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Dialect Proverbs
Man and woman:
an old proverb – incredible! – is in favor of equality. As far as hitting each other is concerned…
Marìte me sinde, mugghière te songhe
Mazzate me dà, mazzate te donghe

[You are my husband, I am your wife
Blows you give me, blows I give you]
(Northern Puglia)
by Alberto Sobrero
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Bruno Maggio. China

It is rare, if not impossible, to find proverbs in favor of the equality of the sexes. It is perhaps useless to search for them: gender difference is not merely a biological fact, but above all a social construction, based on the reciprocal attribution of roles in society. The co-existence of genders has given rise, throughout the centuries, to a struggle for power in which nobody is blameless and whose origins go back to time immemorial (Adam and Eve?) and has continued until our time (is there anyone who thinks this struggle is over?).

In these struggles males have always played the role of the ruler, or rather of that of the prevaricator. The first doubts about this blatant inequality began to arise only in the 19th century, and on few occasions; both civil and religious powers continued to claim the ‘natural’ supremacy of man over woman well into the 20th century, even in the most authoritative contexts: the civil code on the one hand and papal encyclicals on the other.

Therefore, why should one be astonished at the misogyny that is deeply rooted in the proverbs of the Apulian countryside, whose origins go back to ages that were so deeply pervaded with male chauvinism? Woman’s inferiority was peacefully accepted by everyone, men and women, of all social classes, in all regions. And worldly wisdom was generous with advice on how to keep distances, to respect what seemed to be a law of nature, destined to last forever.

So it is not the misogynous proverb that astonishes us (frequent, often sarcastic, ferocious, contemptuous toward women) but its opposite. And it should be said that proverbs and proverbial mottoes that cast a good light on women are few, but there are some. They reflect surprise more than anything else, or rather the uneasiness of the man who discovers abilities in a woman and even powers higher than his: he opens his eyes wide and shows all his astonishment in realizing, for instance, that la fìmmana face cu nna parulina / cchiùi de lu màsculu cu ccentu discorsi (with a little word a woman does / more than a man does with a hundred speeches). And he can even acknowledge that – in spite of the roles formally assigned and accepted – the one who really commands, in a family, is not the man but the woman: maritu propone / e mmujere dispone (the husband suggests, and the wife decides). To the point that the man must admit that every woman has the ability and power to work on her man: la fìmmana face l’ommu (it’s the woman who makes the man) and that the good running of the family is in fact assured more by her than by him, even in the ratio of three to one: lu maritu mantene l’angulu de la casa / e la mujere ttre (the husband keeps a corner of the house standing and the woman three corners).

But there is more than that. Among the lower social classes, where the man plays a leading role almost exclusively from a physical point of view, the superiority of one sex over the other manifests itself through physical strength. There is no doubt about it: the man is stronger, they all know this. Yet… Yet even here the miracle of the equality of the sexes can be found. Equality in blows, in hitting. Marìte me sinde, mugghière te songhe / Mazzate me dà, mazzate te donghe (You are my husband, I am your wife / Blows you give me, blows I give you). In other words even with blows and kicks it is not always sure that the man will win.

An upside-down world, with the woman equal, if not superior to man. This occurs also in our proverbs, which know a lot about the real world. To the point that they imagine an unimaginable future…

P.S. A curiosity that deserves more accurate research: I quoted above some Salento proverbs, to comment an Apulian one, because as far as I know proverbs in favor of the equality of the sexes – within the limits I mentioned – are more numerous in Salento than in the northern part of Puglia. Can this be true? And if so, how can it be explained? It would be nice to hear what readers think about it.

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