Mammoni: Good Men or Lazy-Asses?

My niece, a junior at Columbia, is in Italy for the summer, studying language and Italian culture. I have been in regular contact with her by email and Skype. I keep joking that she should find a nice Italian boy, so she can settle down, and we can all come visit her on a regular basis. “Uncle Tom, they don’t exist!” she keeps telling me.

Finally, last night she sent me this (above) 60 Minutes clip from 2001, outlining the role of “Mammoni” (Italian for “mama’s boy”) in Italian culture. She told me it’s the best background for understanding why there are no desirable Italian men and why Italy is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. If there is a growing belief among some in the United States about the “End of Men,” in Italy that trend is even more pronounced, with some very interesting cultural differences.

Italian women have, like their American counterparts, begun to dominate both academic institutions and the workplace. In general, they are not interested in staying home like their mothers. Men, who are used to being pampered, therefore never grow up. The Mammoni—attractive, employed, successful men in the 30s and 40s—don’t get married anymore. They depend on their moms to take care of them because that’s what they’re used to. They only move out once—and if—they get married.

If feminism was an attempt by women to get out of the house and work, some contemporary American men are trying to figure out how to get home to be better husbands and fathers. Italian men, though, appear to be stuck in some time warp where being a mama’s boy is the best response to women’s liberation.

As in all gender commentaries, we need to be careful to sweep everybody into one bucket. But, over the past decade, there have been studies and numerous reports about the reticence of Italian men to leaver their childhood homes. The Italian government has seen a drop in the birth rate as a result and have even begun to pay men a cash incentive to move out and grow up.

Italian government is giving out cash to thousands of Italians to leave the home of the mother’s, so they can start to live on their own. Eight out of ten Italians aged under 30 live at home. Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, the finance minister, made this announcement and said it was vital for these reluctant Italians to move away from home and become more independent.

“Wow,” I told my niece. “Maybe give up on the Italian dudes and look for an American in Italy. He probably has a just as much romance, and while he’s probably confused what the heck it means to be a good guy in 2011 America, he isn’t likely to want to live with his mom for the next couple decades.”

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About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 18-year-old daughter and 16- and 7-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Follow him on Twitter @TMatlack.

Comments

  1. Alrighty, from my understanding of it, in traditional Italian culture, men and women both didn’t move out of the house until they were married. If Italian women are starting to take a more Americanized view of their position, perhaps they’re also expecting their partners to be more Americanized. So they’re looking for partners who have already moved out. Meanwhile, the men are still in a more traditional paradigm, and they’re stuck in the mindset that they can’t move out until they get married…but no one’ll marry them because they haven’t moved out…but they won’t move out until they get married…etc

    If that is what’s happening, I don’t think the problem is necessarily that these men are too pampered (though that probably doesn’t help), which implies that they’re sort of like spoiled brats…but rather that they’re stuck. Perhaps they’re not ‘growing up’ because there isn’t a societal mechanism in place for them to do so without first getting married.

    I’m making some big generalizations, I know…but I’m just trying to think about it a bit differently. I think in we tend to look at situations like this and be a bit judgemental and say…hey grow the heck up already. Which, that’s not an invalid thing to say, but I also think we need to look at the cultural norms that contribute to the issue.

  2. I was born and raised in Italy, I moved out of my parents’ house when I was 28, when I finished my studies and, at the same time, moved to the US, where I lived for the past 14 years. I remember seeing that episode of 60 minutes a few years ago and getting outraged for many reasons. The main reason was finding unacceptable and very unprofessional by a program like 60 minutes to air such a report. There is no way that a journalist can get that picture of Italian society if he spends more than 2 days in Italy talking to people. I am not denying that Italians live with their parents until they’re thirty year old or even older, what I think is completely wrong, is to state that it is by their own choice. In Italy the unemployment rates are among the highest in Europe and in the western world. With even with a graduate degree is next to impossible to find a decent job. And by decent I mean permanent, I do not refer to the pay rate. Cost of living in Italy is extremely high, cities like Genova, Milano, Firenze, Roma, have cost of living comparable to the cost of living in Manhattan. The education system is very harsh, virtually accessible to almost everybody, and highly selective. You finish high school when you’re 18, you go to university at 19 and, if you literally kill you’re self studying, you graduate when you’re 25. The entry gross salary of an engineer is around €26,000, equivalent to about €1,200 net per month. Keep in mind that compared to the cost of living, spending €1.00 in Italy is equivalent to spending $1.00 in the US. Would anybody be able to afford living by himself in Manhattan with $1200 a month?? Lawyers even get a worse deal, since they must work literally for free for two to three years for law firms before they even get to that level of money. It means that, if a bright, successful young person wants to be a lawyer, he/she will see the first paycheck at 28-30 years of age. A check that won’t allow you to pay your own rent, bills, eat, buy shoes, buy a car, or pay for insurance. Nothing. The only option you have is to stay with your parents, hoping that one day you’ll get so far ahead in your career to be able to afford to move out. Or you get married and, with the help of both families putting down a huge down payment on a house, two combined ridiculous incomes will be enough for you to leave your parents and start your life with your spouse. But it is not easy, and the support of families is always necessary. And this generation is still lucky since parents still have money. Next generations won’t have the same luck. In short, for young people the paycheck is just pocket money. You can buy a pair of shoes, you might be able to buy a scooter, you can go on vacation with your friends twice a year. Forget about having enough money to be independent. No way. I challenge any Italian reading what I am writing to prove me wrong. So, Italians are forced to stay with their parents, not because they want to. That episode of 60 minutes really didn’t serve well the image of the author and that of 60 minutes. Since that episode I have been wondering if all the other episode are that unreliable and far from the true. I hope not, but the doubt is there, and it is very well justified.

    Paolo

  3. PursuitAce says:

    Paolo, thanks for injecting some reality into the conversation. I also didn’t realize that the birthrate in Italy was solely the responsibility of Italian men. Well thank you for doing your part in trying to reduce the world population.

  4. Why is it so important for people to rush out to pay extra rent or buy houses they can’t afford?

    Italians have low personal debt. American personal debt is near an all-time high.

    Think about that for a second.

  5. Yes, that is very true. But it doesn’t have much to do with explaining why Itlains live with their parents forever. Leaving your parents at 40 is not exactly “rushing out.” I’m with you though, you should leave when you can, around 25 year old max. Just my opinion. My whole point is that for Italians is not much of a choice.

  6. @ PursuitAce: the picture I gave is pretty much the same for men and women, the birth rate is a result of the poor economy, not of one gender vs. the other. They’re all stuck with their parents, men and women, until they either get married (combined income, not Italian tradition/culture) or they are self-sufficient, which happens around 35-40 years of age…. Pretty sad…

  7. Italian women have, like their American counterparts, begun to dominate both academic institutions and the workplace. In general, they are not interested in staying home like their mothers. Men, who are used to being pampered, therefore never grow up.
    I think this is a part of the problem. When it comes to changing gender dynamics women are often portrayed as poor down trodden helpless slaves of the evil male oppressors that just can’t get anything going in their lives because men are literally building the world in a way to keep them down while men are portrayed as the elite top living fat cat that never has to lift his own finger for anything in life because he can count on a supply of subjugated women to fulfill his every wish, whim, necessity, need, and desire.

    I don’t know about in Italy but in America that’s bullshit. But the fact that it’s bullshit doesn’t stop the image from being painted this way.

    Thus we end up with women who are valiantly and proudly clawing their way from under the heel of male oppression while men are adults that act more like babies that don’t have anyone to take care of them anymore.

    Simply put a lot of guys are simply in a limbo because unlike in the past there is not much actual need to immediately join the workforce and start supporting a family (and the little need that is left is basically turning into a want on the part of their partner). Without that directive to guide their way they are lost.

    It’s not that men need to “learn how to take care of themselves because women won’t do it for them anymore”. It’s that men need to “learn how to take care of themselves because they don’t have to devote their (relatively short) lives to taking care of others and expecting them to make up for their shortcomings for them”.

  8. The Blurpo says:

    Gosh how many generalitation…

    ” I keep joking that she should find a nice Italian boy, so she can settle down, and we can all come visit her on a regular basis. “Uncle Tom, they don’t exist!” she keeps telling me.

    Ahá……so there are no nice boys, because she spent a summer there. wow.

    “As in all gender commentaries, we need to be careful to sweep everybody into one bucket. But, over the past decade, there have been studies and numerous reports about the reticence of Italian men to leaver their childhood homes. ”

    Ok so does this line mean, that generalizing with italian guys is ok? just because some smartpants did a study? ofcourse rather than looking at the socio cultural economical reality of Italy, its just easier and much funnyer just to point fingers and claim, they are grown children. Well that just say alot of the quality of the study.

  9. The Blurpo says:

    “t’s not that men need to “learn how to take care of themselves because women won’t do it for them anymore”. It’s that men need to “learn how to take care of themselves because they don’t have to devote their (relatively short) lives to taking care of others and expecting them to make up for their shortcomings for them”.

    Im pretty sure that men, can already take care of themselves, but I agree with your sentence. :-)

  10. Registration happening at 7:00 am. Thank goodness intended for considerate Gaylord Opryland hotel staff. They brought us some coffee!

  11. This is why I like Italian, they embrace and proud of their culture and tradition. They don’t buy others ideology of globalization and modernization which many others should learn from. It’s amazing how the society trying to make us to believe what is right and wrong according to their standard. I believe everything is personal n as long as we are happy with our way of living without harming others than it’s mean we are on the right direction.

  12. Love the sociology, such marvelous sarcastic smart ass. Funny as the reporter asked ” Is this natural? ” well, she definitely never really study history n anthropology or been to Asia. Kinda awesome when the sociology said “It would be consider as unnatural”, just hit right back to the reporter. Marvelous!

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