Tuesday, 11 March 2008

A woman's honour

Whatever next? Italian judges have ruled that it's okay for a wife to lie about her adultery in order to 'protect her honour'. And that includes lying to the police.

Having a lover, said the highest appeal court in the land*, could damage the person's honour among family and friends. It's therefore quite reasonable to deny it.

A 48 year old Tuscany woman, known only as Carla, had denied lending her mobile phone to her lover Giovanni so he could make threatening phone calls to her estranged husband.

This peculiar decision raises so many questions I don't know where to start. Adultery damages the person's honour? Surely what really damages your honour is being blindly loyal to your husband however inadequate and disappointing he is? And doesn't it damage your honour again to lie about something that's so important to you?

But no, the judges' definition of 'honour' is some old-fashioned concept of slavish devotion to your man and propping up his reputation as a virile, masculine breadwinner. Doing anything that undermines that shiny image and suggests he is falling short is unfeminine and disloyal - and 'dishonourable'. So it should be hushed up.

I suspect what it's really about is not the woman's honour but the man's. How can a man hold his head up among his peers if his wife is blatantly giving him the brush-off and running around with someone else? Can't he keep his woman in line?

And of course Italian males are particularly hung-up on their masculine image and particularly put out by anything that compromises it. But they can't admit it's their problem, so as usual it's women who carry the can. And naturally they enjoy the 'honour' of doing so.

* The Court of Cassation, La Corte di Cassazione
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Victims of domestic violence in Northern Ireland are abused on average 35 times before they contact police. The Police Service is currently campaigning for women to complain and get help as soon as possible and not let the violence continue. Good for them.

20 comments:

Los Angelista said...

Hasn't the wife already sort of lost her "honor" by cheating? And what kind of judge condones having your lover threaten your husband? I'm confused.

red said...

Why am I not surprised that all this happened in Italy?

heartinsanfrancisco said...

This is shocking on so many levels. Divorce is probably illegal in Italy, considering the Catholic church's stance on it and the fact that the Vatican is right there. If so, then unhappily married women have no legal recourse, although it has always seemed wrong to me to begin a relationship while still in another one.

Also, there is a slippery slope here if lying in court is acceptable. It is only a short jump to lying about murder and everything else.

I find it interesting that there is no comparable word to "cuckold" for a woman whose husband cheats on her.

Baino said...

Apparently a female cuckold is a cuckquean! Bit of trivia for your next dinner party! I actually agree more with the legal ramifications noted by 'Heart'. What next, if lying is acceptable in court?

Wisewebwoman said...

I find this so hard to believe, Nick!
I mean does the swearing on the bible come into it?
I heartily agree that it is to protect the husbands and their fragile masculinity.
The phrase 'honour amongst thieves' comes to mind.
'Honour amongst cuckqueans'.
Let's all live a lie, shall we?
XO
WWW

Nick said...

Liz - Is it necessarily cheating? I don't think adultery is automatically wrong, it depends on the circumstances. If your husband is generally malicious and destructive, it seems reasonable to seek out someone better. And it isn't always possible to end the original relationship first, particularly if the husband refuses to cooperate.

Red - Italian courts do come up with some very strange decisions, based on some equally strange local traditions. There was the court that excused a rapist because he was Sardinian!

Heart - As I said to Liz, sometimes it's very difficult to end the original relationship. And you're right, if you can lie about something like this to a court, isn't that an invitation to lie about all sorts of things?

Baino - Indeed, whatever happened to telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

www - Honour amongst thieves - nice one. You can bet shoring up male privilege is the hidden agenda here, as always.

Quickroute said...

I've read mistresses are par for the course in Italy - is it true?

Nick said...

Quickie, from what I can gather I think you're right. It's almost a badge of honour (as it were) to have a side order. Red or Caro, since you're on the spot, what d'you think?

Matt said...

Judicial protection for the fragile male ego, I like that. Conservative wingnuts in the states sometimes say the men here have been feminized, but if that's so, I'll take it over being a macho imbecile.

Nick said...

Wow, men have been feminized, shock horror - whatever next, they might even turn into completely sensitive, caring, responsible individuals. It could be the end of civilisation as we know it! But not much chance of that in Italy, I don't think, men there are wedded to their machismo.

TextualHealing said...

I thought the Sardinian defence was a chess move ;-)

This article and the comments do raise some other issues. Having a mistress or male lover is not so unusual in Southern Europe. Its just a different way of doing things. In anglo saxon cultures if monogamy doesn't work - we tend to swap partners with all the hurt, upheaval and cost that implies. In France and Italy it is accepted that people may take a lover after a few years when the flame of their marraige burns less brightly but they are more likley to keep the family home together. Love can evolve from passion to friendship and sometims men (and women) want to refind that passion without necaessarily losing that friendship and the security they have invested in their primary relationship.

Just to promote a slightly more nuanced version.

BTW I don't think the judge should have given the woman the right to lie but crimes of passion are often traeted differently in all countries.

Nick said...

TH, the French and Italian approach you outline sounds very practical and sensible to me - provided of course your spouse goes along with it. As you say, passion does sometimes fade after a while and that seems a valid way of rekindling it but not losing what you've already committed to. You're right, the colossal upheaval and trauma of ending the existing relationship is not much of a solution.

TextualHealing said...

Nick sometimes it can be a little greyer than that - "what the eye doesn't see the heart doesn't grief over". And sometimes one does turn a blind eye to things one doesn't want to grieve over. And yes I know there is a very fine line between deceit and duplicity.

Nick said...

TH, you're saying that adultery is standard practice but the spouse may not know about it? Or they may know about it but pretend they don't? That does seem a bit deceitful. Both because you're keeping something secret and because your spouse is maybe not aware they're disappointing you.

Caro said...

I just wrote a long comment and my connection went down so I lost it.

To heartinsanfrancisco - divorce is legal in Italy, and the divorce rate is very high. Nearly all my friends' parents are divorced. However women do not fare so well out of divorce settlements as in Ireland. I know an English woman in her late sixties who was forced to return to work (she'd been a stay at home mother) and find herself a rented flat because her husband left her and she had no claim over the family home they'd lived in for 30 odd years as it wasn't explicitly put into both names.

Basically Italian law is so complex and contradictory any sort of a ruling is possible, if your lawyer is good enough. Same deal with the tax code.

While there are probably more extra-marital affairs than in Ireland, I wouldn't describe it as a "badge of honour". It's not really socially acceptable at all.

Nick said...

Thanks for that, Caro. Sounds like spouses do pretty badly in Italy one way or another, with so many splitting up and the law being so tangled. The wife not having any claim on her home of 30 years is outrageous. That definitely wouldn't happen in the UK. Interesting that adultery is so widespread but still socially unacceptable - which no doubt helps to explain the 'honour' decision.

Medbh said...

What year is this again?

Nick said...

Not sure - 1908?? Something tells me the overwhelming presence of the Catholic church might have something to do with it....

Caro said...

To be honest, I think the Catholic church holds less sway in Italy than it does in Ireland. Divorce and abortion have been legal here for a very long time. They're currently working on formulating a law to allow civil partnerships. The government seems to be less in thrall to the church than in Ireland, where church influence on politics remains disproportionate.

People don't care about the church anymore, but they care very much about what other people think about them. There's more of a gap between what's acceptable for women and what's acceptable for men. Men can get away with a whole lot more here, whereas the playing field is considerably more level in Ireland nowadays. It's bad enough here but even worse down south.

Nick said...

Interesting, Caro, that you think the Catholic church is less influential in Italy than Ireland. And that what people really care about in Italy is not the church but other people's opinions. There's a lot of comment in the Irish Republic at the moment about gays who're reluctant to come to Ireland because their marriage / civil partnership wouldn't be recognised there.