Italian-Canadian Women's Views of Menopause: How Culture May Affect Hormone Use

C. Bonetta, MA, A.M. Cheung, MD, D.E. Stewart, MD

In This Article

The Italian Context

The Italian population is one of the largest ethnic groups in Canada. Most Italian immigrants came to Canada in the early 1950s and 1960s from rural regions of Southern Italy (Abbruzzi, Calabria, and Sicily) with little formal education. A second, more affluent and educated influx of immigrants came from industrialized Northern Italy in the 1970s.

The first group consisted of Italian women who typically endured difficult postimmigration years of cultural isolation and hard work. As new immigrants, the husbands worked long hours, and the women were typically responsible for childrearing without additional support from extended family networks. For many of these women, this meant being isolated from the dominant Canadian community and not having the opportunity to learn English; to this day, many remain excluded from mainstream society because of language and cultural barriers.

Although Italian-Canadians share similar cultural elements with Italians in Italy, they do not share equivalent life experiences and social realities. For the purposes of this article, culture is defined as a set of social beliefs, values, traditions, and customs arising from the common experience of being an Italian immigrant or a member of an ethnic group living in Canada.[5] The migration experiences of the first wave of Italian-Canadians have defined their culture in particular ways. These include the development of a dialect known as "Italianese" (a modified version of Italian interspersed with English words, typically tacking a vowel onto an English word -- eg, "job" becomes "job-ba") and maintenance of traditional Italian values, especially with regard to gender roles. In contrast, the more recent Italian immigrants tend to reflect the values of modern industrialized Italy. They are more educated, speak better English, tend to be career oriented, and can more easily integrate into Canadian society.

Despite notable intercultural differences between northern and southern Italians and considerable variation in the ages of our study participants, they shared some common ideologies that allowed comparisons to be made within the context of this study. The Italian culture is based on a patriarchal system, wherein even some of the more "modernized" Italian-Canadian women retain traditional beliefs about female social functions (ie, getting married and having children are viewed as their primary function and being subservient to male needs is expected). Women are still considered to be primarily responsible for the housework and for the raising of the children, whereas being the main "breadwinner" still defines the man's role. To some extent, cultural taboos also continue to exist. For example, menstruation is still viewed in part as a biological "cleansing." Cultural taboos may take on an even greater importance for immigrants, who are attempting to hold on to their cultural roots.[5] In this respect, many Italian-Canadians may be more "traditional" than Italians living in Italy.


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