Pub Date2014
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The Lost Wave: Women and Democracy in Postwar Italy

Molly Tambor
Oxford University Press

The first women entered national government in Italy in 1946 and represented a “lost wave” of feminist action. They used a specific electoral and legislative strategy, “constitutional rights feminism,” to construct an image of the female citizen as a bulwark of democracy. Mining existing tropes of femininity such as the Resistance heroine, the working mother, the sacrificial Catholic, and the “mamma Italiana, ” they searched for social consensus for women’s equality that could reach across religious, ideological, and gender divides. The political biographies of woman politicians intertwine throughout the book with the legislative history of the women’s rights laws they created and helped to pass: a Communist who passed the first law guaranteeing paid maternity leave in 1950, a Socialist whose law closed state-run brothels in 1958, and a Christian Democrat who passed the 1963 law guaranteeing women’s right to become judges. Women politicians navigated gendered political identity as they picked and chose among competing models of femininity in Cold War Italy. In so doing, they not only forged a political legacy that affected the rights and opportunities of all Italian women but also helped to foster the rebuilding of Italy as a modern, democratic state.