Earlier this month, on March 8, women all across the world were celebrating International Women’s Day. Beyond commemorating those who had worked for years to achieve equal rights for women, people also venerated their own mothers, sisters and daughters for being strong and independent role models in their lives. This annual celebration often leaves women with a feeling of success for their progress, but also with a sense of hope for a more equal tomorrow.
While studying abroad for a semester in Rome, European Novel was one course that was offered with a literary focus. In European Novel, the goal was to further examine significant works by Italian writers since the late 19th century. The themes of classroom discussions frequently touched on topics that dealt with human suffering, morality and the importance of human equality.
The first book that the class read was the feminist novel called “A Woman.” Although once popular in Italy, it’s not discussed often enough in America. “A Woman” by Sibilla Aleramo, published in 1906, provides an autobiographical account of the unfortunate and often oppressive environments women typically encounter after marrying.
Purposefully careful not to address other people’s names, Sibilla Aleramo creates a novel that, albeit an autobiography, is also representative of a larger group of people. The anonymous names create a ubiquitous story that continues to happen to women across the world. The title of the novel itself, although plain and generic, offers a hint of truth about the shared experiences of being a woman.
The story follows a young and exuberant teenage girl who, since childhood, had acknowledged her father with extreme admiration and respect. The girl’s father consistently educated her, and even allowed her to work with him as a secretary at his factory.
Her father finds a mistress and the family soon begins to fall apart. To cope with this, she turns toward and confides in a man who sexually assaults her.
She becomes pregnant is forced to marry the man who assaulted her. It goes to show the ways some men treated women at that time.
Had this been a novel of fiction, it wouldn’t have been surprising if the story were commonly viewed as vulgar and disturbing. It’s evident that when it comes to topics of inequality the oppressors have ignored the ruthless effects of their behavior and condemnation on others. “A Woman” brings attention and awareness to something not many would speak about.
Besides her son, the narrator found her salvation in reading and writing. The practice of writing became a place where she developed her thoughts and made sense of her life, which eventually came together to become one of the first autobiographical and influential novels that deals with feminism.
It’s true that the time period of the novel is inconsistent with our 21st century readers. In light of International Women’s Day, men and women alike are confronted with the obligation to not only appreciate the women of our current day, but also of the women who fought hard for their rights.
At moments when progress isn’t being made, it could be helpful to remember Sibilla Aleramo’s words in “A Woman.”
“No one but women knew their own psychology; therefore only they could make it clear.”