Social Injustice Social Issues

The feminist movement in Italy

What is feminism and what impact does it have on society

Italian feminists

Defining what feminism is is far from simple: it is in fact a complex phenomenon , with different declinations depending on the era or country we are considering. In its various manifestations, we find numerous philosophical and political theories, even in conflict with each other: for this reason it would be more appropriate to speak of feminisms, in the plural .

Generally speaking, the term feminism takes on two main meanings , as underlined by the Treccani encyclopedia . The first criticizes the discrimination suffered by women , on a social, economic and political level, which leads to the request for gender equality; and the second of a political movement , born in the nineteenth century to give equal dignity to men and women on a legal level.

The history of feminism

Scholars and historians of feminism tend to divide it into three different phases defined as “waves” with the aim of distinguishing the different generations of women involved in the battle for rights and equality.

The first wave: England and the suffragettes

Modern feminism was born in England in the 19th century , a time in which suffragettes fought to obtain the right to vote . In 1865 a group of English women founded a committee to ask the government to be able to participate in the political life of the country, causing quite a stir in a right-thinking and chauvinist society.

The very name of the group is the object of ridicule and was used to smear the movement: originally, in fact, the English women were identified as suffragists ; suffragette has become an ironic and denigrating diminutive used to demonstrate contempt towards women who participated in initiatives and campaigns for the right to vote .

After years of struggle , English women, in fact, obtained the right to vote . We are in 1918 when the English Parliament limits the right to vote to the wives of heads of families over the age of 30 , while on 2 July 1928 this right is extended to all women in the United Kingdom without any social distinction.

The second wave: United States and American feminism

To get to the second phase of feminism we have to wait until the 1960s and change the geographical scenario: the United States is the protagonist of this new series of demands.

World War II had totally changed the way of life of American women . Many girls had gone to work outside the home to replace the men at the front and had made numerous sacrifices to support their country. Now, in the midst of the economic boom of the 1960s, these same women were no longer willing to remain at home without any kind of personal ambition .

The American feminist movement brings to public attention nationally and beyond some fundamental issues, including:

  • the right to control one’s fertility through the new contraceptive pill ;
  • the right to have an abortion ;
  • the need to speak openly about the phenomena of rape and domestic violence .

Among the struggles of feminism, that of Betty Friedan stands out , still relevant today in terms of themes and developments. After reading Simone de Beauvoir’s essay “The Second Sex” , Lei Friedan writes “The Mystique of Femininity” , a treatise in which she talks about the image of women proposed by the media and, in general, by the mass media .

According to the author, closing women at home means debasing their potential and, for this reason, conveying through advertising the idea of ​​a nuclear family in which the woman is forced to do domestic work without the possibility of choice is denigrating and degrading for the female universe .

The third wave: the 80s and 90s

In the 1980s, feminism was now a consolidated movement , with different nuances in individual nations and with numerous objectives achieved, in particular the increase in countries that extended the right to vote to women and that worked to highlight the disparities of genre and delete them.

At the beginning of the 90s the collective consciousness experienced another intense movement around issues such as:

  1. Gender-based violence , such as rape, domestic violence, and harassment. The third wave aimed to acquire awareness towards sexuality with a view to re-educating society.
  2. Reproduction : right to abortion and contraception.
  3. Attention to language : intolerance towards derogatory and denigrating terms towards women.
  4. Sexual emancipation : freedom to express one’s identity in terms of gender.
  5. Transgender rights , racial and class discrimination .
  6. Work rights , such as maternity leave, support for single mothers and greater protection for stay-at-home mothers.

The history of feminism in Italy

history of feminism in Italy

Italy also experienced the feminist movement as a protagonist, especially following the Second World War. The Pourfemme website retraced the stages:

  • after the achievement of universal suffrage in 1946, between the 1950s and 1960s Italian women asked for equal rights with men, both in private and public life and at work.
  • In the 1970s the debate shifted to the role of women in society . There is a need to affirm the independence of the female subject compared to the male one, from an economic and social point of view. The so-called liberalization of women also concerned the sexual aspect and around issues such as contraception and abortion .

These are years in which we have witnessed a progressive change in mentality , also reflected in legislation. In 1975 family law was reformed : in marriage, husband and wife are considered equal before the law . Furthermore, we remember the introduction of the law on divorce (1970) and on the regulation of abortion (1978).

This historical period represents a fundamental moment for the Italian feminist movement and places women of different social classes faced with a challenge that still remains open today: eliminating the gender gap .

  • Between the 80s and 90s, feminism found an academic declination, through cultural and thematic magazines ( such as Memoria, Lapis or Leggendaria) and the establishment of university courses . The objective is to look at disciplines and knowledge from a female point of view, challenging the hegemony of the male perspective.

The repeal of the mitigated sentence for the honor killing law in 1981 is another very important effect. The law is profoundly changed and reads as follows.

“He who causes the death of a spouse, daughter, or sister after discovering his illegitimate carnal relationship and in the heat of passion introduced by guilt to his honor or that of his family shall be sentenced to three to seven years. The same penalty applies to anyone who, in the above circumstances, causes the death of the person involved in illegitimate carnal relations with his wife, daughter or sister.”

Famous Italian feminists

There are many Italian feminists who, over the years, have fought for the rights of all women. Among these, we remember:

  • Anna Maria Mozzoni . Living between the 19th and 20th centuries, she was a great protagonist of the political events of the time. She is the author of numerous writings focused on the theme of female emancipation . In 1877 she presented to Parliament her proposal for extending the vote to women.
  • Gualberta Alaide Beccari . Born in Padua in 1842, she was a patriot and feminist. She called for a moral renewal of the figure of women, without which she did not believe the cultural modernization of Italy was possible.
  • Carla Lonzi . An important art critic born in 1931, her name is linked to Rivolta Femminile, one of the first modern feminist groups in Italy, and to the publication of some essays that have become reference readings for feminism: Let’s spit on Hegel and The clitoral woman and the vaginal woman .

The great Italian feminist artists

The world of art has also contributed decisively to the cause of feminism . Italian feminist artists, painters and writers , in fact, have been able to describe the world from a woman’s point of view . Their works, at the same time, were essential in denouncing the most critical sides of female existence . Among the most representative are:

– Anna Banti . Born in Florence in 1895, the writer often described the condition and events of women in her works Di lei. Among the names that make up her production is that of Artemisia Gentileschi , a talented painter who lived in the 17th century, who managed to carve out a space for herself in the world of Italian art, despite male prejudices. With her, other Italian feminist authors were Sibilla Aleramo, Elsa Morante, Alba de Cespedes, Amalia Guglielminetti and Ada Negri .

– Carla Accardi (1924-2014), a point of reference for pictorial abstraction in our country. She founded, together with Elvira Banotti and Carla Lonzi, the Rivolta Femminile group .

– Franca Rame . Among the best Italian theater authors and actresses , the artist, born in 1929 and wife of Dario Fo, approached the feminist movement at the end of the 1970s. Among her works we can mention Lo rape , from 1981, inspired by the group sexual violence she herself suffered in 1973. The monologue was courageously brought to the theater and on television and the video where Franca Rame tells the terrible story can be viewed in our article The main cases of violence against women .

Feminist movements and associations in Italy

Italian feminist associations

Feminism has also and above all been a collective battle and there have been numerous feminist movements and associations in Italy in action over the years. Many companies are still in business today. For example, we can remember:

– Women’s Revolt . The group was born in the seventies from the meeting in Rome of Carla Lonzi, Carla Accardi and Elvira Banotti. It was probably the first group to choose the path of separatism , deciding to communicate only between women. The adoption of the practice of self-awareness and the construction of one’s own autonomy is important .

– Diotima . More than an association, a female philosophical community born in 1983 within the University of Verona. Inspired by the philosophical reflection of Luce Irigaray , this reality is still active today and organizes interesting themed seminars. Luce Irigaray is a philosopher, linguist and psychoanalyst who has reviewed these disciplines in the light of feminism, the unconscious and the woman’s body, the bonds of every woman with her mother, working extensively on the theme of difference, democracy and rights of gender.

– International Women’s House . Officially born in the early ’90s, it is a unique project of its kind – it also houses a restaurant, a conference center and a guesthouse – and aims to enhance the political and social commitment of women, also offering services and consultancy.

– If not now, when . Movement born in 2000, with prominent figures within it such as the directors Francesca and Cristina Comencini. The movement hit the headlines for the large public demonstration on 13 February 2011, when a million people took to the streets to defend the dignity of women.
– AWMR Italy . The association works to overcome all economic, cultural, sexual and racial discrimination in the Mediterranean area. Among the main objectives, the abolition of all forms of exploitation and violence against women.

Feminism today

women and feminism

Currently among the most discussed topics within feminism we find:

  • gender inequality at work . Salary discrepancies, sexual harassment in the office and difficulties in advancing your career are much more common than you might think.
  • the right to a family . Even today the desire to have children does not seem reconcilable with maintaining a prominent professional role.
  • the possibility of including men in the debate on these issues and raising awareness at society level.

Although feminism was born centuries ago, today it continues to play a truly fundamental role. Equality has not been achieved except from a legal point of view , but many discriminatory attitudes suffered in everyday life remain: this is why contemporary women do not stop fighting for their rights.

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