The Beach Harem

Report here on the women’s only beach – the first of its kind – in Italy. What grabbed my attention was the following comment:

“Here I can allow myself to be less than perfect,” said Cinzia Donati, 43, of Milan.

I have found that, when discussing norms of appearance, students often claim that women adhere to norms of appearance to meet expectations of other women, as much as those of men (as well as in accordance with their own expectations). A similar thought prompted this post, on ‘labiaplasty to impress the girls’. At least some anecdotal evidence, then, against such claims; this woman feeling able to relax, in the absence of men (or the ‘male gaze’) but presence of women, from the stringent standards of appearance (see Bartky 1991 for more on norms of femininity). And that seems like a good thing…

However, for a more critical perspective on the ‘pink beach’, or at least, the way it has been presented , see here, over at Feministing (filed under June 25th). The article discussed there reports on some pretty awful claims: e.g. “The lifeguard must be a man. You clearly need a man to save women in the sea. It’s a question of muscles.”

Finally, an unfortunate ambiguity in meaning:

“Calling it a “beach harem”, Italian newspaper La Stampa said the woman-only beach reflected a growing demand for female rights in Italy.”

OED tells us, for ‘harem’

1. ‘part of a Muslim dwelling-house appropriated to the women, constructed so as to secure the utmost seclusion and privacy’, 2. ‘The occupants of a harem collectively; the female members of a Muslim family; esp. the wives and concubines collectively’…

Just what feminism needs? A beach harem?

2 thoughts on “The Beach Harem

  1. Would be interesting to press students who insist women dress for other women, by asking them about all female gatherings– whether they would take more or less care with their appearance. I’m suspecting that, like the Italian woman interviewed, they’d take less. Which suggests perhaps that even if women are dressing to compete with or impress other women, they may be competing with them on *being appealing to men*. Which would back up Bartky’s claim that it is ultimately done for men.

  2. What does having a women-only beach have to do with women’s rights? Are women restricted from bathing at any other beaches in Italy?

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