HIM INDOORS: Married to the mop

Armed with dusters and rubber gloves, a growing number of Italian men are taking machismo to the cleaners, luring new members into a life of organised grime. So, what's it like to exchange passion for pinnies?

Jul 19 2003


Text By Christine Aziz.


In a stylish apartment in the sleepy Tuscan town of Pietrasanta, near Florence – cue The Godfather-style Sicilian village music – a quiet revolution is under way which intends to sweep Italian macho men off their feet.

It's all down to Fiorenzo Bresciani, 51, a typical Italian romeo with Robert De Niro good looks, seductive charm and a smile to die for. While his wife Daniela Tageli, 44, a homeopathic doctor, works away in her busy home-based surgery, he's up to his elbows in – cue noise of needle scratching across record as the music stops – rubber gloves. It's a far cry from the stylised, ultra-masculine image Italian men have worked hard to cultivate.

As Daniela devotes herself to her career and earns the family crust, Fiorenzo takes care of all the domestic chores – and has done so for nearly 20 years. Apron on as he pushes a mop around the tiled living room floor, the former butcher explains: `I decided to give up my job because I wanted Daniela to be able to concentrate on her work without distractions. I wasn't ambitious. It wasn't something that we discussed, it just evolved. I began doing the washing-up, then the clothes, then the cleaning, until finally I was doing it all.'

Not content with revolutionising his own domestic set-up,

Fiorenzo went even further and founded an association for Italian house husbands – the Associazione Uomini Casalinghi (AUC). Its aim is to support fellow countrymen who want to learn how to help their wives around the house, or who simply enjoy chores like baking or cleaning but are too ashamed to admit it to their friends. Now in its 15th year, the AUC currently has 3,251 members, ranging in age from early twenties to late seventies – all challenging the traditional macho role of the Italian male, who `doesn't know his ravioli from his spaghetti' according to Fiorenzo. There are different local groups around the country and each one meets once a month to swap ideas and information, as well as discuss football.

Today, Fiorenzo is preparing the apartment for his own monthly meeting, and not a nook or cranny misses the attention of his duster. `I have to set an example as the president,' he says. Setting up his ironing board and iron, the domestic king explains, `Some new members haven't ironed before, so I'll be giving a few hints.' It wasn't always this way. A quick word with Daniela reveals her husband had a lot to learn in the early days. `When we first met he couldn't cook, so I had to teach him how, as well as about separating the whites from the colours for washing.'

It's a different story today, though, and soon you can't move in the apartment for men in aprons, all here to learn tips and catch up on local gossip. This is the closest Italy gets to the Women's Institute, and it's becoming almost as popular. More men have been joining the AUC in the past five years than ever before. And since the recent launch of its website, Fiorenzo receives enquiries from other countries keen to set up their own associations – Argentina already has one.

Fiorenzo appears regularly on Italian TV, predicting that the future for `Italian man' is not Armani suits but Marigold gloves. And he might have a point. Sociologist Vando Borghi from the University of Bologna believes the AUC's growing membership indicates that an increasing number of men are reassessing their domestic situation. `The labour market is becoming a much more stressful and absorbing place,' he says. `There are some men who are thinking about taking on a different role in the family and changing the balance between family and work.'

But in a society that traditionally expects men to make money, seduce women and drive fast cars, it's a brave bloke who confronts the country's tough-guy values. `Why should it be that men can't try to help their wives?' asks Fiorenzo. `Society is changing and we have to change with it. It isn't fair for women to go out to work, come home and be expected to do everything.'

But according to the United Nations, this is exactly what they are expected to do in Italy. Over 50% of Italian women work full-time (and the figures are increasing annually), but national statistics show most working women do 100% of the housework. `When the man doesn't help out in the home the woman can't relax,' Fiorenzo says. `She gets tense and stressed and it affects the couple' s emotional and physical relationship.'

AUC member Andrea Grossi, 38, and his wife Sara, 32 – who live yards away from the beautiful Lake Massaciuccoli at Torre del Lago, with their two children Matteo, four, and one-year-old Francesca – divide all domestic duties and childcare reponsibilities down the middle.

The couple married in 1995 and decided it would be Andrea, a fireman, who would stay at home for six months after the birth of Matteo while Sara continued working. `My colleagues thought I was strange,' he recalls, `but I& apos;d watched my father take on work in the house after my mother died so it wasn't strange for me to do it. I don't feel different to other men. I am a normal Italian man.'

The couple now coordinate their work schedule so that when one of them is working, the other is at home looking after the children. But even this arrangement causes amusement with Andrea's colleagues. `They tease me at work and say it isn't good for the image of the fire station,' he says. `Firefighting is considered a very macho job in Italy. Last Christmas they bought me an apron, but I am proud of what I do. I think more men should be involved with their children and work equally in the home with their wives. I have a stronger relationship with my children than most other men because I spend more time with them.'

`Andrea does everything – the cleaning, the laundry, nappy changes. He even cleans the toilet,' Sara says proudly, adding that she had always wanted to find a man to have an equal relationship with. `It isn't easy for Italian women to find the kind of man who will help them. Most Italian men just want to go to bars or play sport and enjoy themselves while the women are at home. I am very lucky.'

Fiorenzo's wife Daniela echoes these sentiments: `He's a man in a million!' she says of her husband. But she reveals not all Italian women are appreciative of a partner who can tickle their fancy with a duster. `Women in Italy are in a confused state,' she says. `They say: “I want a man like Fiorenzo”, and then when they get someone like him, they realise they prefer the traditional type of man. Power for Italian women traditionally lies in the home. They feel threatened by a man who can run a home as well as they can.'

Michele Polidoni, 32, has been an AUC member for six years since meeting Fiorenzo. `He told me about his organisation and I told him that I'd always loved cleaning. I was relieved to meet a man I could tell who wouldn't laugh at me. Even as a little boy I was always polishing, dusting and sweeping.'

Michele likes cleaning so much he works as a cleaner to supplement his income as a shop assistant in a hardware store. But far from being the ideal mate for the Italian career woman, he now finds himself living back at home with his 70-year-old mother, Giovanna, after his girlfriend walked out. `I lived in Rome for two years with my girlfriend, but she left me because she said I liked cleaning too much,' he says. `Maybe women prefer men who spend all their time in bars.'

Back at the Bresciani home, the men gather around Fiorenzo and his ironing board. `Linen is very difficult to iron – you have to lay a damp cloth over the fabric to get the creases out. Or you iron it when it is still damp – but not wringing wet.' They watch attentively as he irons with satisfaction. There is a flurry of excitement when he announces that a top chef will be giving a demonstration on the art of creating vegetable decorations on Saturday.

Sipping his coffee, Mario Vaglio is eager to reassure that housework doesn't affect an Italian man's performance in bed. `We are still good lovers,' he says puffing out his chest. Still handsome and looking much younger than his 70 years, Mario, a retired legal clerk, says he never helped his wife, Marie Louise, with the housework throughout their 45- year marriage. `But since I am a pensioner and at home I have realised how much work women do in the home. I felt very bad and guilty. Now I help cook, wash up and dust. We are able to spend more time together as a result.' Mario then tells the group that his best tip for housework is to do a little light dusting every day. `That way it never gets out of control,' he says. They all look impressed, and move on to discuss the merits of bicarbonate of soda as a cleaning agent. Al Pacino eat your heart out!& lt;/P>

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