March 6th was International Women’s Day! Technically, as I write this now, it is no longer International Women’s Day here in Rome. But, just because International Women’s Day is over does not mean we have to stop talking about it. This blog post may seem like a bit of a departure from my previous posts, but I feel this post is important. Here goes.
According to the United Nations, International Women’s Day is “a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.” This year’s theme for the day was “Pledge for Parity,” which helps promote the “2030 Agenda” the UN set for achieving worldwide gender equality. To celebrate International Women’s Day in Rome, all state museums and archaeological sites were free for all female visitors. As you all can imagine, the list of museums to visit in Rome is endless, and the opportunity to visit one for free should not be missed! As such, after we finished our classes, two of my roommates and I decided to visit the MAXII Museum, which is the contemporary art and architecture museum.
When we first got to the museum I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit, because I looked around and noticed that pretty much all the visitors were women. Clearly, we weren’t the only ones who got the memo about the free admission. After this initial sight, though, I felt a spirit of community in the building. It was kind of like a shared “head nod” could be exchanged between me and another female visitor, which would serve as both a salute and an embrace as we acknowledged and silently celebrated each other’s presence. I proceeded to the exhibits, and the number of female visitors only became more evident.
As a quick aside, I highly recommend the MAXII Museum; it is completely different from a typical Roman museum. Instead of showcasing displays from Antiquity, the MAXII contains exhibits which ask you to change your conceptions about what art “is,” and within the current exhibits at the MAXII, art and social justice intersect, which gives your visit a whole new meaning. Look below for pictures of some of the works and you’ll understand that this museum is anything but ordinary.
I think my favorite thing about the visit was seeing the range of girls and women who were present. I would look one direction and see a group of grandmothers looking on at one display, and then look another direction and see a mother explaining a photograph to her young daughters. Being abroad, I think one of my biggest flaws is that I often put up more walls/barriers than necessary. This time I don’t mean walls and barriers in the sense that I am shy, but that I forget that difference in language doesn’t mean difference in humanity. When you’re abroad, it can be easy to tell yourself that cultural differences somehow separate you from the people of the place you are visiting, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I unfortunately forget, and often need to be reminded, that at the very core of our being, we are all the same. At the very center of it all, we all breathe, love, care for, and live in the same way. I think one of my favorite things about living abroad is being reminded that cultural nuances are not as large as we sometimes imagine them to be.
So when I walked around the museum yesterday, I thought about all the women around me. I thought about how in the same way that gender equality is not present in the U.S., gender equality is not present in Italy. I thought about how women all around the world are fighting for their rights, and I thought about what it means: there is a need for an international holiday celebrating women. I thought about the fact that there seems to be a universal understanding that no matter where in the world we are, our bodies are not our own. That no matter where we are, there is an idea of possession. An idea that we owe, that something is due. I thought about the women who feel powerless and are quite literally crying out, yet are still muffled and voiceless at the same time. Even throughout the MAXII museum, a majority of the pieces I saw were created by men. Yes, there were female artists, which is amazing, but I found myself wishing there had been a fifty-fifty representation.
While we walked back from the museum, my roommates and I debriefed about all the different emotions we had felt throughout the day and throughout the museum. We took a moment to be thankful for the privileges and opportunities we have had, and a moment to think about the women who have not been as lucky as we have. To be honest, I am still trying to process everything. It was certainly a thought-provoking day, and although it is no longer March 6th, I am going to continue celebrating, sending an invisible head nod and a million hugs to all the women around me.