Introduction: Gender and the Private Sphere in Liberal and Fascist Italy



The studies collected in this volume were originally presented as papers at a conference held in the Italian Cultural Institute in London in November 2002.1 The idea behind the conference was to bring together scholars, including both established and younger researchers, doing innovative work on gender in the private sphere in Italy in the last two centuries. One of the motives for choosing this particular theme was the fact that, to date, the bibliography in English on modern Italian gender and women’s history tends (although far from exclusively, as should be clear from some of the notes to this chapter) to focus more on aspects of the public sphere, such as the role of women in politics and extra-domestic employment.2 The public sphere has, of course, long had a particular fascination for feminist historians, doubtless because it is often seen to represent ‘where we aim to be’ rather than ‘where we are’ or ‘where we have been’. The historiography in Italian is, admittedly, somewhat different, particularly with reference to the nineteenth century where, until recently, very few historians of women and gender (the main exception being Annarita Buttafuoco)3 have paid much attention to the public sphere.4


Public Sphere Civil Code Private Sphere Jewish Woman Italian Family 
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  1. 2.
    See, for example, Judith Adler Hellman, Journeys Among Women: Feminism in Five Italian Cities (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987); Jane Slaughter, Women and the Italian Resistance, 1943–1945 (Denver, CO: Arden Press, 1997); Perry Willson, Peasant Women and Politics in Fascist Italy: The Massaie Rurali (London: Routledge, 2002); Willson, The Clockwork Factory: Women and Work in Fascist Italy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993); Elda Gentili Zappi, If Eight Hours Seem too Few: Mobilization of Women Workers in the Italian Rice Fields (New York: State University of New York, 1991); Francesca Bettio, The Sexual Division of Labour: The Italian Case (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Annarita Buttafuoco wrote many books and articles on feminism in Liberal Italy such as Questioni di cittadinanza. Donne e diritti sociali nell’Italia liberale (Siena: Protagon, 1995). For an English language discussion of some of the main themes of Buttafuoco’s work see Patrizia Gabrielli, ‘Protagonists and politics in the Italian women’s movement: a reflection on the work of Annarita Buttafuoco’, Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 7 (2002), pp. 74–87.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Although, of course, the private sphere has much relevance too for our understanding of the gender dimensions of the Resistance. For some interesting reflections on this question see Anna Rossi Doria, ‘Alcune osservazioni sul rapporto tra sfera pubblica e sfera privata negli studi recenti’, Storia e problemi contemporanei, 24 (1999), pp. 145–51. For a discussion of the historiography on women and the Resistance see Perry Willson, ‘Saints and Heroines. Rewriting the History of Italian Women in the Resistance’, in Tim Kirk and Anthony McElligot (eds), Opposing Fascism: Community, Authority and Resistance in Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 180–98.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    On gender history much has been written. See, for example, Editorial Collective, ‘Why Gender and History’, Gender and History, 1 (1989), pp. 1–6; Joan Scott, ‘Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis’, American Historical Review, 91, 5 (1986), pp. 1053–75. See also the extremely useful reader (which reprints some of the key articles relating to the debates on this topic) by Robert Shoemaker and Mary Vincent (eds), Gender and History in Western Europe (London: Arnold, 1998).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    On the Italian family see, for example, Piero Melograni (ed.), La famiglia italiana dall’Ottocento a oggi (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1988); David Kertzer and Marzio Barbagli (eds), Storia della famiglia italiana, 1750–1950 (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1992).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Some have seen the family as the cornerstone of Italy’s economic development in the post-war period: see, for example, Paul Corner and Anna Bull, The Survival of the Family Economy in Italy (Oxford: Berg, 1993). Conversely, the Italian family’s most notorious critic was the American sociologist Edward Banfield who condemned what he termed ‘amoral familism’ in Italian society: see Edward Banfield, The Moral Basis of a Backward Society (New York: Free Press, 1958).Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    See, for example, Anna Treves, Le nascite e la politica nell’Italia del Novecento (Milan: LED, 2001); Massimo Livi Bacci, A History of Italian Fertility During the Last Two Centuries (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977).Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    On Italian women’s history see, for example, ‘Editoriale’, Genesis, 1 (2002); Perry Willson, ‘In Memoriam Memoria’, Gender and History, 5 (1993), pp. 416–20; Willson, ‘New Directions for Women’s History in Italy’, Women’s History Notebooks, 5 (Winter 1998), pp. 11–15; Michela Di Giorgio, ‘Women’s History in Italy (nineteenth and twentieth centuries)’, Journal of Modern Italian Studies 1, 3 (1996), pp. 413–31; Mary Gibson (ed.), Annarita Buttafuoco (1951–99) and Women’s History in Italy, special issue of Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 7 (2002).Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Ludmilla Jordanova, History in Practice (London: Arnold, 2000), p. 153. For a useful discussion of this debate see Lynn Abrams and Elizabeth Harvey, ‘Introduction: Gender and Gender Relations in German History’, in Abrams and Harvey, Gender Relations in German History: Power, Agency and Experience from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century (London: University College London Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    As Leonore Davidoff has noted: ‘Such binary distinctions have come under attack from a range of theoretical positions, including powerful feminist solvents which stress multiplicity, plurality and the blurring of boundaries’ (Leonore Davidoff, ‘Regarding some “Old Husbands’ Tales”: Public and Private in Feminist History’, in Worlds Between: Historical Perspectives on Gender and Class (Oxford: Polity Press, 1995), p. 227).Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    See, in particular, the trenchant critique by Amanda Vickery, ‘Golden age to separate spheres? A review of the categories and chronology of English women’s history’, Historical Journal, 36 (1993), pp. 383–414. See also the introduction to the second edition of Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780–1850 (London and New York: Routledge, 2002).Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    On gender roles in peasant households see Silvia Salvatici, Contadine nell’Italia fascista: presenze, ruoli, immagini (Turin: Rosenberg & Sellier, 1999); Willson, Peasant Women and Politics, ch. 1.Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    See Sandro Bellassai, Maria Malatesta (eds), Genere e mascolinità Uno sguardo storico (Rome: Bulzoni, 2000); Angiolina Arru (ed.), La costruzione dell’identità maschile nell’età moderna e contemporanea (Rome: Biblink, 2002); Arru (ed.), Pater familias (Rome: Biblink, 2002). Before these collections were published there was very little. One pioneering exception is the work of an American scholar: see Barbara Spackman, Fascist Virilities: Rhetoric, Ideology and Social Fantasy in Italy (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1996). For a very useful discussion of some of the issues raised by looking at the history of masculinity see John Tosh, ‘What Should Historians Do with Masculinity? Reflections on Nineteenth Century Britain’, History Workshop Journal, 38 (1994), pp. 179–202. See also Tosh, A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle Class Home in Victorian England (London: Yale University Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  14. 17.
    Cecilia Dau Novelli, Famiglie e modernizzazione in Italia tra le due guerre (Rome: Edizioni Studium, 1994), p. 53.Google Scholar
  15. 19.
    Before unification most of the various Italian states had had legal systems which privileged first-born males and had unequal rights for males and females. All had the system of patria potestas, i.e. the subjection of all household members to the authority of the (normally male) head of household. But some pre-unification codes had offered more rights to women, including, in certain states, the vote or divorce. For a detailed discussion of the terms of the civil code and its predecessors see the classic text by Paolo Ungari, Storia del diritto di famiglia in Italia (1796–1942) (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1974). See also Chiara Saraceno, ‘Women, Family, and the Law’, Journal of Family History, 15, 4 (1990), pp. 427–42; Judith Jeffrey Howard, ‘The Civil Code of 1865 and the Origins of the Feminist Movement in Italy’, in B.B. Caroli et al. (eds), The Italian Immigrant Woman in North America (Toronto: Multicultural History Society of Ontario, 1978); Diana Vincenzi Amato, ‘La famiglia e il diritto’, in Melograni (ed.), La famiglia italiana dall’Ottocento.Google Scholar
  16. 20.
    Monica Miniati, Les ‘ emanicipées’. Les femmes juives italiennes aux XIX et XX siècle, 1848–1925 (Paris: Champion, 2000).Google Scholar
  17. 22.
    On this see Marzio Barbagli, Sotto lo stesso tetto. Mutamenti della famiglia in Italia dal XV al XX secolo (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1984).Google Scholar
  18. 23.
    Much has been written on this topic by historians of women and gender. See, for example, the extremely useful collection edited by Gisela Bock and Pat Thane, Maternity and Gender Politics: Women and the Rise of the European Welfare States 1880s–1950s (London: Routledge, 1991). On the emergence of new roles for Italian women through welfare work see Perry Willson, ‘Italy’, in Kevin Passmore (ed.), Women, Gender and Fascism in Europe 1919–1945 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003).Google Scholar
  19. 24.
    Margherita Pelaia, Matrimonio e sessualità a Roma nell’Ottocento (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1994).Google Scholar
  20. 25.
    On prostitution see, for example, Mary Gibson, Prostitution and the State in Italy 1860–1915 (New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press, 1986); Michela Turno, II male esempio. Donne scostumate e prostituzione nella Firenze dell’Ottocento (Florence: Giunti, 2003).Google Scholar
  21. 26.
    Patrizia Dogliani, ‘Omosessualità’, in Victoria De Grazia and Sergio Luzzatto (eds), Dizionario del fascismo, Voi. 2 (Turin: Einaudi, 2003), p. 264.Google Scholar
  22. 28.
    See Rina Macrelli, L’indegna schiavitù. Anna Marìa Mozzoni e la lotta contro la prostituzione di stato (Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1981).Google Scholar
  23. 29.
    For a pioneering attempt to open up the history of Italian lesbians see Nerina Muletti, ‘Analoghe sconcezze. Tribade, saffiste, invertite e omosessuali: categorie e sistemi sesso/genere nella rivista di antropologia criminale fondata da Cesare Lombroso (1880–1949)’, DWF, 4 (1994), pp. 50–122.Google Scholar
  24. 30.
    On the Fascist demographic campaign see, for example, Carl Ipsen, Dictating Demography: The Problem of Population in Fascist Italy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Maria Sophia Quine, Population Politics in Twentieth Century Europe: Fascist Dictatorships and Liberal Democracies (London: Routledge, 1996), ch. 1.Google Scholar
  25. 33.
    On the enduring strength of the Italian family up to the present day see, for example, Chiara Saraceno, ‘The Italian Family from the Sixties to the Present’, Modern Italy, 9 (2004).Google Scholar

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© Perry Willson 2004

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