MAMMA’S DIARY – DIARIO DI MAMMA
Francesca Di Meglio © Photo by Antonio Gerenini
How ironic that today, Oct. 11, is the International Day of the Girl. This annual event is meant to bring attention to women’s issues and help women find their voices to lead the charge. In the days leading up to this day, Americans have once again had to face up to powerful men mistreating women. Actually, “mistreatment” is an overwhelming understatement.
This time the story was about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who is caught on tape admitting to sexual assault. In addition, he has had numerous famous Hollywood actresses, staff, and others accuse him of sexual harassment and even rape. His disgusting behavior was a joke in Hollywood for years, and no one stood up for these women. Even the Manhattan district attorney and New York Police Department appear to have given him a pass.
Same Old Story
In the last year, we’ve seen this same story play out with numerous other wildly successful men, including Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, and Roger Ailes. People get on TV and express outrage. They defend women with their words. Commentators applaud them and insist this is a turning point in history. Women are finally getting the respect they deserve.
But are we? For starters, where were these people when the abuse was actually happening? None of them knew? It’s suspect. Did any of them speak up to defend these women then? These same people continue to elect men – to the presidency no less – who allegedly abuse women. Now, both Democrats and Republicans have done this by voting for Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. Apparently, we can be bipartisan.
Women still earn less than men. We are not well represented in the halls of government. None of us have been elected president. The government just took away our easier access to birth control. It’s trying to take away other forms of women’s health care. We say we appreciate and respect mothers, but we don’t pay attention to anything they need. Child care costs are astronomical, and maternity leave might exist on paper but not necessarily in reality. I could go on. The bottom line is we all have blood on our hands.
See the Women All Around You
As I age, I’ve noticed that the real problem is no one hears or even sees the women all around them. Open your eyes to the invisible woman. She might be sitting right beside you. Somewhere along the way, the world decided it didn’t care what she had to say. No one gave credence to what she wanted to be. Everyone ignored her opinions, desires, and even needs. Worst of all, some of the vile among us took advantage of her vulnerability. They abused her or at least showed apathy in the face of her plight. Now, she speaks but no words come out. She is me. She is you. She is every woman.
We tell our daughters to be strong. We emblazon “Girl Boss” across their chest. We host days such as this to empower our girls. But we fail to tell them the basics about what that really means and how challenging the struggle will actually be. The era of Mad Men never ended. The men just hid their behaviors and forced the women into secret shame.
Where It All Begins
Last weekend I was with my cousins’ children. Three of them are young women in their senior year of high school. We are sending them off to college in less than a year. It has me thinking about the turning points in a woman’s life, beginning with high school graduation.
I attended the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. more than 20 years ago now. Early on in my time there I recognized that the road for women was still steep and blocked at many turns. One of the first assignments I had for the college newspaper was to cover the annual Take Back the Night rally. This is when young women – and a few progressive men – march through the streets to draw attention to women’s issues. Specifically, they want to call out the domestic violence, sexual harassment and abuse, and rape that is still too pervasive in our culture. Those marches usually take place around this time of year.
When I Started to Disappear
On that fateful night in 1996, I listened to the stories of young women who experienced violence and rape. And I learned of the infamous shoe trees that lined a street of fraternity houses. The women said the shoes represented every time two fraternity brothers had sex with the same woman. The accusation lit a fire on campus that lasted pretty much the entire four years I studied there.
Men insisted the women were hysterical, even if some of them admitted the true meaning of the shoes. In continuing to report on the fraternities on campus, I experienced the intimidation of some of the fraternities firsthand. Members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity met me at their door for an interview. They were certain to position themselves on the top of the steps and left me beneath them on a lower step. They were always in a group of two or three whenever they talked to me. They kept their arms folded and stood up to block my view and keep me beneath them.
You Can’t Knock Us Down
Already much larger than I was, the men seemed like giants. And then they would respond to my questions by accusing me of being the problem. They told me to stop writing about this. After all, the media is to blame for the fact that they reportedly had rigged their bedroom doors, so women who walked in could not get out.
At the time, regardless of the numerous violations against the fraternity and the fact that the university no longer recognized it as a formal group, the national office of SAE continued to support the young men. These are adults, who oversee the individual chapters. And they would not listen to young women or other adults running the George Washington University.
Back then, Bill Clinton was in the White House just a few blocks from our campus. He was taking advantage of his position of power to have sex with a young intern, not much older than I was. Soon, my friends and I with brown hair would be photographed on the off chance that one of us was Monica Lewinsky whenever we went to the Watergate to get groceries. For my internship, I had to stand in a line at a bookstore for hours to pick up the The Starr Report filled with sensational details of the President’s sexual affair. I began to lose faith.
How I Vanished
For years, I believed in the power of the pen. I thought uncovering these ugly truths would bring about change. That was more than 20 years ago. Nothing has changed. In fact, it might have gotten worse. In college, I started to morph into a ghost. You could still see me, but I was starting to disappear. As my heart grew, my voice became smaller. Fewer people paid attention to my words. I wasn’t used to it.
Then, I wed an Italian, who I love deeply. We have a relationship based on mutual respect. He loves me, too. We support each other’s pursuits, including career. But you have to compromise in a relationship. Unfortunately, the Italian-American culture is still imperfect. It’s a battle of the sexes in some instances. Once I put on a wedding ring, even fewer people cared what I had to say. What was left of my apparition was becoming fainter.
Motherhood As Silencer
Once I gave birth to a child – a miracle and perhaps the greatest physical feat anyone can accomplish – I completely disappeared once and for all. What’s crazier is that’s about the time your words come into focus. It’s the sweet spot when you understand the struggle of your mother and her mother and her mother. It’s the moment when your purpose becomes so significant that you almost can’t bear the weight on your shoulders. Becoming a mother is when you feel compelled to lift up your voice and shove it out into the world. After all, nothing you’ve said or done up to this point has mattered so much.
It’s About to Get Noisy Up in Here
So, I spoke. I yelled. But all anyone heard was the muffled mutterings of a mother. Who cares what she thinks anyway? Yet, we are listening to disgusting men who put their hands on women without permission and hide behind their money and so-called achievements. We allow them to walk free after they perpetrated despicable crimes. They took away the sense of security and perhaps even the confidence of young women. Still, we put them in charge of our lives. We allow them to lead our children, our country.
We listened as President Donald Trump suggested he could grab a woman’s privates simply because he was rich and famous. It was the height of arrogance and inequality. Yet, we made him our President. Clearly, we still don’t even consider what mom thinks. She remains invisible. Oops, it looks like I’m speaking up again. I’M SCREAMING, IN FACT. Are you finally willing to listen?
Di Meglio is the author of Fun with the Family New Jersey (Globe Pequot Press, 2012). She also has written the Our Paesani column for ItaliansRus.com since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10.