(Sailing onboard the brand new Regent Seven Seas Explorer as your on-camera ambassador of safety procedure)
After two cruise ship contracts in Europe, I’ve chosen Italy as my second-favorite country. The singsong, “buongiorno” chiming through their greetings, the aromatic fresh pesto on heavy plates of gnocchi, the old alleyways with linens drooping from every window—these things make me happy. If you’re a woman, though, you’d better pack some earplugs. The bliss is disrupted by constant badgering…from men.
A previous version of this post failed to mention that I have been COMPLETELY COVERED FROM HEAD TO TOE this past week. I'm compelled to make that crystal clear, because one of my first readers' comments was essentially saying, "well, it's not appropriate to wear sundresses and skimpy clothing in certain cultures, you may have offended them" (I'm paraphrasing/rewriting for effect btw). This is NOT a post about wanting to wear itty bitty shorts and being upset that the locals got mad, which is an entirely different conversation. This is a post about SIMPLY BEING A WOMAN IN NORMAL CLOTHES and being harassed on the daily--punished, even--JUST for being a woman. I boarded the Regent Seven Seas Explorer at the Fincantieri shipyard in Genova, Italy, to host a new safety video this week. Old memories from previous contracts here rushed back, as I readied myself to deal with staring, neck-craning, inappropriate cat-calling, pointing, laughing, hooting, and the general sense of being treated like a Thing. Some of these guys have absolutely no shame. Is there some Italian saying I don’t know about that goes: He Who Bothers Her Most, Wins? These guys spend a lifetime sharpening the skill of “Just Letting You Know I’m Interested”. Whether alone, or traveling in groups, some of these guys will stop whatever they’re doing for any chance to interact with a female. Walking down the pool deck past a group of carpenters solicits a chorus of sounds as though the guys were being struck down. “Aaaahh!” “Mio Dio!” “Come bella!” “Aye, no!” *wolf whistle* *wolf whistle* *wolf whistle*. I'm in long pants, a long-sleeved floor dusting sweater and a black beanie hat covering my head, I thought. In July. What the heck gives? I know I've referenced Family Guy too recently to mention it again, but I know you've seen this one. Peter decides he can speak Italian, and he just starts gesturing wildly while yelling, “BOPPIDY BIPPIDY? BOPPIDY BIPPIDY!!!!” It’s kind of like that. But not funny. Women can’t stroll around casually without igniting passion, as though her sole purpose of the day was to provide pleasure for the men. “BOPPIDY BIPPIDY?? BOPPIDY BIPPIDY!!!!”
It’s enough to make me want to wear horse blinders. Are we supposed to keep oxygen tanks on hand, just in case they start suffocating? I mean, if somebody accidentally pounded a nail through a palm and cried out, everyone else would just look up to find the boobs. And as their on-camera ambassador of safety, I can safely say, that’s not safe at all. In the United States, this would never fly. I hope you never visit New York City, I thought to myself today after one guy told me in English to “smile”. You would need pliers to get the Doc Martin out of your little Italian rump. According to their onboard magazine, Alitalia just hired a famous Italian stylist, Ettore Bilotta, to overhaul the stewardess uniforms. The mission was to bring an old-school sense of femininity to the new look, which I thought he achieved brilliantly. Pencil skirts, nipped-in waists, scarves looped around the neck, darling hats and leather satchels drew together an image I try to emulate myself in my own personal style. I loved it.
At home, I’ve never experienced negative treatment as a consequence of dressing in a ladylike, vintage style. I can easily go between old-school femininity and modern rocker chic, and no one treats me differently. Clothing at home doesn’t feel like a reflection of “place” or “ability” or society’s idea of where I belong. Now that I’m back in Italy again, re-experiencing this negative treatment, I’m beginning to wonder: is this type of stewardess uniform just another way to reinforce the misogyny of certain guys? What an awful (The new Alitalia air hostess uniforms, designed by Ettore Bilotta)
thought, to leave behind a beloved way of dress simply because a few young men were never properly taught to master their Cro-Magon
impulses. I brought plenty of ladylike, appropriate dresses on this trip. Below knee-length,
appropriate in almost any culture type-dresses. But I didn't wear them
until we actually sailed away from Italy, because I didn't really want to look like a girl. I got harassed anyway, though, even covered from head to toe. That sucks!
And let me reiterate: none of the clothing I was wearing was "sexy". I don't think these Alitalia uniforms are scandalous, either, or too "forward", or give any idea of wantonness. This isn't about flashing skin in short skirts, and baring breasty necklines. It's about feeling punished for being a woman, even in an appropriate pair of long pants!
I look at this photo and ponder the image of the hostess leaning down with her mirror to help her friend apply lipstick. It's adorable, and I'd want to be involved in a photo shoot like this. But what is it really like to be an Alitalia air hostess, wearing this while serving men? Does a head-turning, feminine fashion statement make the workday more difficult than it would be in a uniform that is simply functional?
I'm dying to know what the ladies think.
I LOVE this uniform...but I just don't know if I would like wearing it every day in Italy. When my videographer reminded me so aptly, “It’s not the culture. Those particular guys are just assholes”, I thought, True. But are the people doing enough to stop the negative behaviors of the ignorant few? Many other people I've met here are the epitome of class and loveliness. How do the others miss the memo? For those who haven't learned better, there is simply NO excuse for attempting to diminish half of the population as a pastime. It's NOT cool, I AM going to call it out, and I DO expect more as a modern woman.
Are attitudes changing in Italy? I have no idea. In the meantime, I’ll brush up on Italian words and phrases. That way, I can at least have some control over the conversation.