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Last Updated: Friday, 2 May, 2003, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Italian men get their aprons on
By Rebecca Pike
BBC, Pietrasanta, Tuscany

Househusband with ironing board
Men are learning to do those things their wives used to do

Italian men have always been proud of their masculinity and the idea that a woman's place is in the home.

But that stereotype is being challenged by a newly-formed association for Italian househusbands, the first of its kind in the world.

In a house on the edge of the main square in the sleepy Tuscan town of Pietrasanta, a quiet revolution is under way.

I iron, hoover and clean the windows, because it makes my wife happy
Househusband

In the kitchen there is a man in yellow rubber gloves, washing the dishes.

In the sitting-room another man is sitting quietly, mending some socks.

On the other side of the room Fiorenzo Bresciani, the president of the Association of Househusbands, is giving a lesson in the art of ironing a shirt.

'I want to learn'

His audience is made up of married men of all ages, wearing beige aprons. They have come here to learn how to do those things that their wives have always done in the past.

This really is a new man, this is a modern man - if I had not married him already I would marry him again!
Househusband's wife

"Once, my wife did everything," said one member. "Then I discovered the pleasure of housework. Now, I do all the cooking. I can't iron yet, but I want to learn."

"I iron, hoover and clean the windows, because it makes my wife happy," said another.

As well as the basics, members also learn more complex skills - such as how to present vegetables at a dinner party. They swap tips on recipes and discuss which cleaning products are best for the environment.

But they also benefit in the eyes of the law. For some time now, housewives in Italy have been able to claim pension benefits because of their "jobs" in the home.

Stressful workplace

Now househusbands can too. According to Fiorenzo Bresciani, there is no reason why housework should be confined to just one sex.

Househusbands
Married men of all ages attend the courses

"Someone has to do this job," he said. "Someone has to know how to wash, iron, clean the house and cook. This is a job that has no sex - it isn't masculine or feminine."

More than 2,000 men have signed up, and the is association is receiving inquiries from all over Europe.

Members say it is a reaction to changes in society - such as the growing divorce rate and the fact that the family unit is not as strong as it used to be.

According to Vando Borghi, a sociologist at the University of Bologna, it is also a sign that many men are choosing to opt out of the workplace.

"The labour market is becoming a much more stressful and absorbing place," he said.

"And so there are some men who are thinking about a taking on a different role in the family and changing the balance between family and work."

'New man'

It means that for the first time, women are being freed from household chores so they can concentrate on their jobs.

Mr Bresciani's wife, homeopathic doctor Daniela Tirigi, is one of these.

"When Fiorenzo decided on his own to take this step, for me it was a wonderful thing," she said.

"I didn't need to ask him to do anything. I said to myself: 'This really is a new man, this is a modern man. And I thought, if I hadn't married him already, I would do so again!'".

But not everyone is so lucky. Statistics show that even though the number of women in the workplace has been growing steadily since the1970s, many women continue do the housework as well.

It will be some time before Italy's growing band of househusbands manages to tip the scales in the other direction.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Rebecca Pike reports
"A quiet revolution is taking place"



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Japanese men 'shirk housework'
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