Unlike in North America, where marking March 8 is a newer phenomenon, in Italy there's a longstanding tradition of celebrating International Women's Day. One of the loveliest customs is the widespread practice of giving women mimosa flowers. When I first came to live here, I was delighted by the attention paid to this day. The most common way for women to celebrate in Italy is by going out for a night on the town just with their girlfriends. No men allowed - unless you count the ones, say, performing a strip tease.
I passed quickly from being highly amused by this sex-positive, role-reversing tradition to feeling saddened when I realized that many of these women aren't actually allowed, or don't allow themselves, to do this on any other day of the year.
I'll just let that sink in.
So I get why so many women are also disdainful of celebrating this day in Italy. Participating in this ritual can feel like you're saying it's okay we only respect women on one day of the year. For a long time, for this reason, I didn't do anything to mark it either.
In recent years, however, and not coincidentally as I've become increasingly vocal and active about my feminism, I have come to realize that this is precisely why we MUST continue to celebrate it. We need to mark International Women's Day to say we are not okay with the status quo.
- We are not okay with how women continue to be marginalized.
- We are not okay with how our children are being raised and socialized according to preposterously strict gender rules.
- We are not okay with the cultural silence that surrounds domestic abuse.
- We are not okay with how the media uses women's bodies.
- We are not okay with the fact that public space remains overwhelmingly male.
This year, if you are in Florence, and if you are a man or a woman, I invite you to join me in marking the Festa della Donna by participating in these two fantastic events.
On March 8, come help support the Artemisia women's shelter in Florence by attending Women Supporting Women, now in its third year. From noon until 10:30pm the work of Italian and foreign women artisans will be on sale at the Convitto della Calza, Piazza della Calza 6. All of the 12 euro fee for the evening aperitivo will go to Artemisia, as will a percentage of the sales.
Stock up on original, handmade gifts while supporting those who are actively fighting domestic violence in Italy.
Secondly, at 11am on Sunday, March 15 at the Caffe Letterario Le Murate, check out the screening of the short documentary Rename, Reclaim: Women in Italian Streets, the new English subtitled version of the film Strade: femminile plurale, recently translated by yours truly and Molly McIlwrath. We will both be there to present the film, along with Alice Trippi of the Rete 13 Febbraio of Pistoia and activist of Corpo delle donne fame Lorella Zanardo.
If you're feeling at all weighed down by the widespread pessimism and need your hope for Italy restored, come and watch this inspiring story of effective grassroots activism - an example of something that is going very right in this wonderful, complicated country.