The 94 is the bus that links various stops on the Milan internal ring road. It’s an incredibly busy line that the people of Milan often take to go about their business. Even those who always drive will, at one time or another, have taken the 94.
One morning I am waiting for the 94, in the torrid climate typical of Milan in July which gives us high temperatures and a lot of humidity. Around 11 o clock I go to the 94 bus stop at the junction of Corso Italia and a street called Molino delle Armi.
I get on the bus and am immediately hit by a wave of oppressive heat; the air is stifling, my clothes are sticking to me and the proximity to the others makes the entire journey exhausting. Some passengers around me puff and pant in annoyance at the heat, others simply put up with it, sweating away quietly.
All the windows are closed.
I politely make my way through the crowd of passengers and – in total silence – I begin by opening the first window, always starting at the back of the bus.
The task is not an easy one: the sliding windows of the 94, maybe from lack of use, are hard to open. Added to this, is the fact that I have to lean over to reach them, trying to keep my balance and making sure I don’t knock against any passengers seated just below the windows. I can only push with one hand, otherwise I lose my balance. It’s a tough job.
When I initially started, this challenge of mine demanded courage and determination on my part. By the time I opened the second window, all eyes were on me and I felt understandably embarrassed – I felt like I was doing something reckless or wrong. Now, years later, I carry on with the air of a person who knows exactly what I’m doing, indifferent to the curiosity I arouse.
From the second window on, the vague interest of the people around me transforms into a questioning interest, as though they really can’t explain to themselves what I’m doing. It’s as though they see the opening of the first window as a response to my own personal desire for cool air, but why open the second window, the third window and so on? Why?
Almost always, by the time I manage to open the third window, a passenger near me -without saying anything – leans over and helps me to push the sliding window open. I look at him with gratitude and he seems satisfied. From the fourth window on, others come to help and place their hands bravely and boldly beside mine to help me push. Once I’ve finished the right side of the bus, I start on the other side. The work gets faster, some people pass me out and, zealously going ahead, open the windows before I can reach them. People sitting under the windows get up to make the task easier. And every time, towards the end, someone (generally an older person) says “About time! The heat was unbearable!” Lots of people nod, others agree at the top of their voices.
Now it is cooler, if nothing else, fresh air circulates. People don’t look at me doubtfully anymore, instead a collegial atmosphere has been created.
And so, finally I ask out loud with sincere curiosity “Excuse me, but if you were hot why didn’t you open the windows yourselves before?” In response to this question over the years, there has been always an embarrassed and questioning silence. Then a voice pipes up (generally a male voice) and, as though summarizing everyone’s thoughts, says “But the bus arrived like that … with all the windows closed.”
I smile and get off the bus.
I checked to make sure, but I can confirm that there has never been any sign or poster on the 94 that forbids you to open the windows.”
Below are the opening paragraphs of my book, Women’s Bodies. It reflects how I believe our lives should be lived – through concrete actions that change the world to the benefit of everyone – male and female.
It is about beginning. Often you don’t need much to begin – maybe just opening a window is enough.
Or make a documentary, put it online, give it open and free access, make it bold in its statements so it will appeal to girls and boys everywhere. 12 million people have seen it since. If we had decided to release it on DVD, we would never have reached such a vast audience.
“I had been thinking all those things that you said in the documentary and book, but I didn’t have the words to say them” – this is the comment we have heard most often from girls and women all over Italy.
Putting what was programmed for our TV screens up for discussion was to become a catalyst for civil protest that fundamentally changed the way images are now presented.
Protesting, firmly but peacefully, is useful. Very useful.
“We shall have to repent in this generation , not so much for the evil deeds of the wicked people, but for the appalling silence of the good people,” said Martin Luther King. Our ACTIVE CITIZENSHIP actions are inspired by this ideal and awareness. They consist in protests against sexist advertisements, against public service television broadcasting that makes objects of women, against the use of sexist language that doesn’t recognise the feminine, and protests against gender-based violence.