MILAN: If The city is just saint, virgin and martyr
Only 3% of streets in Milan is dedicated to women. In numbers it is 141 out of about 3600 streets. 51.9% of the people who live in Milan are women. They go from being the majority in daily life to being the minority in toponymy. This is the snapshot of the streets in Milan.
IN NUMBERS IT IS
141 OUT OF 3600 STREETS
Most women, to whom the streets are dedicated, are saints or they are represented while taking care of someone else. “We have to break out of the vicious circle where women are related to care jobs”, Azzurra Muzzonigro said. Together with Florencia Andreola, she is the author of Milan gender atlas. Ergo: by studying Milan toponymy, it appears that women must be saints or give all of themselves to their husband or children in order to be worthy of being represented in public spaces.
Saints and scientists
The image of a Saint, so present in our cultural imagery, is a symbol, a specific way to think of femininity that embodies the idea of sacrifice towards someone that is not herself. But there is something more: “The scientist is, in a way, in contrast to the saint because she is obviously the one who worked to contribute to everyone’s progress, but she is remebered also because her name is associated to discoveries, works or roles”, Lorenzo Gasparrini, philosopher and feminism expert, said. “If our culture leaves out different female models, we risk that the others who are different from the saints seem abnormal or mistaken for our society.”
Milan mapping, made by Rete toponomastica femminile, shows only 27 streets dedicated to female writers, poets, and journalists. Maria Grazia Cutuli, a reporter who died in Afghanistan in 2001; Linda Malnati, a socialist teacher who dedicated her life to educating female children in order to encourage them to demolish the laws of our society that wanted them submissive; Grazia Daledda, the first Italian woman who won a Nobel prize. They are only a few examples of the stories that can be found on the interactive map.
A multidisciplinary approach
“The direction of the Milan government is right, but it goes on slowly because there is still a huge gender gap”, said Muzzonigro. It is huge and evident in every field: from health to education, from gender-based violence to exploitation of prostitution. All the previous topics can’t be discussed by a single department, but they need a person inside of the Milan government that puts together different businesses. A multidisciplinary approach is needed to study the effect of each public policy even on women and men. Just as there is the study of the environmental effect of infrastructures, there should be the analysis of the gender effect.
Why it is important to dedicate new streets to women
First of all, dedicating new streets to women is a cultural matter, as Danila Baldo, vice president of Rete Toponomastica femminile, explains.
Why are we surprised that women are discriminated against if they aren’t either represented in public places?
“When we talk about cultural data, it is crucial to remember and recall women’s names, because we risk forgetting them, leaving out the public debate a great richness” Lorenzo Gasparrini said.
Rete toponomastica femminile was born to bring on this cause. Today it has 350 subscribers. This association was born three years ago by an idea of Maria Pia Ercolini, a geography teacher. When she was walking in Rome with her students, she realized that the streets dedicated to women were very few. The anecdote highlights that we the citizens should pay deep attention to this topic. People must play an active role by presenting problems and suggesting useful solutions.
Why is it difficult
In the path there are many obstacles to get through. “Changing the already existing names of the streets also means changing ID addresses of the people who live there”, Baldo said. Rete toponomastica femminile focuses only on not-named places that aren’t still named and on new streets that are under construction. It’s not by chance that one of the areas in Milan where there is a high concentration of streets dedicated to women is City Life –planned and built recently. It is also a proof of an increased awareness that the Milan government is showing over the past years.
When two municipalities merge into one, it is another chance to dedicate new streets to women. Baldo said that it is specifically what happened when Barberino-Tavernelle, next to Florence, merged. In these cases, it is considered a good practice to survey the people who live there to decide to whom the new streets will be dedicated.
“The dedication is only the result, the tip of the iceberg, of a complex process that starts with rising public awareness”, Baldo replied. In the contest where we belong to the initiatives that lead to a major acknowledgement seem to fight against an enemy who is difficult to get, but it is still dangerous: the act of exclusion.
The lack of representation causes paradoxical outcomes: only a few women’s names are remembered. “This does not mean that those few names are very famous, it means that few names are remembered”. As a consequence, street denomination may be a good way to bump into new women with great stories to discover. Moreover, toponymy allows us to remember local characters that really affected the local area. This is very important because taking into account the local culture enlarges our memory as a community.