One of my favorite photographs turns 60 today: “An American Girl in Italy.”
You’ve probably seen it before – a black and white shot of a young woman walking down the street in Italy tightly grasping her body as Italian men catcall and even grab their crotches as she passes them.
“The iconic 1951 image “American Girl in Italy” turns 60 on Monday. As its anniversary approaches, the stunning woman in the photo — Ninalee Craig, now 83 — is speaking up about it. She wants to explain what the photo represents, and what it doesn’t.
“Some people want to use it as a symbol of harassment of women, but that’s what we’ve been fighting all these years,” Craig said in a telephone interview from her home in Toronto. “It’s not a symbol of harassment. It’s a symbol of a woman having an absolutely wonderful time!”
“Back in 1951, Craig was a carefree 23-year-old who had chucked her job in New York and secured third-class accommodations on a ship bound for Europe. She spent more than six months making her way through France, Spain and Italy all by herself — something very few women did in the years following World War II.”
(When I search for “An American Girl in Italy” to try to pull an AP shot of the famous picture, what came up was a bunch of shots of Amanda Knox, an American girl convicted of killing a girl in Italy, and Natalee Holloway, who has no connection to Italy of which I know.)
I saw this Ruth Orkin shot for the first time about nine months before I left to study in Italy so I wondered if my experience would be similar.
What I saw walking the streets in Italy in 1992 was very similar to what Craig saw 40 years earlier. The men in Italy were aggressive with young college girls. They would obviously catcall you and follow you. They would (accidentally) push up against you in the bus on the trains. But I never felt in danger.
We worried one time about a girlfriend who went off on a moped with a boy she met in a piazza. While a romantic idea a la “Roman Holiday” with Audrey Hepburn, we thought she was foolish to go off alone with someone she had literally just met. We were relieved when she returned unharmed.
We’ve talked before about Natalee Holloway and the perils of young women traveling without their parents in foreign countries. My sister-in-law wants to do a study abroad in Italy this summer – her college freshmen summer. My father-in-law is fine with it and plans to meet her after to travel more through Europe.
My sister-in-law was actually born in Italy because my father-in-law was stationed there on a U.S. military base. She lived in Italy for her first few years so I’m not sure if that gives her a greater comfort level traveling there.
Women travel more frequently today than they did in the 1940s but there also seems to be crazier folks around.
Did you travel abroad as a young woman? Would you have any worries about letting your daughter (or son) travel abroad? Would going through a university program make you feel better or worse about the idea? (Our “chaperones” did very little. They would have boots on the ground though if someone ended up missing or arrested.)