Museo delle Done. Frauen Museum. The Women’s Museum. In this article, I am presenting one amazing collection, museum, and a life story. Your views on feminism will never be the same after you visit this museum.
This story has a location, and the location is Merano, or Meran, a beautiful city in the Italian province of South Tyrol. This bucolic place, famous for thermal baths and medical tourism, is full of palaces and mansions reflecting the Austro-Hungarian past. From every point of the city there are some mountain views, as this region is in the massive Alps area of central Europe.
Merano is considered to be the second most important town of South Tyrol, right behind Bolzano. These two cities are the principal points to visit in the province. Bolzano has more medieval and generally older buildings and urban structures, while Merano has many elegant XIX century architecture designs. Bolzano has its Archaeological Museum, the home to Otzi, the Ice Man. Merano has the Women’s Museum, the topic of this article.
A small museum, pretty easy to find in the heart of Merano, is a unique spot to study the history of women’s lives, “roles”, and influences. This is the Women’s Day. This is the time to publish a post about this museum.
First of all. Is this Feminism?
The term feminism may have a bad reputation, and people may have different ideas about its meaning. Why some women do not consider themselves “feminists”? What does it mean “male feminism”? Are feminists, in reality, the women who think they are “better” than men? Is the pay gap just a myth? Are the women members of conservative (or whatever we can call it) women’s clubs actually feminists, or are they something else?
Is there only one way to see feminism? There are many ways, true. It’s all about choices, in my opinion. Feminism is not only for women who get a PhD or MBA. It doesn’t support only women who are corporate managers or entrepreneurs. To be a feminist, you don’t need to be an activist, to travel all the world. Feminists are not only women who don’t want to have children. It is all about the supports for diverse choices, as well as it supports different, more “traditional” choices. Feminism should support motherhood the same way it supports women in their other dreams.
However, single mothers who struggle to pay the bills and feed their children rarely call themselves feminists, maybe because they believe only childless women can be feminists. They might be judgmental about the choices of these “feminists”, calling them self-centered or unaware of real life issues.
All these opinions cause polemics and involve religious and political questions which are absolutely unnecessary – feminism is only about raising awareness about certain problems, and that’s what this museum is about.
Clothing and pressure on appearance
The Women’s Museum of Merano was founded by a local lady who collected a number of clothes, shoes, pieces of household equipment from diverse decades of the XX century, with purpose on telling a series of stories about typical women’s lives.
There is, and there have always been, a pressure on women to have beautiful feminine looks. Clothing, makeup, cosmetics, haircuts, everything is expected to remain perfect. There is a pressure of having “decent looks” from the age 20 to the age 70. Women put that pressure on themselves and may be judgmental about other women’s appearances.
There is a fun but also saddening analysis in this museum – a comparison between an average South Tyrolean woman’s day in 1965 and 2011. I could notice one thing that is shocking. According to this analysis, in 2011 women slept fewer hours – they went to bed later and woke up just a little bit later. In 1965 most of them did not work and their mornings were fulfilled with keeping their homes neat and organized while they were also preparing midday lunch for their husbands to come during the lunch break.
In 2011, a typical woman works and still has the same households duties, although the technology helps and there is no much time to take care of details at home, apart from the basic things. Apparently, women still impose a lot on themselves to be perfect housewives, even if they work. I’m not competent to talk about it (I’m not married and I have no children!) but I believe they should just simplify the households as much as possible and encourage men to participate more. I just believe that. Is this feminism? I think so!
Menstruation, contraception and sexual stereotypes
The whole section of this museum is about the history of views on menstruation and items women use for keeping themselves safe. Still today, this topic causes discomfort to many men or even women who are not family or close friends to talk about it, so it’s normal to just say “I’m feeling a bit sick” during these days.
The section is designed with a series of boards where, in German and Italian, you can find the most common expressions for describing this “problem”. Meanwhile, these phrases also have a general usage for gender stereotypes about women, likewise the common stereotype that “real feminists” are in fact those single women who don’t get enough sex due to their ugliness, bad personality, or moodiness, so they are “feminists”. What about the “headache issues” in many men’s locker room conversations? It is another example of gender stereotype. Contraception is also represented here, as a symbol of women’s freedom and emancipation.
When in this museums, don’t get so immersed in the collections and stories that you forget that you are in the Alps. This particular location has many specialties, such as skiing, mountain hiking or alpinism. Beautiful snowy landscapes are so inviting, but women of the past centuries had limited possibilities to practice any of these activities. The first female clothing for skiing was some sort of ridiculous.
Truth to be said, a typical woman of the XXI century, with or without career or professional ambitions, gets married later or does not get married at all. She studies, she tries to find work, struggles to construct a meaningful relationship, regardless of her values, worldviews, or primary life choices. This picture describes solitary moments, accompanied with a laptop and the universe of possibilities that are difficult to reach. At the same time, many men are in the same situation, at a similar place, with a laptop, a tablet or a phone.
Conclusion about the Women’s Museum
So I can say that every woman who wants to be treated with equal respect for her work, her skills, her achievements, mother or nor, with or without a career, can be called a feminist. We can say that women have a right to vote, but since we accept to being treated differently, to being required to sound more soft and tender in our communication, to feeling more pressure to be pretty than smart, we can’t say that the mission of feminism has been accomplished.
Feminism is not only women’s issue, men can also suffer because of the gender stereotype. Are they strong enough? What if they are not “men enough”? It may be more frustrating than we, as women, can understand.
2021 Update: on pictures I noticed that the museum got some updates in the meantime (after I was there in January 2017). If you are planning a trip to South Tyrol and you would like to visit the Women’s Museum in Merano, I recommend you to visit the official website. It is available in German, Italian, and English.
To all ladies,
Have a happy women’s Day!