This article sprouted organically after a hectic morning. I should probably start with I don’t mind the use of “Ciao, bella” among friends (including mine) or old acquaintances as much. My real problem is with approaching strangers (read: middle-aged men) who throw it at me, and especially when I’m alone, in field or on the train, minding my own business and reading (which has happened more than I can count).
Italy, the land of gelato, vespas and “ciao, bella.” The internationally famous motto scripted across anything it will fit on; ironically, the anthem of a country plagued by femicide. Let’s start there, shall we? A little know fact: until 1981, “Honor Killing” was legal in Italy – this meant that if a woman was believed to have brought “dishonor” upon her family, she could be killed and the murderer was backed by the law. 1981. Less than 50 years ago. Mind = blown. And something tells me this excuse still probably used as a defense today and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. (This is a great article all about that: http://www.forbes.com/sites/worldviews/2013/08/26/femicide-in-italy-domestic-violence-persists-despite-new-laws/)
Aside from the blaring facts, personally the phrase “ciao bella” makes me want to punch whoever says it (or usually yells it) as I’m crossing the street or riding my bike or eating a pizza or blowing my nose. Or in other words, existing. First of all, not to toot my own horn, but I know I’m good looking. After those dreadful and drawn-out years of high school awkwardness, I feel pretty confident. And while you might say, “then you shouldn’t take offense at a compliment from a stranger!” I beg to argue about that word, “compliment.” “Ciao, bella” is not a compliment. “Ciao, bella” is an attack, an invasion into my life and carries expectations. It has become overused and a sleazy attempt at picking up girls, especially us international ones. A stranger who actually thinks you’re good looking (and respects you, even if they don’t know you) would never yell it at you across the street.
“Ciao, bella” is a twisted form of validation, propagating the misogynistic idea that women won’t know they’re beautiful unless told so. It happens in America, too – think One Direction and their hit, You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful. Women should not need men’s validation. And here I will speak for myself, because, of course, I am not all women. I don’t need to be interrupted while I’m rushing to school to be told “Ciao, bella” nor stopped mid-conversation with a friend. I don’t need you to make a U-turn on your bike so that you can follow me, and then, when there’s no one around, approach me and start talking to me. If I’m just hanging out and minding my own business, it’s not because I’m contemplating how ugly I am and need a passerby to throw validation at me. It does not give you an in; it doesn’t mean I owe you a conversation or even the time of day! I don’t want to buy anything and I certainly don’t want to give you any attention. It doesn’t make me weak in the knees; it does, however, activate my gag-reflex and a fist.
Side note: And if we take a moment to translate this phrase into English, it’s not any better. “Hello, beautiful” is one of the most trite, unimaginative and (in my opinion) disrespectful ways to greet/try to pick-up a woman. Sure, it was cool in the 1920s and Cary Grant could pull it off, but unfortunately it’s been sullied by all the randos taking advantage of it.
So after the bajillionth random dude that yelled at me as I rode my bike past him today, I just had to say something about it. Italy has got its beautiful moments, but women’s rights are real far down on the list of priorities.