Sicily women, their history and their courage

“Women are the true richness of Sicily”. Yes, my dear visitor, in Sicily, women are one the most beautiful things of my loved island. Both the women of yesterday and the ones of today. Not by chance, Sicily is a female name and the flag, Trinacria, always is a female name. But why Sicily women are so special, unique and great? Follow the subsequent paragraphs and you’ll find the answers and something else about the Sicilian women.

sicily women

Women in Sicily tradition

I always say that Sicily women are the true richness of my loved island because they are really strong. They have an inner strength, an endless courage which comes from the depths of their soul. In Sicily, the women  endured many plagues. Especially, in the past centuries. However, I want to focus my discussion on the latest two centuries, the XIX and the XX century, because the Sicilian tradition became more relevant during these periods.

Ancient Sicilian woman

In the ancient tradition of Sicily, women were forced to be only wives, mothers and sometimes ugly and with a mustache.

Fortunately, today, they are free to live their life, are beautiful and charming, but in the past, the things were different.

In the past centuries, Sicily women were kept in a submissive role, in their origin family and  in the marital one.

They had no rights, they had only to do houseworks  and be the eternal servants of their husband and their children.

The most of the  times, Sicilian husbands raped their wives, who remained  pregnant. Indeed, due to these frequent marital rapes, Sicily women  had  over 10 children during their fertile life. 

Getting a job was forbidden to women in Sicily, such as to talk to another man. However, if the husband had the suspect that the wife was unfaithful, he was authorized  by the Italian law to kill her. That was the so called  “honor crime”. 

Unfortunately, this wicked mindset also influenced many women, in Sicily, so that, in turn, they taught their sons to treat their women without respect, giving rise to an endless chain of abuse and violence (always against women).

The prejudice against women lasted for a long time in Sicily and it is still alive in some ancient small villages, mostly inhabited by older generations of Sicilian women.

However, still today, freedom and rights are forbidden to many Sicilian women. Sure, today  Sicilian women are graduated, but the great problem is that if they remain in Sicily, they  remain unemployed. When they get a job, they always earn less than Sicilian men. When women want to be free to live their life, such as, for example, to be childfree, they are regarded  as freaks by other Sicilian women who have had children. It is like women are unable to feel compassion  each other. The most of times, the women of Sicily who make different life choices, are forced to go away from Sicily.

Hence, still today, Sicily women have difficulty to live a free and independent life, but above all, they are prevented from being themselves. 

Fortunately, Sicily women took big steps forward in their social emancipation. They are free to hang out their friends, go to parties, get a degree and a job. Furthermore, they are free to have sex before marrying. 

You must know that in the past, Sicilian women who gave up their virginity before getting married were regarded as prostitutes (doomed to remain spinster),  while men who gave up their virginity before getting married were regarded as true symbols of masculinity and authorized to betray their wife for the entire duration of the marriage. I think that virginity and marital fidelity are ethical values for both men and women, but in Sicily (always in the past) human rights were forbidden to Sicilian women. 

However, the matter of the rights of women in Sicily deserves another paragraph.

Women’s rights in Sicily

The rights are still unknown for the most of Sicilian women, especially the ones who live  in the small villages. Many of these women are still trapped in the traditional role of housewife and home servant. Many fundamental human rights have been denied to Sicilian women over time. Just think that Rape has been considered a crime against morality and not against women until 1996. As of this date, the Italian law has finally provided that sexual violence is a crime against a person and not only against morality.

Franca Viola

Furthermore, in the past decades, when Sicilian women were raped, they were forced to marry their rapist. Another violence in the violence called “reparative marriage”. But, we Sicilian women can also be very strong when worst vicissitudes occur. One of the brightest examples of strong and courage in Sicily is the one of Franca Viola (see the image), a Sicilian woman born in Alcamo, in the province of Trapani, who refused to marry her rapist.  

On December, 26, 1965, the day after Christmas, Franca was kidnapped, imprisoned, for eight days in a secluded cottage and raped. She was 17 years. 

The first day of the new year, the father of Franca was contacted by the parents of the rapist for the so called “pacification”, “paciata” in Sicilian. That was a meeting aimed to put the two families in front of the fact accomplished to push Franca and the rapist to get married. The parents of Franca Viola (with the help of the Sicilian police) pretended to accept the reparative marriage, but the next day, the cops arrested the rapist and his accomplices, instead, making Franca free from the obligation to marry a man who raped her.

This obligation came from a twisted, old Italian law.  According  to this law,  the crime expires if the rapist and the victim get married, because at that time, rape was a crime against morality and not against women. According to this twisted morality, a girl raped had to necessarily marry her rapist to save her honor and the one of her family. Otherwise, she would have been regarded as a shameless woman and would have remained  a spinster.

That was not an act of courage. I only did what I felt to do, as any girl would do nowadays. I listened to my heart. The rest came by itself… It was not a courageous act.

Franca Viola

I could also mention endless examples of courage of Sicilian women, but I believe the latter is enough.

Feminism arrived in Italy between 1968 and 1971, but Sicily was not involved.  At that time, Sicily women continued to  be only the ones imposed by Sicilian tradition, namely: slaves of Sicilian men (fathers, brothers and husbands). And always at that time, when a daughter was born, the thoughts of the Sicilian relatives were expressed through these words: but that is only a little girl! Note the word “ that”, as she was not a baby, a human being, but an object.

Well, this is another example about a denied right. What the tradition denied to Sicily women is Equalitarism, the right to have the same rights of men, namely the dignity to be persons.   

Sicily women yesterday and today

There is a large difference between  the Sicilian women of yesterday and today. The ones of yesterday were our mothers or grandmothers, they were patient and humble women who were also capable to cook stunning Sicilian dishes. The mesmerizing scent and the flavors of food you breath when you are in Sicily are just the ones invented by the women of yesterday. I remember my grandmother while she was preparing the traditional Sicilian bread and the Sicilian schiacciata or delicious Sicilian pastry such as cannoli. During their spare time, they spent the remaining day to crochet and knit. They created wonderful scarfs and shawl that are nearly impossible to find nowadays.  

Sicilian mourners

These women are not longer in Sicily. Many of them are passed away, but their memory will always live in the heart of the Sicilian women of today.  The look of the old Sicilian women was also very picturesque. They wore a black handkerchief on their head, especially when they went to the Church and a traditional wool shawl on their shoulders. When they prepared meals, they always wore bandana and apron. When an unknown  person strolled the streets, these women looked at him/her like an alien. You can still observe this gaze in older women in small Sicilian villages.

This happened because the old women of Sicily weren’t accustomed  to  have confidence with  new people, except their close relatives. The ancient customs of the Sicilian women of yesterday make us laugh nowadays and many comedians disguise like them to represent their behavior during typical Sicilian scenes, such as funeral. During this sad event, the women dressed in black  cried and repeated Sicilian words, such as “Beddamatri santissima and Sciammuzza”.  To organize the mourning, the relatives of the deceased were even capable  to hire the so called “professional mourners” who had to cry and say the above mentioned Sicilian words.

These words are unknown for me, as well. I suppose that beddamatri santissima is the holy mother of God, the beautiful mother, but Sciammuzza? What is it? I think it means poor fellow. Black dressed Sicilian women can also be seen during Easter time. Typically black dressed old women, with a black handkerchief and a shawl, follow the traditional procession of Christ dead. The event is very poignant and  is held every year in the most of the Sicilian villages I wrote about  in the past months.

Yesterday, Sicily, women were much committed in the Catholic Church. They are so even today, especially the older ones and in the usual small villages. They clean the churches, they help priests organize Mass and religious parades and for this commitment I think these women are the true Angels of Church. The Sicilian women of today are largely busy. Today, Sicily women are not only wives and mothers, but also entrepreneurs,  caregivers and multitasking.  

Sicily women today

Sometimes, men help them  with their daily tasks, often they don’t and for this, I wonder if today,  Sicilian women gained the true freedom or a sort of self enslavement. Multiple tasks often rouse stress, depression and anxiety and I hope the new generations of Sicilian girls learn to choose a better lifestyle, not like the past one, without rights, but a more sustainable one and founded on true human principles.

Sicily women’s clothing

Talented Sicilian women can create stunning products in Sicily. Moreover, the Sicilian style is recognized worldwide, so that there is also a Sicilian fashion style, not only the one  Dolce and Gabbana , but also the one of Sicilian artisan women. I met many of them, who create jewels, bags and traditional clothing. Because, Sicily women are not only housewives, but much more. The economy of Sicily is today supported by them. Their talent is really great and deserves the attention of the world…

Sicilian shawl

The fashion of Sicily dates back to the liberty style, born between the eighteenth and the nineteenth century . At that time, Sicilian women wore refined clothing made of  sweet plots and colored  interlaces recalling the nuances of Sicily.  

The clothing of Sicilian women also include Sicilian embroidered lace and  the traditional Sicilian shawl. This cloth is usually in wool, cotton and crocheted. The Sicilian shawl is regarded as a vintage product, but I think that is a precious fashion item . Still today, I wear a wool shawl in the winter, to wrap it on my skirt. Instead, I found many printed silk scarfs disguised as true Sicilian products, but the true traditional Sicily clothing for women is made through the lost art of crocheting.

After a hard search, I found skilled Sicilian woman who still creates crocheted clothes. She is Rossella Alaimo Pepe, another talented Sicily woman who lives in Palermo. Her products are all handmade. In her own website she says that her creations are exclusively the result of her fantasy and entirely realized with her hands, so every piece is unique and exclusive, not reproducible …”. If you want to see the Sicilian clothing for women by Rossella, visit her website or her shop on Amazon.

Conclusion

I hope you read this post entirely. I wish I told more about Sicilian women, but I believe I told the most meaningful things these women endured in their life. Maybe, among them, you’ll remember your Sicilian ancestors. If so, I invite you to send a comment about them. Sicily women deserve your opinion and support, that, obviously, will be greatly appreciated.


Photocredits:

Dolce & Gabbana on Jetsetfashionmagazines.com

Pinterest.it

YouTube

Realtime.it

Presepecustonaci.it

Letramedirossellaalaimoblogspost.com

40 thoughts on “Sicily women, their history and their courage

    1. Rosalba Mancuso

      Thanks Randall, for appreciating the article. Yes, it is very sad to know how our ancestors were treated in the past. I really hope that nowadays, Sicily’s women gained the freedom and the respect they deserve.

      1. Maria Verde

        I can say as a Sicilian woman, that this was a very accurate description on my ancestors. I was born in the US in 1968, only 3 months after my parents fled from Sicily due a destructive earthquake in Montevago…. I shared this with many of my relatives, including my sister, sister-in-law, and daughters (all 100 percent Sicilian!)
        I can also say, from visiting Sicily every summer with my husband and children, the past few summers, we have come a long, long way. We are strong, outspoken, confident, and a force not to be reckoned with. Thank you again posting this and thank you my gorgeous Sicilian husband for forwarding to me. ❣️

        1. Rosalba Mancuso

          Thank you Maria for your heartfelt words and for sharing your experience on my blog.
          Your comment encourages me continue writing about Sicily and its wonderful and corageous women!

      2. Tina Signorino

        Yes, women are nearly king I would say. Very confident almost aggressive. From what I have seen men have backed off dramatically especially the ones under 60 years old. Women are in such good shape there now. Especially in the bigger towns, of course. Their own jobs. Money, bank accts. And very outspoken. They will never let it go, I can tell you that. They know better than we here know how hard it was for their grandmothers and great grandmothers. Sicilian women were never dummies, but now they are no longer afraid; of anyone!

        1. Rosalba Mancuso

          Yes, you are absolutely right, Tina.
          Sicilian women fear nothing nowadays and it is good for them. Men have instead backed off dramatically.
          That is why today Sicily’s women need to be more corageous than ever.

      3. Ann Maria Lombardo Williamson

        Ms. Mancuso, thank you for this piece. I would love to know more.
        I am a Sicilian American female artist living in America who has been searching for a Sicilian woman artist to study. Of course, there are Northern Italians yet none from the beloved island. I have studied Letizia Battaglia’s fantastic photography. Can you recommend any others?

        P.S. Took me 47 years to find an article such as this. EXTREMELY helpful in helping me to understand my life.

        1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

          Hi Ann Maria, thank you for loving this piece about us, women of Sicily!
          Your appreciation touched me very much and encourages me to keep writing about our beloved island. As regards your question, there is another skilled Sicilian female photographer you could study. She is Angela Scafidi from Palermo. This is her Facebook Fan Page: https://it-it.facebook.com/pages/category/Photographer/Angela-scafidi-fotografa-1399180810322035/. I hope this information will be helpful to you.

      4. Capt.B

        Totally agree with that. I just started dating someone who is Sicilian and she is the love of my life. she is an inspiration to me and look forward to our life together.

        1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

          I absolutely agree with you. Enjoy your Sicilian love story, then, because love is the only thing that matters in this life.

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  2. Maria

    Thank you for sharing. My mother’s side of her family were from Sicily and this is an accurate description of history there. Fortunately it has molded Sicilian women to what they are today, strong, beautiful, and intelligent a force not to be reckoned with!
    My great grandmother from Castelle di Mare, came to America because of hardship there. She was a strong women and married with modern thoughts of change. She lived and worked here in New York Cities’ “Little Italy” were my Grandmother was born and the women who followed were instilled with this strength! Thank you Great Grandma Marianna for you courage!

    1. Rosalba Mancuso

      Yes, Maria, Sicily’s women endured many adversties in their life, but the example of your relatives proved that they never surrender. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for sharing your story with me.

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  5. Mark

    Very intense story, Rosalba. Thank you for sharing. For what it’s worth, Sicilian American women definitely hold their own and are very much respected.

    1. Rosalba Mancuso

      Thank you, Mark, for appreciating the history about the Sicilian women. Also very happy to know that they are much respected in the United States. In Sicily, instead, their way to freedom has just started and I hope it will last forever…

    1. Rosalba Mancuso

      Hi Travis, I didn’t understand what you mean with the word “traditional”. If you mean a woman who is like a servant, I am very sorry, but, fortunately, this kind of woman is no longer in Sicily. You can also avoid the traditional greeting of San Benedica. Sicily tradition caused the enslavement of Sicily women in the past centuries. Nowadays, they are smart, independent and very modern. I wish you to find a Sicilian woman like these.

  6. Lilia Jolanta Siemaszkiewicz

    Thank You. I feel very Sicilian after reading it ! I am from Poland but my grand grand parents came from the South during or after first WW. I love Sicilly, am even thinking to move there now, when I am older….

    1. Rosalba Mancuso

      Hi Lilia, I feel honoured the article made you feel really Sicilian.
      Also happy you retrieved your Sicilian roots. Yes, in the past century, many Sicilians went away from my island, including your grand parents.
      I wish you achieve the dream to move to Sicily, one day.
      Your ancestors will approve, of course!

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  8. Anna

    Thank you for this lovely article.

    It took great strength and determination for Sicilians to move to the United States of America, but it took great strength and courage for Sicilians to stay and change things in Sicily. My grandfather moved to the USA from Sicily. While he diligently worked to establish a better lifestyle, his relatives in Sicily worked hard to improve their lifestyles.

    I admire my Sicilian relatives more than they may ever know. Their pride in being Sicilian is well-earned. Through many hardships, including oppression from the north, they continue to emerge wise, resourceful, and willing to change, if the change is for the better. The ancient ruins they possess make clear to them that their own culture is always evolving. Selectively, they have held on to many cultural traditions and have abandoned others which have become archaic.

    I have only been to Sicily once, but in my heart it will always be my second home. I have been told to avoid the Sicilian accent when learning Italian, but that is the accent I wish to have. I will not fold to prejudice against Sicilians.

    1. Rosalba Mancuso

      Thank you so much Anna, for your lovely comment. I hope you’ll forgive me for the delay of my reply, but it has been only for writing reasons.
      Thanks again for reading the post about Sicily’s women. Yes, they have had the indefatigable courage to emerge from their hard past and become what they are today: very proud to be Sicilian! As your relatives did, many of them left Sicily for a better future. But, they will always keep the island (and the Sicilian accent) in their heart. I think it is right so!

  9. Josie (Giuseppa) Basile

    I was born in italy and like every Sicilian family that came to America – they held on to their traditions and way of life. While things changed in Scilily and moved away from the old traditions the immigrants held on to their old way of life in America – not always an easy life for the Italian American girl. I am presently writing a story of the Italian life in America and would love to quote you in my book. Please feel free to contact me.

    1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

      Hi Josie,
      Thanks from your bottom of my heart for your decision to talk about the history of Sicilian women in your book.
      I can only try imaging the harshness of life for Italian immigrants in America, especially for women!
      I am very happy and honoured that you thought to quote me.
      Yes, feel free to quote what you consider important for your book.

  10. B

    Thank you for this insightful article, as a third generation Sicilian American, this explains a lot! 😀 <3

    1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

      Thank you so much, B, for appreciating this article about the wonderful women of Sicily.
      Thanks a lot from me and from all them!

  11. Benny Sorbello

    I am going to be traveling to Italy and Sicily sometime this year I am 67 years old and would love to meet a sicilian woman for marriage I don’t know if the dating seemed in Sicily is the same as in America. I am full blooded Sicilian but born in America. Are there dating places for older women and men in Sicily. My father’s parents were from saint alfio Catania my mom’s parents were from Palermo

    1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

      Hi Benny, thanks for sharing details of your life with Sicilyonweb. There are several restaurants in Catania,
      where single men and women can meet. One of these is SpeedDate.
      They organize events, parties, social dinners and drinks for single people looking for their soulmate.
      You find more information about them on this Facebook page: https://it-it.facebook.com/speeddatecatania/.

    1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

      Amid all the trash which is spoiling web content, you criticized one of the best articles that have been ever published so far.
      It is a pity that nowadays people lost the capacity to distinguish betwween respect and compassion.
      As a writer, I always write with truth and respect. I won’t lose the sleep for those who don’t understand that.

  12. Mark

    I am from London, wow this is sad, I live vin Spain now, so where would we go to find a Sicilian wife in the modern world?

    1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

      What do you mean for Sicilian wife? If you look for a submissive woman, very happy that the latter does not exist, anymore.
      If you look for clever and courageous women from Sicily, they are everywhere, by now, even in the places where you are.
      Good luck!

  13. Jonathan Strano

    My Great-grand father immigrated to Australia in 1909 and some of these stories were told to us by our grandparents and their friends while we were growing up here. The Sicilian dialect is still spoken at our home as a second language with some added English words which have naturally slipped in over the many years. Thank you Rosalba. ”Ta”

    1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

      Thank you Jonathan for sharing that and appreciating this post.
      Yes, the stories about the Sicilian women are authentic, and I am
      glad to hear that they have been handed down from your forefathers along with
      the Sicilian dialect. They must be kept all over the world.
      Thanks again for doing it.

  14. Heather

    Oh, wow! You just explained some family history. The generation from there was like that and the weird attitude about premarital sex being ok for men but not women was something that took another to get away from.

    1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

      Hi Heather,
      Thank you for appreciating this article.
      Fortunately, the premarital sex prejudice against women is no longer in force in Sicily.
      However, there are other weird attitudes to overcome, such as work disparity (Sicily women earn less than men and are often unemployed). Moreover, still today, several Sicilian men cultivate the bad attitude to reserve most of the houseworks for women. Well, I hope this bad heritage of a twisted misogine mindset will be definitively defeated.

  15. Lorinda Pranzo

    Thank you for writing this article. My Grandmother use to crochet all the time and made many blankets, shawls, scarves and hats. My Grandfather of Sicilian decent having nearly 13 brothers and sisters, we are lucky to have a huge family scattered across Long Island and other parts of New York. Growing up Sicilian is such a gift. Everyone is always so close and we talk about EVERYTHING under the sun. I always keep my Grandmother’s Black shawl with me, given to me by my Mother. I remember cooking with my Grandma…a great past time. Her food was always delicious and perfect, being a native of Italy. My fashion sense always has high quality materials and I love LACE. It’s part of who I am, and I am so thankful for the art of loving all things beautiful and all things delicious of course !

    1. Rosalba Mancuso Post author

      Thank you so much, Lorinda, for sharing the love for your Sicilian roots with me.
      Your way to talk about your family is so tender that inspires me to send you a great hug.
      Because we are always passionate Sicilians, everywhere we are (even in the United States).
      Keep the gifts of your grandmother with all your affection: they are true symbols of the courageous women of Sicily.

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