In the course of history, Italian women have played a significant—although too often unrecognized—role in many fields. Artemisia Gentileschi, Grazia Deledda, Maria Montessori, Rita Levi Montalcini, and Margherita Hack, among many others, shaped and enriched Italian literature, sciences, and culture at large. As for today, here are some talented Italian women to be inspired by:
- Samantha Cristoforetti—engineer, pilot, and astronaut, as well as the first Italian woman to be selected by the European Space Agency. Her longest time in space—199 days and 16 hours—is also the longest uninterrupted spaceflight performed by a European astronaut. Fun facts: an asteroid discovered in 1998 is named after her—15006 Samcristoforetti—and in 2021, a Barbie doll was made in her image.
- Elena Cattaneo—pharmacologist and world-renowned stem cell and Huntington’s disease researcher. After specializing at MIT, she is now a full professor at the Università di Milano, where she co-founded the Center for Stem Cell Research. In 2013, she was appointed senator for life for her outstanding merits in her field and, according to the then-president’s words, “As an appreciation and encouragement for many Italians of the new generations who commit themselves, amid difficulties, to scientific research.”
- Fabiola Gianotti—experimental particle physicist who, in 2016, became the first female director-general of CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). Among her many achievements, she was on the team as spokesperson of ATLAS, one of the two experiments carried out to observe the Higgs boson.
- Elena Ferrante—novelist, author of the celebrated L’amica geniale (Neapolitan Novels). No one knows who Elena Ferrante is; Ferrante might even be a man, for all that is known. But Lila and Lenù—main characters of the Neapolitan Novels—as well as the other leading characters in Ferrante’s books, are all women and Ferrante’s insights on female identity are extraordinary.
- Bebe Vio— wheelchair fencer whose story is inspiring beyond imagination. A European champion (2014 and 2016), world champion (2015 and 2017), and Foil Paralympic champion (2016 and 2020), Vio is literally a force of nature. At 11, she contracted meningitis and had both her legs amputated at the knee, plus both her forearms. After 104 days of intensive rehabilitation, she left the hospital and went back to school and to fencing, soon reaching unbelievable peaks. Fun facts (similar to some previous fun facts): like Cristoforetti above, Bebe Vio had an asteroid named after her—111571 Bebevio—and in 2019, Mattel dedicated a one-of-a-kind Barbie to her, acknowledging her as an outstanding role model of female inspiration and empowerment.
By Claudia Quesito
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