By Guardian Newspapers, 4/5/2003
Over the centuries, sculptors have used the white marble from quarries around the medieval Tuscan town of Pietrasanta to cut the muscle-rippling male figures that grace squares and fountains across Italy
But these days a different kind of man is emerging from this sleepy northern town. Around Fiorenzo Bresciani's front door, in Via Crociale, there is a flurry of activity as men, many who once kept Italian ' macismo ' alive, now come and go wearing aprons, flapping dusters and comparing recipes.
'We are cliché-busting Italian men,' said Bresciani, founder of the Italian Association of House- husbands. 'We have realised that the image of the macho Italian man is all wrong. It always has been. Society got it wrong.
'There are enormous num bers of Italians who want to look after themselves, not be dependent on women. And there are others who are dying to reveal their feminine side but think it would bring too much shame.'
The Househusbands, who registered their organisation officially in January, aim to emancipate Italian men by teaching them housework as an art form rather than a chore. The movement has more than 3.500 members from across the country with more applications coming in.
The group, many of whose wives are now the main family earners, give advice, compare tips on detergents and share secret recipes in regular meetings in Pietrasanta. They have created their own range of 'househusbands' branded accessories, including aprons and T-shirts.
'Divorce rates are rising. And more and more men in their thirties are realising you just can't live with your mother until you find a wife,' said Bresciani.
'I found myself on my own suddenly,' said 53-year-old Agostino , a convert, 'and I didn't know how to cook a meal. I've realised how much that is worth now.'
Divorce was legalised in Italy only in 1970 and rates in the predominantly Catholic society are still among the lowest in Europe. But the family is not as solid as it once was. Divorces increased 39 per cent between 1995 and 2000. The threat to the traditional family model caused Pope John Paul II such concern that last year he called on Catholic lawyers to boycott the 'evil' of divorce.
Some commentators say not only the macho Italian man but also the Italian mamma, pampering her son so he never grows up, may soon be a thing of the past.
'Men are terrified of what is happening,' said Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of Italy's former dictator and topless model turned politician. 'Things are changing in Italy. Roles are being reversed. If the men are doing the cleaning, it is because the women have stopped.'
© Guardian Newspapers Limited