My thougts about “fertility day”, an initiative of Italian health ministry showing how motherhood in Italy is still permeated by old stereotypes.
A disastrous communication campaign to launch the so-called fertility day on 22nd of September made Italian women mad.
Fertility day was meant to inform women and men on how to protect their procreative health. Of course there’s the low birthrate of Italy behind it. This might cause in the future problems of sustainability of our healthcare and welfare system. Everybody knows that. It not scandalous at all: it’s a real problem many other EU countries are trying to address.
The problem was that the fertility day campaign was completely wrong. Do you think they gave information on how to avoid infections? About access to in vitro fertilization techniques? Not at all.
It has been mostly addressed towards women and based on the message: tick tock, tick tock, hey your getting older, hurry up to get pregnant or you’ll miss your chance.
It featured an image of a woman brandishing a hourglass, with the claim “beauty is ageless, fertility isn’t”.
A wave of rage raised among women who reminded on social networks the best way to boost fertility: permanent jobs, options to rent or buy a house with acceptable costs, more public kidergartens, no fear to be fired after maternity leave.
The only effect was to make everyone mad. They bothered women who are delaying pregnancy for external private or economic reasons: precarious job, no stable relationship, lack of external help. They made angry infertile couple for to health problems, gays and lesbians, women who are not willing to have children. For those the campaign was not only ridiculous, but frankly offensive. Even women with children got mad, reminding that after you gave birth you are left alone with the only help of family and private baby-sitters. (Yes in Italy grandparents are the real welfare: without them most of the families will simply not exists).
I know really a few women in their thirties delaying pregnancy if they have a job, avhouse and a stable relationship because they go clubbing every night or they got workaholic trying to become the next Marissa Mayers (oops I forgot she is a CEO and also a mother).
I think it’s the worst health communication campaign ever. The claim “fertility is a common good” was particularly annoying for it’s reminding a sad page of our history, when fascists asked to do more children for a stronger nation.
When I saw it I couldn’t believe it. How could they be so stupid? But I have to say it did not completely surprised me. You know why?
It’s nothing different from the usual idea of motherhood in Italian society.
Motherhood in Italy in seen in a contradictory way. Superficially, we idealize it. But if you go deeper, I believe that Italian society misleads the complexity of motherhood with the simple act of taking care.
Women should to take care of children, but not only. They take care of the husband, of the grandson, even of their boss sometimes. Metaphorically speaking, if you are in a meeting you shoud to do your job and also to serve the coffee, if you know what I mean.
Are you a single? They ask when you’ll find a boyfriend. You have a boyfriend? They ask when you are getting married. The day after your wedding? They say it’s time to hurry up for a baby. You’re around with your 2 years old daughter? They say it’s time to have a little boy.
But the point is if you haven’t a baby or two there must be for sure something wrong with you. You aren’t demonstrating to be able to do what you are meant to do: taking care.
Here’s how Italian society is still subtly make women feel guilty if they are not mothers.
I’ll analyse it from another point of view. Commercials. You might think I’m going off topic, but i think you can learn a lot by commercials about expectation on women.
Most of commercials addressed to woman are built in two specific ways.
Story no. 1. A woman is represented in her professional role, say, a doctor. She talks about the product from a professional point of view. Say, an antibacterial detergent. Than she gets home and uses the product privately with her children. The mother view is more important than the doctor’s view.
Story no. 2. A mother has a very busy life. She works hard, but she have time to bring children at school by bike, to cook dinner and then sexually smiling to her husband on the sofa. The children play lines like: “My mum is a superhero!” How to help them? Of course with the product, being it a snack, a vitamin supplement or a deodorant.
Message is that you can be a good professional, but you are someone in life only if you are a mother. Yes, you can be what you want, provided you don’t forget your first aim is taking care.
I have friends so deep into this role that say things like : women are stronger than man, we can work double and we don’t get tired. (Are you kidding me? The dark bags under your eyes tell a different story)
It seems that Italy needs woman to take care of everybody.
The real mistake I see in the fertility day communication campaign is not they said we need more babies, but we need more mothers.
After the negative people’s reactions,the Minister retired the caimpaign and promised it will be re-modulated. I’ll give a few recommendations: Italian women does remember how to get pregnant. They also know the older you get the less you are fertile. There’s other things they want to know about. Endometriosis, uterine fibroms, infections. Safe sexual behaviors. And there are answers Italians want. How to access in vitro fertilization? Why are public kindergarten not enough? Does school correctly address sex education? And health education? Why do mothers have still to choose between job and family?
Another recommendation: fertility day not a translation, it’s originally in English. For an Italian audience English is perceived as as a language more suitable for technical and scientific topics. But you can’t fake scientific and medical credibility using English language, if you’re not giving scientifically and medically reliable information. Please, dear Minister, keep this in mind before the next public health campaign.
Featured image is Andolfini portrait By Jan van Eyck (circa 1390–1441) – Web site of National Gallery, London, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11343084
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