Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Arts and Science
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
European History | History | Other History
The Fascist regime in Italy lasted twenty years, deeply influencing the Italian population and the Italian culture during that time period. Although Fascism tried to control the public and private life of Italians, it was unsuccessful because of the strong presence of the Catholic Church and because ofItaly’s difficult history prior to unification. What the regime did accomplish, however, was the quasi complete consent of the masses because of the numerous activities and organizations it created for them. A particular group on which Fascism focused was women, understanding how central their role was within the family, and wanting to gain their support as well.
What I decided to focus on was the somewhat contradictory role that Fascism wanted women to play. On one hand they were supposed to be loving mothers and wives, and obedient daughters, while on the other hand they were asked to embody the “new Italian woman,” a modern figure who, in Fascist ideology, was able to break away from the more traditional past and to embrace the more developed future. During the Fascist ventennio (twenty years) women were pushed outside of their homes to become an active part of the new Fascist state, but they were quickly sent back to their hearth when the regime felt it needed them and their offspring. The question is: How did women at the time deal with such a contradiction? Did they feel as torn as we present-day people might think, or was it ordinary for them? Because of the need for support and participation the regime created a vast number of organizations and associations that women could be a part of, something that in the previous years had only been attempted by the Catholic Church.
Despite there being no perfect answer or solution to the contradicting aspects of Fascism in regards to women, I have tried to explain the various points of view, by enumerating both the negative aspects of the regime, and the positive innovations as well. Mussolini did create a dictatorship, and it would be incorrect to try and justify its darkest actions; however, what I tried to understand was why so many people accepted it, and why most of its events were characterized by massive participation. It was pivotal to my thesis to try and understand why the regime gave so much importance to women, and why it dedicated so much time to improve their lives as mothers and workers. Not only was welfare introduced, but the regime also created organizations for working mothers to ease their labor and allow them more time to take place in the numerous activities organized by the regime.
I have used a number of different sources for my thesis – both primary and secondary, including scholarly books and essays; various movies (two of which were shot during the Fascist ventennio, and others that depict that time period, but were made years after Fascism collapsed); personal interviews with four people who were alive during the Fascist regime and who were willing to share their memories with me; novels which were written at the time and that either directly or indirectly give an idea of what life under Fascism meant; personal speeches written and given by Mussolini; written memories of his wife, Rachele Mussolini; and lastly images, which were a very powerful tool because they allowed me to visualize what at times our imaginations does not allow us to do.
In conclusion, my thesis tries to give an idea of what Fascism did for women – although oftentimes not denying its misogynistic attitude, and in what way many of its decisions regarding the female gender presented an inner contradiction. These clashes between what the regime wanted women to be and how women really were, were not always as visible as one might think, and that is perhaps why those inner contradictions did not bring the regime down. Women were experiencing freedom for the first time, and although it cannot be comparable to the freedom that women had in theUnited Statesor inGreat Britain, it was certainly a breath of fresh air for Italian women of the time. This is, in my opinion, one of the main reasons for which most Italian women did not oppose the regime, and why in many cases they did not feel the oppression that the regime was creating. Propaganda and the new organizations gave women something different, something that the Liberal regime in the past had been unable to give them, and this along, in many cases, represented the strongest support that the regime could ask for.
Monti, Jennifer Linda, "The Contrasting Image of Italian Women Under Fascism in the 1930’s" (2011). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 714.
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