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An unbearable strain - hidden distress: The right to pleasure, traditional expectations and suppressed needs

  • Zucca, M.

Women are essential for the existence of alpine communities. Decisions on whether to have children and raise a family, and therefore to settle in a place, all depend on women?s willingness to do so. It is mostly women who devise new ways to do things, seek better standards of living, and strive to revive older traditions. Without them, no development would be possible. This is why they are at the heart of an ongoing research project that has been undertaken by a team of anthropologists at the Centro di Ecologia Alpina (Centre for Alpine Ecology) and that has already produced six international congresses and five major publications. What is the social status of women in the Alps and why is it that people are loath to talk about it and do something about it? For centuries, women have managed to survive in limit-situations by keeping in touch with nature, using natural resources without depleting them, while protecting the environment, and cultivating a magic and poetic quality to life, while carrying out the task of recording the memory of past event. The Alps, that for centuries have been removed from the main communication routes and development processes, have witnessed the emergence of a feminine culture and society, most of all owing to men?s absence. It is becoming increasingly evident that when women leave, because for instance they refuse to marry a farmer, mountains die. When men cannot find a spouse from Latin America or Eastern Europe, they have to resign themselves to celibacy or resettle, as they grow old. Women have been the first to leave, carrying through a feminist protest that, even though it has not reached international recognition, has not been less effective. It was a spontaneous reaction against a culture that regarded them as little more than servants and procreating machines, unworthy of any kind of personal gratification. Their diaspora started in the Fifties and has since reached alarming proportions. Today it is a fact of life. This migration has ancient roots and it is to these roots that we should go back to if we want to figure out how to reduce the likelihood that this phenomenon will persists or, at least, if we are determined to contain it and reduce its severity. In peasant societies, women were the first to wake and the last to go to sleep. Girls, like boys, would start working at an early age, for there was always something to do. Childhood in general would end very quickly, carefully overseen by parents and priests, who acted as the custodians of morality. Even though, compared to bourgeois women, peasant women enjoyed a certain measure of latitude, and could be promiscuous, conventional morality denied them the right to enjoy life?s pleasures. From an early age, they were constrained by religious prescription. Sexophobic priests inculcated into their minds and souls the concept of sinful behaviour and a sense of unbending duty. Nearly everything was reprehensible: as late as thirty to forty years ago, girls would be publicly reproached for wearing stockings or for dancing on Sunday afternoon, when youngsters used to meet to play, sing and dance.

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