The Homeland of Itzurza, the women of the novel by Alessio Vagaggini

The Homeland of Itzurza (La Patria di Itzurza in Italian) is the first novel by Alessio Vagaggini. The book has been published by Chance Edizioni in 2021.

The History, the stories, and women. The first has a strong and authoritarian voice, the seconds play a secondary role in the wider history, the thirds just get lost on the way.

But this book is not (just) about the events of a specific era, this is a novel. The three elements converge all along with the tale around four women, the main characters of the novel: Itzurza, Maria, Elena, and Clara. These women – so different between them – will face their identities and their choices in a Spain stuck between the future and the memory of the recent Franco-era which is well-rooted in the society.

The first word of the title – Homeland – indicates the relevance of places. What is the relevance of the location for this novel? Why did you choose Spain?

I have always thought that Spain is a perfect location for a novel because it is a country with a solid cultural connotation and characterized by a series of unresolved conflicts. From the independence issues of Basque and Catalans passing through the nostalgics of Franco’s dictatorship, which still produce effects in today’s society. Spain has always been deeply involved in these terms. This tension reflects well in the interior torments of the women of the novel.

Alessio Vagaggini - la Patria di Itzurza
Alessio Vagaggini - author of the Homeland of Itzurza (la Patria di Itzurza)

The main characters are all women, tell us more about them

“The Homeland of Itzurza” focuses on four female figures, four ordinary women in their lives but unique for the message that each of them wants to launch. The historical context is the background to see these lives living so differently from each other. Itzurza is the archetype of a woman who tries to impose herself in a highly male-dominated society. Through male activities such as war, she will enter a terrorist organization (ETA) and play a leading role.
On the other hand, Maria and Clara have a more “feminine” nature given their closeness to the arts, to the care of their physical appearance, to seduction; many points in common unite them, precisely because it is a mother and a daughter in conflict with each other precisely because they are incredibly similar. Indeed, Maria affirms herself thanks to her talent for acting, becoming the most famous actress in the Kingdom of Spain and, it is said, even reaching the ears of Francisco Franco. On the other side, we have Clara, whose iconic beauty is the first captured aspect, which represents the first pillar in her “rebellion”. The revolt against all traditional values, atheism, the imposition of her excessive sensuality represent the means to break all patterns in a world where she is a prisoner.
Mother and daughter impose themselves on the male world not through an “action” but rather as a “representation” – one with their own art of acting, the other of seduction – by lulling themselves into that position of domination. Still, they constantly chase something giving them a never-ending state of tension. Only the third woman of the family, Elena, will be capable of going over these inner and outer conflicts.


The book is a mosaic of scenes. Is there any you prefer among these?

I tried to make some pieces of the book “cinematic” to allow the reader to identify better with the events. The scenes I care about are the crisis of Matias, Elena’s husband. Due to his wife’s mysterious disease, he comes to the brink of madness like in an Almodovar movie or the dialogue between Itzurza and Miguel in prison. I deliberately inspired this latter by “I Malavoglia” novel when they greet Padron Ntoni at the hospital.
However, the story revolves around the dialogue between Itzurza and Clara, the piece I wrote with the most attention to detail. Here are two girls who are forged by very different life experiences and values. To tell the truth, I really imagined their meeting in the autumn of 2018, when I was in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid and saw these two girls, apparently very different, talking to each other at a bar, in the midst of great confusion. In addition to being the keystone of the novel, I have articulated the foundation of the plot around this scene, which, not by chance, comes to it after a long climax that begins from the very beginning.

Thank you very much, Alessio, both for your time and for the chance of going deeper into the novel with us. And as there is much more to talk about from this book, we will soon talk about it in a Facebook / Instagram live on our channels.

The Homeland of Itzurza (“La Patria di Itzurza”, 2021, Chance Edizioni) is available – to date, only in Italian – at the following links:

La patria di Itzurza

Livia Corbelli and Filippo Paggiarin

la Patria di Itzurza

The gender employment gap in Europe

The gender employment gap is not as hotly debated as the gender pay gap; nonetheless, it is a crucial issue for the economic recovery of the European Union (EU) and the continuation on the path of female rights embarked upon more than a century ago by the suffragettes[1].

Paid work is possibly the primary means of emancipation and plays a crucial role in defining a person, making them free to self-determine. Performing domestic and caring tasks should be a choice free of any restrictions, be they cultural, social or economic. Furthermore, the role and importance of caring for the weakest (the youth, the elderly and the disabled) should be formally recognised by society and not just informally by families.

Limiting women’s presence in the labour market means limiting talents, skills and capabilities available to the productive part of a country. A 2017 Eurofound report estimates that the economic loss due to the gender employment gap in the EU amounts to more than €370 billion [2]. The analysis also shows that there is significant heterogeneity between different European countries: for Malta, the percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) lost each year amounts to 8.2%, for Italy to 5.7% and for Greece to 5%, while at the other end of the spectrum we find Sweden and Lithuania with losses lower than 1.5% of GDP.

Eurofound (2016), The gender employment gap
Eurofound (2016), The gender employment gap: Challenges and solutions, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

Using the latest available Eurostat data (2019), thus pre-coronavirus[2], the focus of this article is placed on the six most populous EU countries: Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland and Romania. The following graph highlights the problem within the EU and in these six countries. The employment rate for women is shown in green, the employment rate for men in blue. The difference in percentage points (pp) between male and female employment is shown in the dotted rectangle.

Employment gender data
Employment data by gender, age-cohort 20-64, year 2019, value % and percentage points (pp) - Source: Eurostat and author's computations

The gender employment gap is particularly evident in Poland, Romania and, above all, in Italy – where almost one in two women aged 20-64 is not employed.  The gap is also clearly visible in Spain, where the differential is nearly 12 percentage points, exceeding the EU average of 11.4 pp.

The importance of policies reducing gender employment gap

Unequal gender representation in the labour market is an expression of a long-standing patriarchal legacy. To change this it is needed a cultural shift, accompanied by reforms to tackle the gender employment gap. Let us then look at some of the policies introduced by France and Germany to boost female employment.

FR – Chèque emploi service universel: a voucher system introduced in 2006 through which domestic and childcare workers can be paid. The voucher simplifies the procedure of hiring, paying and contracting these figures, combining a tax incentive (expenses are deductible) and co-financing opportunities [3][3].

DE – Perspektive Wiedereinstieg: A support programme for women who have been out of the labour market for more than three years for family reasons. It offers professional assistance -both online and face to face- as well as training courses and tax incentives for employers [4].

FR – Complémente de libre choix du mode de garde: a financial compensation aimed at covering part of the costs of childcare for children up to six years old [5].

DE – Elterngeld: a parenting allowance to which parents are entitled if they reduce their number of working hours to less than 30 per week during the child’s first year. The funding is equivalent to the claimant’s corresponding salary if he or she had continued to work full-time. With different methodologies, also students and unemployed people can benefit as well [6].

DE – Pflegezeitgesetz und Familienpflegezeitgesetz: A legal provision allowing employees to take unpaid leave to care for immediate family members. The leave can be short – 10 days – or long – with a reduction of working hours up to a maximum of 15 per week for up to two years [7].

FR – La Charte de la Paternité en Enterprise: a charter of intents to be signed – on a voluntary basis – by companies that want to commit to the work-life balance of their employees. The aim is to guarantee more flexibility in working hours and to create an environment with an eye on employees with children, respecting the principle of non-discrimination in the career development of those with children [8].

I think it is important to highlight two recurrent elements in the policies listed above. The first is their flexibility: the burdens and benefits of companies and workers are modulated on a case-by-case basis and change as situations change. In fact, too rigid impositions may negatively influence employers, who may be inclined to prefer hiring a man rather than a woman. One example is the case of compulsory maternity leave: in France and Germany this is respectively 16 and 14 weeks, compared to 21 in Italy [9], [10]. The second element is that of inclusion: almost all the policies listed above are not aimed exclusively at women, but they rather try not to discriminate on the basis of gender. Returning to the example of maternity leave, a reduction in maternity leave in countries where it is very long should correspond to a lengthening of paternity leave. In this respect, Italy and Romania are adapting to the demands of the European Commission, reaching the European minimum standard of ten days of leave for neo fathers.

Finally, another important aspect of some of the policies listed above is that they lower the cost of childcare: this, in turn, reduces the incentive for the second earner (which often corresponds to the woman) to stay at home with the children not to incur the costs of kindergartens, summer camps and all childcare services. These policies also have a positive impact on the birth rate, an endemic problem in many European countries.

The level of education in the female employment rate

Education attainment is generally considered one of the strongest predictors of employability. This is confirmed in all six countries under review, for which a higher level of education corresponds to higher employment rates across the populations.

Below are the employment rates for women aged 20-34 by level of education, where Low indicates that the highest education attainment was that of compulsory education or less, Medium refers to a high-school diploma, and High to University or postgraduate education.

Female employment rate by education level
Female employment rate by education level, age cohort 20-34, year 2019, value % - Source: Eurostat

It is evident from the graph that a high level of education on average corresponds to a higher employment rate. This is particularly evident in Poland, where the employment rate between women with a low education level and those with a high-level changes by 60 percentage points. In Germany, on the other hand, the employment rate among those with a secondary school education (Medium) is very close to that of those with a university degree (High). This peculiarity could be attributed to the strong presence of vocational schools that prepare for the labour market already during the upper secondary education.

Promoting learning is therefore also a useful tool for closing the gender gap in the employment rate. Countries such as Romania and Italy -with a gap of more than 19 percentage points- could thus benefit from positive effects in the labour market by providing more incentives for female higher education.

It is interesting to note that, with the exception of Germany, girls tend to be more likely to complete tertiary education than boys[4].

tertiary education by gender
Share of population with tertiary education by gender, age cohort 15-64, year 2019, value % - Source: Eurostat and author's computations

Gender employment gap and the role of women in the future of the EU

The relaunch of the European Union should also pass through women and a renewed recognition of their role in society. To do so would be not only fair, but also necessary. For this reason, the European institutions have decided to tie all the funds of the multiannual budget and of the Next Generation EU destined to climate change mitigation and adaptation (a slice of 30% of the total, corresponding to about €547 billion) to projects with an eye on the gender employment gap. Thus setting the direction for the future: a transition towards environmental sustainability free from gender discriminations [12].

Despite the EU’s clear stance, some expected more: Alexandra Geese, MEP for the Greens/EFA, launched a petition asking that the funds allocated to digitalisation should also focus on women and their rights in the labour market. This would bring half of the Next Generation EU package’s total expenditure to projects attentive to the gender employment gap. The proposal may seem disproportionate, but given the extent of gender inequality in the labour market perhaps it is not so disproportionate after all.

 Giovanni Sgaravatti


[1]  Women’s emancipation movements and demands for the right to vote appeared all over the world in the late 1800s and early 1900s, although immediately after the French Revolution (in 1791) Olympe de Gouges wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Women and Citizens, in which she declared political and social equality between men and women. [1]

[2] Recent studies indicate that the employment gap in some developed countries will widen after the crisis. This is because the woman is more often the partner with the lowest income, who therefore decides to give up work to look after children during school closures. Moreover, in some countries women’s employment is higher in the most affected sectors, such as retail and catering [4], [5].

[3]  A similar instrument also exists in Italy, but unfortunately it does not seem to be bearing the desired results [3b].

[4] The phenomenon is also present in Germany in the younger population: those between 20 and 34 years of age.


[1] Dai primitivi al post-moderno: tre percorsi di saggi storico-antropologici, di Vittorio Lanternari, Liguori Editore, 351

[2] Eurofound: The gender employment gap: Challenges and solutions, Luxembourg 2016, Publications Office of the European Union.

[3] Le Cesu, qu’est-ce que c’est

[3b] Prestazioni di lavoro occasionale: libretto famiglia

[4] Perspektive Wiedereinstieg: Startseite


[6]Elterngeld und ElterngeldPlus



[9] COVID-19 and the gender gap in advanced economies | VOX, CEPR Policy Portal

[10] Il 98% di chi ha perso il lavoro è donna, il Covid è anche una questione di genere 

[10b]  (Occupati e disoccupati (dati provvisori)

[11] File:Total fertility rate, 1960–2018 (live births per woman).png – Statistics Explained

[12] The 2021-2027 EU budget – What’s new? | European Commission

Female and Woman: Alice Ceresa’s feminist literature

     Imagine we are in the 1960s, in a house in Rome and there is a woman… or shall I rather say a Female? It’s Alice Ceresa, and she is maniacally working on her manuscripts and constantly correcting her drafts. She is an avid smoker and a reserved writer, who prefers not to expose herself to the public and to write books that remain unpublished. Who is this lady?, Ceresa was born in Basel in 1923 and grew up moving between the Swiss cantons, before finally setting in Italy. She takes part to the Gruppo 63[1] (because of affinity and necessity), crossing both linguistic and national borders. She has always felt the urgency in writing to denounce the chauvinist and viricentric vision that permeates every social substratum. It is no coincidence that, as a teenager, she takes Annemarie Clarac-Schwarzenbach (1908-1942) as her model, given that she was an androgynous and bisexual writer and photographer who had travelled the world writing and documenting reality in Europe, Africa, Syria, India, Russia and Persia. Ceresa admires and love Clarac-Schwarzenbach’s worldview, intellectual honesty, and rebellious character, but she refuses her existential recklessness. 

Basel - view from the river

Woman and Female

Alice Ceresa considers writing about female inequality as an absolute necessity because it is not only a political and social issue, but also a cultural and linguistic one, which is “anchored in the entire worldview”[2]. According to the writer, the dominance of masculinity affects every field of knowledge and condemns who was born female, implicitly. In Piccolo dizionario dell’inuguglianza femminile (the italian for “Little dictionary of female inequality”) (Nottetempo, 2007) Ceresa collects several headwords with a single intention: to question the unnatural and prescriptive nature of patriarchy. The idea of femininity (that concerns linguistics as well) is nothing but an expression of masculinity, which wants to affirm its own connotations through its opposite.

According to Ceresa, we should distinguish between the concept of woman and the one of female: the second refers to a biological characteristic, while the first is just a cultural, artificial and misleading product, generated since ancient times by the human mind. In other words, the idea of woman is not an ontological entity, but only a human invention as well as a sort of grammatical model or a cognitive category: ‘a woman is therefore not a female, but a cultural product’[3]. That depends on the fact that men are no longer capable of distinguishing neither what is due to nature from what is artifice, nor what is instinct from what is will.

Ceresa’s look on woman’s condition

Therefore, in her works Ceresa, declines her feminism both in an explicit way (as in the Piccolo dizionario) and implicitly, as in the novels La figlia prodiga (“the prodigal daughter”) (Einaudi, 1967), Bambine (“Little girls”) (Einaudi, 1990) and La morte del padre (“the death of the father”) (Einaudi, 1979). The female characters appear voiceless and nameless, connoted mainly by the status of daughters. They remain potentially unexpressed and limited by the asphyxiating bonds of the family, which turn into a patriarchal institution. This social cage is made of missed relationships and unbridgeable incommunicability, as well as fears and rivalries. Only the death of the father (that is a figure of patriarchy) leads to the liberation and the self-assertion of females in the family. Lastly, Ceresa uses her writing to discuss the imposed social system and adopts some narrative expedients to deconstruct the novel from the inside.

The ones who maybe wish to embark on this path of awareness should not expect her books to be easy to read: Ceresa’s style is conceptual, abstract, and not very fluid. However, literature turns up to be a powerful trainer of critical sense against social prescriptions. As we need to practise awareness to make conscious changes, we write and read not only for pleasure, but also for necessity. Remember what Ceresa says in her dictionary: “to conclude: I don’t write the little dictionary for women; I write it because it has to be written”[4].

Eleonora Norcini

TIP! I suggest you read Ceresa’s published works in anti-chronological order: start with Piccolo dizionario, then go through La morte del padre and Bambine. Finally, let yourself be shocked by La figlia prodiga (…let us know if you come out intact!).


[1] Il Gruppo 63 è un movimento letterario fondato a Palermo nel 1963. Rientra nelle neoavanguardie storiche per lo stile sperimentale e la volontà di mettere in discussione le convenzioni sociali e letterarie del tempo. Tra i componenti: Alfredo Giuliani, Edoardo Sanguineti, Umberto Eco, Elio Pagliarani, Alice Ceresa, Giorgio Manganelli, Antonio Porta, Fausto Curi, Amelia Rosselli, Nanni Balestrini.

[2] A. Ceresa, Lettera a Michèle Causse, in Piccolo dizionario dell’inuguaglianza femminile, Tatiana Crivelli (a cura di), Roma, Edizioni Nottetempo, 2007, p. 14.

[3] Ibi, p. 39

[4] A. Ceresa, Lettera a Michèle Causse, in Piccolo dizionario dell’inuguaglianza femminile, Tatiana Crivelli (a cura di), Roma, Edizioni Nottetempo, 2007, p. 14.


Bosco, Alessandro, Alice (Ceresa) disambientata, «Doppiozero», 07/07/2020, consultated 18/11/2020,

Ceresa, Alice, La figlia prodiga e altre storie, Milano, La tartaruga edizioni, 2004.

Ceresa, Alice, Piccolo dizionario dell’inuguaglianza femminile, Tatiana Crivelli (edited by), Roma, Edizioni Nottetempo, 2007.

When empowerment starts with a Barbie

The other day, while I was walking through the aisles of a store, I ended up in the stationery section and could not help but to notice the new Barbie school diary. It was pink, of course, and the most famous blondie with blue eyes was smiling there on the cover, but something was different. Barbie was wearing glasses, holding a pencil, and sitting close to a pile of books with a globe on top. Also, in the air above her some objects were floating, as if they were things she was thinking about: a notebook, some stars, a light bulb that clearly symbolized a new idea, a rocket, an atom, a pencil and a marker. And then I saw the newest slogan of Barbie, right there on the top right corner in capital letters: FUTURE LEADER.

Barbie: a model for kids

This took me back to my childhood for a minute. I have never been a huge fan of Barbie, mostly because my parents were very sceptical about her and I could never really see myself in this doll: having dark hair, dark eyes and olive skin, I would prefer other dolls that were more similar to me as a kid. Nevertheless, despite other less known brands of dolls, I did own a Barbie. I remember it was a gift from my grandmother and it was the office edition, somewhen in the 1990s. To some extent, Office Barbie had a purpose and as a kid I found it more interesting than other editions, but it was unclear to me in what consisted her job and why she had to have her face on the computer and on the calendar on her desk. Anyhow, she was just a character in the stories I imagined playing with my other dolls, rather than someone to look up to. Fast forward to 2020, you can imagine what a great surprise this diary was. Barbie is pictured as a future leader, as a role model that would not limit little girls to aspire to be in a certain way, but to realize the vast spectrum of possibilities that this modern, globalized world offers: Barbie is now telling girls and women that they can become a leader in whatever they decide to do, and this is how women empowerment and gender equality start. Such discovery made me do some research.

Barbie Office

This particular year, Mattel has been working on a new collection of Barbie with three main priorities: sport, science and gender neutrality[1]. Indeed, Mattel was struggling with sales before 2014 and this forced the company to revolutionize their product and their brand. Barbie was being perceived as out of touch and parents, just like mine used to feel, were turning up their noses on the influence this doll could have on their daughters. What followed was a prioritization of culture creation to be associated with the brand Mattel and, particularly, Barbie: she has never been only a toy, and this meant that it was time to expand the values she promoted. In order to create culture, Richard Dickson, President and Chief Operating Officer, and the team of Mattel have opted for starting from scratch with their leadership style. As a matter of fact, brainstorming and welcoming new ideas translated into a more empathetic leadership that would lead Mattel to be prepared to face risks and, above all, to celebrate failures on the way to this major problem-solving. This internal revolution of the company has definitively reflected on the subsequent production: Barbie has expanded the concept of role model and, once again, she is adapting to what society needs.

The development of Barbie

Barbie has managed to challenge the world of toys since her appearance back in 1959, when little girls could only play with baby and toddler dolls. She became the image of someone girls would look up to, like a projection of their own dreams, but it is undeniable that she has also been the protagonist of several controversies[2]: the most well-known being her influence on girls’ relationship with their bodies. A 2006 study[3] published on the Developmental Psychology journal revealed how girls exposed to Barbie dolls between the age of 5 and 8 were more likely to suffer from lower body esteem and body dissatisfaction given the non-compliance with a thin body. Eventually, in 2016, Barbie Fashionistas launched three new body types: tall, curvy and petite[4]. However, according to a 2019 research[5], a wider choice of dolls has not been able to change the preconceived notion of weight bias attached to it: most girls still prefer to play with the classic thin Barbie. The road to self-acceptance and self-love in society is still long, but there is a clear attempt.

Personally taken photograph of the new Barbie school diary 2020

While checking the official website[6], I run into the collection of Barbie President and Vice President dolls[7], originally released in 1992. In fact, only in 2012 Caucasian presidential candidate Barbie was joined by African American, Asian and Hispanic Barbie, and it was in 2016 that the idea of an all-female ticket was realized[8]. This year, such an homage to the United States Presidential election of November 3, 2020 in collaboration with She Should Run[9] praises two of the upmost leadership roles with slogans such as “you can be a leader” or “girls lead!”, but it does not stop there: some videos, tools and games guide both children and parents on how to talk about leadership and how dreams of leadership are played out through this doll. There is even the support of Campaign Team collection: campaign fundraiser, campaign manager, candidate and voter. Simultaneously, 2020 is coming to an end with a promising step forward in terms of women empowerment and inclusion in the new US presidential mandate. Indeed, besides the choice of Kamala D. Harris as running mate, the economics and communications teams of President-elect Joe Biden will not only be mostly formed by women, but these women will also be of different ethnicities [10]. This makes the idea of an all-female ticket launched by Barbie not so far from eventually becoming a reality.

From the Astronaut one in 1965 to CEO Barbie and the “We Girls Can Do Anything” campaign in 1985, Barbie has been making her way into the hearts of billions of children. Although she has been labelled as a role model for girls since her origins, she has been fighting gender roles and stereotypes for over 60 years now, and she has broken the walls of the “Barbie world”. My generation had the luck to witness her most impactful evolution, and holding that diary in my hands gave me hope for a new generation that will think outside the box from a very young age when it comes to their future. Picturing a doll aspiring to be a leader leads a child to picture themselves to be a leader as well, and not to merely play with a “Barbie girl in a Barbie world” anymore.

Paula Panettieri




[3] Dittmar, H., Halliwell, E. & Ive, S. (2006). Does Barbie make girls want to be thin? The effect of experimental exposure to images of dolls on the body image of 5- to 8-year-old girls. Developmental Psychology. Mar;42(2):283-92.


[5] Harriger, J. A., Schaefer, L. M., Thompson, J. K. & Cao, L. (2019). You can buy a child a curvy Barbie doll, but you can’t make her like it: Young girls’ beliefs about Barbie dolls with diverse shapes and sizes. Body Image. Sep; 30:107-113.





[10] The Washington Post

Italian women: snapshot of a forgotten solidarity

“In the end, everything will be fine. And if anything goes well, then it won’t be the end.” John Lennon’s famous phrase, and its clear optimism, seems to sum up perfectly the emotions of the two months of quarantine just ended. The spread of Covid-19 and a new condition of isolation has led us to rethink the traditional relationship with the space surrounding us. We have been urged to reformulate our identity in both emotional and professional relationships, with both loneliness and the future. The messages of great hope and the perception of fighting against a “common enemy” have strengthened our willingness to becoming more tolerant and supportive. In a word, better persons. That the World at the end of the lockdown would have been different has always been a certain fact. Different, however, does not necessarily mean better. Just quoting Alexander Wendt’s formula: “the World is what men make of it”. Even if the political scientist in 1992 spoke of States and the international system, his phrase sounds as new nowadays, which shows us how much history tends to repeat itself, and mankind not to learn from his mistakes.

Everywhere in Italy, out of the balcony, people were showing rainbows and Italian flags like the one in the picture with the motto “everything will be fine” and the hashtag “Istayhome”

Several episodes, during these months, quickly revealed that the feeling of union and solidarity was just a mere advertising spot. People seem to have never stopped looking for a culprit, to make recriminations, to feed the fear of the other – the other as different from us or always identified in subjects considered as weak and fragile, recipients of accusations of all types. Once again, the virus of prejudice, far more dangerous than the much-feared Covid-19, has managed to lay solid roots in unexpected conditions. I think that women are among the main victims in this process. The haters, especially on the web, and quick, dirty and biased journalism go wild, often using a language that not only facilitates women’s discrimination and victimization, but, above all, removes the responsibility from those who write about them. This is true especially if we talk about free, brave, and strong women, whose worst fault is precisely the awareness of being all this. After all, what is more annoying than a woman who is not compliant but, on the contrary, firmly affirms her life choices? This is what emerged in the latest edition of the Amnesty International “Hate Barometer”, called “keyboard sexism”: users tend to attack women more than men, with hate speech comments 1.5 times higher.[1]

As a confirmation of all this, the recent release of Silvia Romano has catalyzed unprecedented levels of hatred. To be put in the pillory, the girl’s alleged cross-red spirit: she has been always determined to vigorously follow her life goal, that of helping children in difficulty in Kenya. Many of those who have always supported the “let’s help them at their home” mantra suddenly joined forces against a girl who actually wanted to help them at their home, and they used far worse clichés, such as that of “she brought this on herself”.[2] There was no lack of pornographic comments on how Silvia had fun with her captors during the 18 months of captivity, as well as comments about the Islamic dress worn when she returned to Italy or the decision to change her name in Aisha – among the main points of the controversy over her ransom. A ransom paid for a girl accused of being “ungrateful”, a converted woman who, for this reason, betrayed her country, to the point of being accused of neoterrorism, as stated by the Lega MP Alessandro Pagano.[3] Ironically, after the kidnapping of a year and a half, Silvia risks ending up under escort in her country, because she has become the privileged target of the verbal violence of her own countrymen. On the basis of everything, there is a gender issue, as always: the tendency to look with intolerance on a woman who freely chooses to follow her life goal and go to help in areas of crisis. As evidence of this, no comment has accompanied the release of Luca Tacchetto, an Italian kidnapped in Mali in 2018, an area as dangerous as that in which Silvia was located. No accusations of any kind followed the boy’s conversion to the Islamic religion and the payment of a ransom for his release: being a man, he has probably been exempted from certain types of insinuations.[4]

Sovereignism and sexism seem to have irreparably melded, transforming Silvia Romano into an anti-Italianness symbol, and any aspect has been used to carry on this type of narration. Some focused on her young age or others, obsessed with the dogma of “Italians first”, criticized her choice to do good outside national borders.[5] The reality is that in 2020, unfortunately, the duo woman-freedom is still scary, it triggers a sort of blackout in the mind of those who believe that women can be free only under a certain tacitly accepted condition: do not question male pre-eminence in the society. Network sexism aims to attack women in a personal and explicit way, making use of stereotypes and false representations. Comments concerning first of all the sphere of the physical appearance and how this one influences women’s role, – the girl is too eye-catchy or too little – comments inherent in the sphere of sexuality, – the girl gives herself too easily or not enough – the realm of professional or private life – the girl is excessively focused on her career rather than on matters of supposed “real” competence, domestic ones. Women can emerge and make a career, of course, but without exaggerating and thinking that is possible to compete with the male figure, otherwise, the widespread use of recommendations excludes her from progressing further in her career. Women can be among the best journalists on a national level, but if they appear on video with unkempt hair or tired face, they have to succumb to the flood of criticisms that will come on aesthetics; they have to accept the infinite irony on being un-attractive.[6]


The Italian journalist Giovanna Botteri, Rai correspondent from Beijing, has been a victim of jokes about her physical appearance for years; jokes aimed at making small irony about an experienced woman whose work, however, has little to do with aesthetics. As if the chosen dress or haircut could influence the ability and quality of information – the really important things, by the way; as if a journalist must necessarily respect certain aesthetic standards to do her job properly, to be unassailable. This kind of ironies, used to be sagacious and tear a smile, simply show up the absolute machismo and narrow-mindedness of their authors.[7] This kind of insults is not so far from those addressed to Carola Rackete, captain of the Sea Watch 3 who, in June 2017, forced the ban on entering Italian waters to disembark migrants on the island of Lampedusa and save their lives. The determination with which Carola has defended her identity and, above all, human lives, has given way to an endless spiral of sexist and misogynist comments: epithets anything but nice, insinuations about sexual intercourses with the shipwrecked on board, even wishes of rape. The paradox then lies in the fact that often politicians, ministers, and high state officials use sexist comments, demonstrating how much this type of language, often in the form of jokes, spread unchecked. Those who should guarantee and preserve freedom and individuality try instead to stem it as if it were a danger, a threat to the society.[8]

The most worrying fact is that Silvia, Giovanna, Carola represent only the most recent cases of an absolutely widespread phenomenon that many strong and determined women live every day. Just think of the minister Teresa Bellanova, derided for her physical appearance and for the dress chosen for her oath at the Quirinale. Fatau Boro Lu, a former pro-European candidate, endured racist and sexist insults for having dared to criticize (she, a woman with dark skin) Salvini’s policies and management of the Sea Watch affair. An escalation of racist and anti-Semitic comments also touched Senator Liliana Segre, a survivor of Auschwitz and active witness of the Shoah, so much so as to be put under the protection of security detail. Also Laura Boldrini, former president of the Chamber of Deputies, since her assignment, has been the subject of a disparaging campaign, fake news, and slanders about herself and her family.

Such cruel comments create a sense of sadness and frustration because they are rooted in what these women represent: an image of solidity and firmness. It is as if patriarchal thought tends to consider such women as wrong, almost against nature. Their experience, on the contrary, should be the starting point for unhinging discriminating models that no longer have reason to exist. The lesson is to transform frustration into the desire to rise, to follow one’s own path, to be free to express oneself. Because there is always something annoying in a woman who uses her brain, who does not accept to be a sexual object; something that probably goes beyond simple actions: the ability to choose one’s destiny and carry it forward with determination.

Antonella Iavazzo

Nüshu: the silent voice of women

“Every time I get on the bus from Guilin to Jiangyong, I look out the window and think of the power of the yuánfèn 缘分 (“fateful coincidence”) that led me to feel at home in such a remote and unexplored place.”

Thus, began my “physical” journey to discover that corner of the world which, without knowing it, represented precisely that piece of the puzzle I had been looking for for some time. Jiangyong, and in particular the village of Puwei, represented a perfect combination of my love for China, for Chinese people and for its millenary culture: the sublimation of ideals that I have admired for years but which I have rarely found enclosed in one place.

My “spiritual” journey started in a university classroom, that place that we often consider only a container of abstract notions, that room from which we can’t wait to escape to give concreteness to the words of the study manuals. Thanks to the passionate stories about China that the Professor told us, it is precisely within those classes that I had the great fortune to be able to start traveling with the mind and fall in love with a country even before seeing it live. Moreover, it is precisely within those walls that I heard about nüshu 女书 for the first time, when my mind immediately decided that I should further explore that topic and that I would be passionate about it. And so it was.

“Nüshu: the writing that gave women a voice” was another great adventure, which, looking back, allowed me to reflect on many details of my experiences, to deepen the details of this splendid cultural phenomenon and to realize the beauty of many places and many people. The idea of this book was born about two years ago, when in summer 2018 I talked about nüshu with Professor Zhao Liming, inside her study at the Tsinghua University of Beijing: I immediately thought that those wonderful stories could not remain just for me.

“the Nüshu – the script that gave voice to women”, by Giulia Falcini, CSA Editrice


Nüshu literally means “women’s writing” in Chinese. Its pronunciation is based on the local dialect of the villages located around the county of Jiangyong, in the province of Hunan, in southern China. The female characters are around 396, each of which corresponds to a syllable of the dialect. Unlike Chinese, therefore, these ideograms transcribe sounds, not meanings and to each of them correspond to many Chinese characters. Therefore, the importance of the context to understand its meaning is evident. It’s difficult to establish a precise date for the creation of nüshu (which most probably occurred around 1700) this issue on its own is the subject of constant debate among scholars. Female writing was certainly born in response to the patriarchal society of the time, which inevitably placed women in condition of submission. A fundamental aspect that led to the birth of this language is the fact that the girls could not attend school, therefore, to stay in touch with each other, especially once they got married, they invented their own system for communicating. Nüshu also represented a way to escape from the overwhelming everyday life, a parallel world in which women took refuge, where they could find understanding and where they could externalize their suffering in some way. It is no coincidence that, according to the legend, nüshu was created by a girl from the village of Jingtian who was chosen as emperor’s concubine. The woman was not well received in the court and loneliness, and nostalgia for her relatives led her to create a new writing, different from that of men, to give vent to their thoughts and make them reach their families.

Nüshu is “a language of women and for women” because it was from them that it was conceived and brought into the world. However, it is important to emphasize that the female language was never a secret script, rather it was men who were not interested in it because they thought that everything that was created by women was not something appreciable.

In fact, if we consider the very small places in which nüshu culture was born, lived and continues to be handed down, it is unthinkable that the male part of society had never noticed those rhomboid characters that covered the objects made by the ladies ; and it is impossible to believe that men had never heard the melodies that echoed in the alleys of the villages. Historical and social events have led to a great change in the importance attributed to the female writing: men became interested in nüshu, in the county they speak proudly of it as a symbol that characterizes their city and many of them are directly involved in promoting this phenomenon. And it is no coincidence that today, in the villages, as soon as women start singing, everyone stops to listen to them, including men: they do not do this out of duty or reverence, but because they are really captured by these beautiful sounds.

And it is precisely the songs that act as vectors of the most intimate, deep and confidential female feelings: they deal with every type of theme, from happy moments to the most disheartening ones.


“The places of nüshu have taught me that you can be rich even without running water at home and that humility and goodness are the basis of every great person.”

Although the characters represent the most fascinating aspect of this culture, it is only by visiting and experiencing the villages that orbit around Jiangyong that one can realize a great truth: nüshu is not only a language, but a cultural phenomenon. In fact, its existence is closely linked to that of local traditions, popular festivities and local people.

In my book there are many characters who have lived and handed down nüshu: Chen Xinfeng and Hu Yanyu are certainly among the names that the reader will not be able to forget. The great welcome they give me every time in their home in the village of Puwei, has allowed me to get to the heart of their culture, to perceive how it is lived nowadays, to listen to many stories, to register the colors , the sounds and gestures of what is not just a language, but much, much more. The two – mother and daughter – retain the typical traits of women who over three centuries ago had the strength to create a world parallel to the one that was destroying them. It is difficult to express in words the goodness that characterizes them, but it is their complicity that most impresses anyone who observes them while intoning the nüshu songs or when, delicately, they trace the ideograms -symbols of female resilience.

They always welcome me very warmly in their home in the village of Puwei, and thanks to them I was able to get to the very heart of the nüshu culture, seeing how this culture is experienced today;  I also listened to many stories, I recorded many colors, sounds and gestures of what is not only a language, but much more. The two ladies- mother and daughter – have the same traits typical of women who over three centuries ago had the strength to create a world parallel to the one that was destroying them. It is difficult to put into words the goodness that characterizes the two women, but it is their complicity that most astonishes anyone who observes them while intoning the nüshu songs or when, delicately, they trace the ideograms that are the symbol of female resilience.

A friend once told me that “we are born in a place, but in the course of life we find our places of the heart where we know we can always return”. I believe I have found mine, what I miss every time I’m not there.

Giulia Falcini


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