with maturity and responsibility, a sense of fullness, of integrity pervades us.
Most of the time, however, the path is rough. For many, ‘becoming a mother’ is a test of courage, all the more so in times and places that do not know how to detach themselves from a patriarchal vision, both of the family and of the social fabric.
Compared to the Nordic countries, Italy is a country of mama’s boy. And not in a good way. It is in the sense that the mother is a figure of guarantee, a free port in whose arms a multitude of children (even overgrown) is sure to always find love and consolation. The staple of the family. Too firm, sometimes. And it is not convenient for women often put in a position to say no to their aspirations to give reason to tradition. The Italians are asked to arrange the day, to divide between mother’s work and woman’s work. Many for fear of losing a sweaty place postpone the choice, many end up not doing it anymore. There is a shortage of real services in support of the female world. And in the South the situation is worsening.
Se vogliamo più italiani, se vogliamo più bambini, il nostro oggi è un sistema da ripensare. Un pensiero condiviso della giornalista e scrittrice Paola Setti, autrice di Non è un paese per mamme – Appunti per una rivoluzione possibile (Edizioni All Around), viaggio-inchiesta nel mondo delle mamme italiane. If we want more Italians, if we want more children, ours today is a system to rethink. A shared thought of the journalist and writer Paola Setti, author of Non è un paese per mamme –Appunti per una rivoluzione possibile – It’s not a country for women – Notes for a possible revolution (All Around Edition), a journey-inquiry into the world of Italian mothers.
Paola Setti focuses a candid light on what it means to be women in Italy. A book full of testimonials. Of mothers and workers who struggle to keep themselves afloat. But they are pages also addressed to men, sent – urged – to be more present, as dads and as husbands.
Non è un paese per mamme and invites us to think, to take note that the socio-cultural torpor must be overcome if in the future we care about preserving well-being and serenity. On Mother’s Day, Paola Setti gives us this exclusive interview to talk about how the project was born and to say – guarantee – to Italian mothers that a revolution is possible.
Where and how did the idea of writing this book come from?
When I became a mother I worked in Milan but I had the whole family, including my partner, in Genoa. The company for which I had worked with passion and commitment for over ten years did not meet me in any way with respect to this difficulty. So I quit, throwing away years of study and hard work, and a job in which I was very good. Then I looked around and realized that I was not alone: 30 thousand women a year leave work because they are not put in a position to reconcile work and family. I wrote this book to give a voice to these women: those who leave work because they have the “guilt” of having children, those who manage work and children at the price of an immense effort, those who do not make children because they have no grandparents to be enslaved or money to be given to nannies, those who work at such a pace that their children do not see them grow. This book starts from me but it is a journey-investigation into Italy, to tell the anomalous normality of Italian women, from motherhood to gender equality, and to gather ideas to change everything.
Is having a child a luxury or an act of courage nowadays?
Unfortunately both. Making a child costs. If you don’t have grandparents who can help you full time, you find yourself having to pay very high fees at the nursery but also a nanny. There are women who leave work because they do not find it convenient, economically, to work and pass the salary on to structures and babysitters: 30 out of 100 leave work for family reasons and only 4 out of 10 resume their activity. Then there are women who cannot leave work. And then either they have children at the price of very high efforts, with all due respect to the Constitution which in article 37 dictates the need to support working mothers in conciliation. Or they give up having children. In all cases it is a serious violation of a right. And the result is a worrying denatality: women have 1.3 children each, although they desire 2.
Life of mother and life of career woman are compatible?
In Italy very little. If you wallpaper the famous crystal roof you do it at the price of seeing your children grow up in passing. I interviewed managers who told me about how husbands raised their children, others who at some point in their career quit because they were transforming themselves, as one of them called them, into “ATM mothers”, who to the children who maybe visit them at the office they say “Sorry but I don’t have time now, here is your credit card”. An injustice, because everyone should have the right to make a career and be with their children at the same time.
According to research conducted by Valore D for the purpose of analyzing the world of work in Italy in the face of the Coronavirus emergency, smart working does not seem to be “smart” for women at all. It is estimated that one in three women is even more difficult. What do you think about it?
I think that smart working could be a great tool for conciliation, but certainly the mentality of Italians should change. Men should stop thinking that if the wife is at home she will think of everything, making the beds as well as bringing her own wages home. And women themselves should get out of that kind of approach to home and family management that always sees them as protagonists, all too often even centralizing, as if being alone to carry on the galley and housework was basically a power .
In your book you write that the situation of us mothers could change if the world of work renounced the male-dominated model in favor of the parental model. What do you mean precisely by parenting model?
The gender inequality, from the pay gap to the layoffs of women who become mothers, would be greatly reduced if one stopped thinking that raising children is up to women only and men are also responsible. I am only thinking of mandatory paternity leave. If instead of lasting only a week they lasted five months, perhaps employers would stop thinking of women as those who, having children, will become a problem for the company when they go away, because the same absence would also affect men. On the other hand, fathers would be put in a position, as much as mothers, to exercise their right to be parents. Right that today in Italy is harmed, because men are expected to always give priority to the rhythms of work rather than to the daily needs of the family.
Is there a testimony among those you collected in the book that particularly impressed you?
The book is divided into two. A first part of testimonies and one of notes to make the revolution. In the first part, I like to remember Katya, who had four children and lost her job four times, and every time she looked for him at the interviews, she found her nose turn up in front of her commitment as a mother multiplied by four. And Maura, squeezed in the press between an elderly mother with Alzheimer’s disease and a small girl being treated at Gaslini for a long-term illness. They impressed me because they told me about their difficulties without anger or despair, but with the strength of resilience. In the second part of the book I loved Antonella Di Bartolo, the principal who created the comprehensive school of Brancaccio from scratch, a very difficult neighborhood in Palermo, convinced that we must start from school to build a better future for our children, but also a present worthy for moms. And then Amalia Ercoli Finzi, the mother of the Rosetta mission, who told me about her adventurous life as a star and spacecraft scholar and mother of four boys. But also some enlightened men, two managers and a lawyer, who each in their own field are leading our own battle.
The revolution is made with males. How can we make them participate, let’s say, more co-responsible?
In a quarter of Italian couples, the man does not carry out any domestic tasks and over 40% of fathers do not spend any time looking after their children. In the family, men even delegate the care of their parents to women. Interviewed on gender equality, 90 percent say they support it, but when you go into detail and ask them if it is right to vacuum every now and then, 70 percent say no. Attitude that men bring to the workplace: in the book I describe a job interview with an entrepreneur who says to me: “In this company the problem is the c…, because they all get pregnant. You don’t make children anymore, do you? “. Fortunately, there are also some enlightened young people who want to see their right to become a father recognized, managers who fight against the pay gap and for gender equality. It is from them that we must start again. Positive actions are needed that force and guide the cultural attitude of society in another direction.
Why do you think moms’ situation is so different in the Nordic countries?
In the countries of Northern Europe the revolution has taken place. Positive actions by governments have guided the cultural front towards a gender equality horizon. Just to say, at 4pm everyone leaves work, women and men, because being with family is considered a value: in Norway if you stay to work when others go out you are looked at with suspicion, it means that you cannot organize your work in the right way and that does not give values to your family. I’m not saying it’s easy, I’m saying it’s possible. There are many solutions: shifts, vertical part time, teleworking. Others can invent it. We encourage companies to activate co-woking and smart working and to eliminate the pay gap, we redesign cities and homes for women: as Annalisa Marinelli tells me in the book, mothers know more than urban planners!
How important is it to network mothers to change the situation, and how to make it possible?
Networking is crucial: the women I interviewed and many of those who read the book thanked me for being a collector and giving them a voice, because the situation is known to everyone, only for granted that it cannot change. But it is also important to reason with males, especially those, so to speak, of the “latest generation”, who are undoubtedly more attentive to their role as fathers and companions. On how to bring about the change I want to say something that may seem absurd but of which I am more than convinced: we must use this long emergency from Covid-19, which is forcing us to rethink our whole life. As we invent new ways to live safely, we can rethink the whole organization of work and conciliation. It took a pandemic to activate smart working, lengthen parental leave, provide financial support to families for babysitters and essentially put us all in a position to manage work and family without giving up on careers or parenting. Let’s start from here, without dispersing this wealth of positive experiences.
Finally, an advice that you feel you should give to an Italian new mother …
Don’t give up. Do not compromise on leaving work in the face of difficulties, but neither on giving up one’s role as a mother. Seek the support of the community where you live, networking between families. Fight for your rights and report abuse, always. Put a vacuum cleaner in your husband’s hand: the term queen of the house is a scam, probably invented by the Prince Charming. Let’s end the story and take back the freedom to be anything we want, moms present and career women. Yes it can.