Why Italy is a cultural hub of gender identity

Italy is a cultural hub of gender identity where issues of feminism and masculinism have been deeply entrenched for many years. For centuries Italy has been considered a more masculine country, though the majority of work documented related to masculinism actually is sparse. Issues of feminism and masculinity has surfaced in the workplace, where naturally access to issues such as equal employment and technology have surfaced. Gender inequality issues in Italy have in fact created a basis for the continuance of a feminism-masculinism dichotomy.

Masculinism has been defined as “the property by which humans of the male sex are defined as manly” (Noumenal, 2004). Alternatively, Simone de Beauvoir described femininity as “neither a natural nor an innate entity, but rather a condition brought about by society.” This statement is more true than any other, as evidenced by gender inequality differences largely the result of the paternalistic nature of the culture within Italy today and throughout history.

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Masculinity has been perceived in many different ways throughout societies. According to some it is defined as “the behavior that results from they type or gender of person that one is (Noumenal, 2004). Men and women have throughout time been “considered as ordered, with men at the top” with many systems and countries generally influenced by a more masculine order of things, largely emphasizing patriarchichal systems as in Italy (Noumenal, 2004). These ideas and more are explored in greater detail below.

Italian Feminism — Masculinism

A fairly masculine society such as Italy, with a young history of feminist struggle for gender equality, is a natural setting for various gender issues. Throughout time Italy has become known as a distinct culture and society, promoting much idealism, manners of thinking and stereotypes even related to male and female roles within society.

In Italy today, a stereotype exists regarding feminism; women are considered as maternal in nature and the traditional role of “wife and mother have predominated for years” (Rubin, 1998). This trend is not uncommon in many societies throughout Europe. Europe should not be sequestered however, the role of women has gradually attained significance throughout time. Almost no culture can attest to a period of time necessarily where the role of women and femininity predominated over those of men, in fact the majority of history has commentated on various women’s movements and efforts toward acquiring greater equality in the face of strong masculinism and male domination. With the exception of course, of the few small maternal societies where women seem to be at the forefront of all political and social venues.

Gender differences in access to equal employment, compensation, and technology continue to be contentious issues in Italy. In an age when gender complementation and empowerment are continually gaining ground worldwide, these differences could only serve to perpetuate gender inequality in Italy – thus creating further basis for the feminism-masculinism dichotomy to persist.

According to some, “the entrepreneurial culture and workplaces of commercial capitalism” have resulted in an institutionalized system of masculinity almost in countries like Italy, creating and “legitimating new forms of gendered work” and also power exchanges between the sexes (Segal, 1999). This suggests that a capitalistic society in fact, creates and institution where gendered work is acceptable, where feminism and masculinism are indeed distinct and where both men and women have their unique roles.

Masculinity and the ideology surrounding it “lends itself to a capitalistic society” (Segal, 1999), presumed so because the emphasis in such a society is often on competition and achievement, the success and attainment of which is often attributed to males. This despite the fact that for centuries women have been competing, achieving on an equal caliber if not one that is greater than men. Power struggles, conformity and domination are regrettably, attributes that are typically associated with traditional masculine themes, and this is no different in Italian culture

This paper will tackle the basic roots of this gender inequality by tracing the history and development of masculinism and feminism in Italy. It will also examine the nature and impact of government initiatives that are targeted toward streamlining gender equality in the country of Italy, and addressing over dominant views of feminism and masculinity. Lastly it will suggest avenues for growth and improvement to help mend the gap that exists between femininity and masculinity in Italian culture.


While several authors cited Italy as primarily a masculine and paternalistic country, there are very few writings on Italian masculinism per se. Much of the writings, including that of Holfstede (n.d.), merely stated general stereotype characteristics of Italian men as a whole. According to him, in a masculine society such as Italy, men are tough and assertive, with dominant values that put value on gallantry, material success and progress. In relation, Holfstede likewise believed that Italy is a paternalistic country with the father taking the authoritative role in family matters.

Haller (1995) provided a more detailed account of Italian masculinity. In his study, “Anthropological and Ethnological Texts on Masculinity in Southern Europe,” he cited seven phenomena related to masculinity that he describes and categorizes under the concept of Machismo. The first “phenomenon,” according to Haller, is manifested in terms on gender relations “by positioning males higher than females through social and cultural antagonisms.” This clearly indicates a belief in the idea that males by way of cultural and social establishments, are naturally assumed at a higher state than females. This certainly can be proven to be a historical trend in Italy. Machismo in fact, almost seems an innate quality, a rite of passage for men in this instance.

Males associate masculinity in many countries, as a birth right to a place of high society and position throughout the world today. The promotion of such idealisms occurs through cultural and social innovations that encourage gender oriented and specific tasks, and societies where women and men are categorized as feminine or masculine to begin with.

Second to this, Haller identified the belief that “male honour and reputation is dependent on the ability to protect the virginity of daughters and furthermore to control social and sexual behavior of their female kin in general” (Haller, 1995). In relation to this, Lindisfarne (1994) cited the political effectiveness of this rhetoric “honour” “because it operates at a level of abstraction which hides classificatory ambiguities and alternative points-of-view, while empowering some fortunate man and women” (Lindisfarne, 1994).

Moreover, Lindisfarne said that “a bride’s defloration by penetrative sex is a ritual moment when, ideally, a ‘real’ man is potent and a ‘real’ women is chaste, when gendered difference and hierarchy can be experienced as quintessentially real (Lindisfarne, 1994), “However (…) everyday interactions produce an even wider range of ambiguous and ever-changing masculinities and femininities” (Lindisfarne, 1994). This statement in and of itself clearly outlines the role of women in society as subservient to that of men. Masculinity in this instance aligns itself with the idealisms of potency, strength and competition.

Another intrinsically “machismo” view cited by Haller is the spatial and occupational segregation of gender. A phenomenon that is also prevalent in other Southern European countries, Haller said that there usually is a “clear distinction between masculine public domains such as bars, cafes, and plazas, and private feminine domains such as the house or the immediate neighborhood” (Haller, 1995). This occupational segregation of the male and female gender is a by-product of feminist and masculinist views that are so entrenched within the Italian culture they have become a reality and an existence for many people.

This interesting interpretation of masculinity can in fact be observed within the streets of Italy. Even in other European countries, there are what are considered distinct domains that are relegated to use for females or males depending on their orientation. In many European countries males are known to gather in cafes and talk about business, politics and social events whereas women are delegated to the home, to care for children cook and clean. This obviously supports the traditionally feminism masculinism stereotype and image.

Further, just as public domains are segregated by gender, Haller said that personal networks between genders are isolated as well, “wherein inter-gender relations are highly prohibited” (Haller, 1995). With this, Haller cited studies that characterized male networks as categorically homo-social, meaning that males were likely to form networks among themselves rather than intermingle. This phenomenon is not uncommon to Italy alone; studies throughout many societies have revealed a trend toward a homogeneity and pattern of male bonding and networking among those that are considered “machismo” and those that are not. Women are actually much more likely to venture out of their social group and interact with members of the opposite gender. No doubt scientific research would back up these phenomena.

Previous studies described male relations as mostly religious in nature, taking the form of brotherhoods, political associations, or informal corporations. Lansing (1997) believed that these unwritten laws on public domains and the restriction of the presence of women were ideas derived from theological understandings of original sin. He said that the lack of just order in society could be understood as the result of “concupiscence, sensual appetite resistant to reason” (Lansing, 1997). As society becomes more secular in nature however, one would assume that the traditional religious associations with masculinity and femininity would fall away, leaving room for growth and expansion. This has not necessarily however, been the case in Italy and its European counterparts, where religion perhaps still has more of an influence on society.

Interestingly, concupiscence was often coded as feminine. Lansing cited previous studies on the Bible that explained original sin in terms of the psychological difference between men and women: “Adam because of his rational nature would not have listened to the serpent alone. It was Eve who was moved by concupiscence and acted as intermediary” (Lansing, 1997). This idea points to the notion that that feminism in Italy is associated with the “weaker” sex; women are not as capable and strong as men are, and without the morals and drive to resist temptation when it presents itself to them.

Moreover, as the male domain is the public, it is inevitable that they occupy all important official political, religious, and economic roles — thus shaping power relations by gender, according to Haller. In relation to this, Lansing (1997) stated that the patriarchal nature of Italy is evidenced by the Florentine state dowry fund.

Further, Brandes (1980) explained the sixth machismo phenomenon on the “exaggeration of male attributes, style and self-expression” (Brandes, 1980). Brandes tackled symbolics of masculine folklore in his book, and interpreted what informants say and do: “masquerading in street processions, parading on patronial days, clowning, joking about gypsies and male-female relationships, pranking and riddling, passing time in communal labor (i.e., the olive harvest), nicknaming each other – in order to get at underlying psychological themes that are difficult to derive directly” (Brandes, 1980). This suggest that masculinity involves a flaunting of the male characteristics, social nature and attributes, a phenomena that would be interesting to study in person throughout the streets of Italy.

Brandes’s idea on the exaggeration of male attributes conceivably has bearing on Haller’s seventh and last phenomenon on masculinity that is subsumed under the concept of machismo – which was the “belief about the insatiable and uncontrollable nature of the male sex drive” (Haller, 1995). This would assume however, that men are perhaps the weaker of the two, as they are unable to manage their sex drive. This conflicts with the idea of femininity as a trait associated with concupiscence.

All these machismo concepts, according to Haller, has always been viewed in Italy as a problem of rural lower class men to compensate their powerlessness in a culture dominated by upper class values, where autonomy and power are necessary conditions of masculinity (Haller, 1995). Gilmore (1987) said that much of these machismo issues has been approached mainly by Neofreudian theses that suggest that the “boy’s identification” with the mother in cultures like Italy and other Southern European countries, where fathers are ‘absent’ in childrearing, makes the development of a male gender identity problematic (Gilmore, 1987).

Further, this view subscribes to the belief that aggressively performing masculine behaviour is the boy’s resolve to try to overcome identification with the mother (Gilmore, 1987). The dependency of children and the autonomy of men generate conflict between fathers and sons when the latter begin to proclaim their own manliness; to overcome this conflict, there are several strategies, none of which is culturally ritualized. This lack of orientation leads the adolescents to expose hyper masculine behavior (Murphy 1983).

From a historical point, it is important to this argument to point out that in relation to this, Lansing cited events in the 1270s wherein preaching friars connected female dress and political disorder. He cited one influential example that is the Dominican Cardinal Latino Malabranca, a legate sent by Nicholas III to Lombardy and Tuscany in the late 1270s to make peace. The cardinal accomplished the dramatic public reconciliation of warring factions and in 1280 in Florence established a new bipartisan regime. According to reports, Latino, in this campaign to pacify factional violence, urged a tough ordinance on female dress, banning long trains and requiring all women to veil their faces when they went out. This was a serious effort; the ordinance forbade priests from giving absolution to women who did not comply. Lansing believed that this implied a connection between female influence and male violence. If only women kept their faces covered, men could show more restraint. Again, concupiscence, the irrational appetite that is the source of violent injustice, was considered feminine; male nature was rational, according to Lansing.

Indeed, these machismo beliefs (some even bordering on the extreme) do not uphold balanced and rational citizenry. However, the dearth of more up-to-date information and analysis of the current extent of male movements in Italy limits scholars and researchers to “medieval documentation” of Italian masculinism and/or machismo. This makes it difficult to make any conclusive and accurate judgment on the state of masculinism in the country, except perhaps to assume along with the philosophers and sociologists that masculinims is present in many forms, and is an aggressive influence on the society at large.

Italian Feminism

The clamor for gender equality that spawned the early beginnings of Italian feminism in the 1960s-1970s is one of the most interesting facets in the nation’s history due to “historically specific accumulation of contradictions,” according to Passerini (1996). Rapid transformations were taking place in the country at that time, including changes in the economy, society, migration patterns, and employment rates (Passerini, 1996). According to Passerini also, vast cultural changes occurring within the society did in fact, “bring people of many different regions and dialects into contact with one another” (Passerini, 1996).

This new movement, composed mostly of the middle class, working women, students, intellectuals swept through the Italian society in the 1970s with unprecedented strength and radicalism. The vast cultural changes, according to Passerini, happened at the same time when there were important developments in education — the raising of the minimum school-leaving age to 14 (1962), the entry of increasing numbers of girls and women into secondary and higher education — which were compressed into a relatively short period and occurred later compared with countries them” (Passerini, 1996).

According to Mantini (2000), within the general elevation of higher education that distinguished Italy in the 1960s, women’s access to higher education rose much more than men’s, starting a trend which continued steadily through the 1970s and 1980s, when numbers of women entering higher education equalled those of men (Mantini, 2000). Also interesting according to Mantini, feminist historians in Italy began to wonder why “traditional account of history excluded women,” leaving a big gap related to what women’s role had been historically (Mantini, 2000).

The ‘young women of 1968’ were in considered in some respect the first generation of emancipated women in Italy. They were the first cohort to accede fully to higher education; and the first to live as young adults after the country’s modernization in the 1950s and 1960s (Mantini, 2000).

Feminist historians in Italy did pursue and explore women’s roles. Mantini uncovered an essay of French social history scholar Natalie Zemon Davis introducing the category of gender alongside class and race. Mantini highlighted its importance in lighting the fire of Italian feminism, as this departed from the notion that women were “historical objects” to be studied by “historical subjects,” – “but human beings who, by their mere presence, interacted with other beings, creating a multitude of new meanings” (Mantini, 2000).

Davis’s essay demonstrated that women’s history, in the form of famous women’s biographies, had its own tradition that went back to the first century A.D. According to her, political women were almost exclusively religious, women of letters, or artists, whose image was revealed through the filter of scholars whose intention was to show how lack of opportunity constrained women.

Mantini lamented that such production has documented individual women and the meaning of their presence, but treating women out of context did not stimulate reflection on the meaning of their gendered role in social relations or on the meaning of the change in different historical periods.

This era in Italy’s history ushered in distinct movement towards parity or formal equality between men and women, according to Passerini. She also said that it was also at this time when differentiation or pluralization in gender relations towards a greater recognition of differences in the gender system and in sexual identities.

Beccali (1994) said that Italian feminism expanded with “remarkable strength and radicalism from its middle-class base in the early 1970s” to become a popular mobilization with an extensive network of activists throughout the organized labour movement. It was during this time, specifically on 1 December 1970, when an approved legislation in favor of divorce was finally passed, after centuries of continuous lobbying (Passerini 1996).

Further, a legislation reforming family rights was also approved in May 1975; and in December 1977 another law on equal rights at work was also passed which prohibited any form of discrimination on grounds of gender in the workplace (Passerini, 1996).

However, passage of the legislation on divorce was met with much disapproval, particularly from the Communists who feared that Italians, particularly the working class, were unready for such legislations. They immediately organized a committee to campaign for a referendum, which was held in May 1974. But these anti-divorce lobbyists were proven wrong when the divorce law survived the referendum, by a majority of 51% to 41%, according to reports cited by Passerini.

The Abortion Campaign

Perhaps one of the most controversial issues that the Italian feminist movement has ever encountered was its campaign legalize in 1975, which had its roots in the 1974 campaign for the referendum on divorce. According to Passerini, the balance of forces was similar to that in the earlier campaign: on the one side the church and the Christian Democrats, on the other a reluctant and preoccupied Communist Party, an active Radical Party, and the feminist movement. However, the feminist movement was much stronger this time, and more deeply involved in the abortion issue than in the divorce campaign.

Moreover, Passerini reported that the Christian Democrats maintained outright opposition to abortion, even though the doctrine of the Catholic church does permit abortion in cases where the physical survival of the mother is at stake. The parties in favour, for their part, differed on two fundamental points: whether or not the woman had the right to choose, without external pressure; and whether or not abortion should be free.

Further, the Communist and Socialist parties believed that the decision should be taken by physicians, while the smaller parties insisted this was a right that belonged to the woman; the former were in favour of abortion being provided free of charge, while the latter held differing positions. The right to choose became a major focus of feminist attention, producing, in due course, a division within the movement, as well as a breach with the institutional powers. The question of cost also assumed an important role following the passage of this law, occurring during the implementation stages of debate within the country.

Furthermore, according to Passirini, the feminists chose to fight for the woman’s right as it was a natural outgrowth of a politics centrally concerned with women’s autonomy – in particular those issues addressing their bodies and sexuality (Passerini, 1996). The feminists regarded this with much importance such that they were not open to reconsideration or even a compromise. It was basically a matter that was considered of great principle, one that bore “special symbolic significance” (Passerini, 1996). Thus, “any suggestion of there being state imposed limits on, or qualifications to, women’s right to choose abortion was bound to be greeted with hostility,” Passirini said. As such, it could not be open to reconsideration or promise for women, it was in fact considered a non-negotiable goal.

So, when the feminists found out that the bill stipulated that the woman must present her request for an abortion to a registered doctor before being entitled to an abortion in a public hospital, it was greeted with fierce condemnation, causing a rift between the women’s movement and other institutional forces in favour of abortion.

Even more controversial within the movement itself, according to Passerini, was the other condition placed upon abortion that stipulated the point after which termination of pregnancy would not be allowed. The time limit proposed by those drafting the bill was too early, according to most feminists, especially given the requirement that there be a mandatory waiting period. As a result, this issue and that of whether free abortion should have a minimum-age qualification became the subjects of endless controversies.

All in all, Mantini said that the social and political character of the Italian feminist movement was quite distinct, having developed out of the great structural transformations of the 1970s. With close connections to the Left, and a history that intertwined with that of the other ‘new social movements’, “Italian feminism during these days had a remarkable impact at every level of the social and political system.” In common with the trajectory of these other movements, it reached its peak of organizational strength and influence just after the mid-point of the decade, thereafter entering a period of decline and fragmentation.

Feminism in the 1970s and 1980s

During the 1970s, the women’s movement and feminisms swept through Italian society, and involved middle-class and working class women. The first wave of the movement was made up primarily of middle-class entrepreneurs and students, as well as intellectuals; these were people who had participated in earlier movements during the late 1960s, and had participated in New Left political formations. This particular movement came about as an “offshoot” from a protest much broader in scope.

This movement should be understood as related to factors of structural transformation in Italian society that were occurring during the last few decades. Some of the most important changes that occurred and certainly the most visible were in the realm of education. In the 1960s, education was elevated to new levels, distinguishing Italy at this time, and women’s access to general education was steadily rising in fact more than men’s, which started a trend many say continued through a large majority of the 1970s and 1980s. During these latter times, the number of women attaining a higher education actually equaled the number of men achieving the same.

From this one may conclude that the women growing up during the late 1960s were in fact among the first generation of women that might be considered “emancipated” in Italy. They lived as young adults after a process of modernization had occurred in Italy, during the 1950s and through the 1960s (as revealed for example by legislation related to divorce, etc.)

During this time also in industry, women’s wages averaged approximately 70% of men’s, but started to rise until it topped out at about 85 per cent in 1981. According to Paolo Santi in “Le retribuzioni femminili in Italia “tra discriminazione ed egualitarismo,” and the International Conference on ‘Women and Labour Market Policies’ from Milan, in 1984, overall wage differences between men and women have historically been much lower in Italy than in other areas of the European world, perhaps because of the strong influence of the women’s movement during this time.

Italian feminism might be considered in its heyday during the 1970s, a time where feminism impacted virtually ever level of the social and political system within the country. It reached a peak during this time, of strength and influence, however as revealed in the next section, then entered a time of decline and fragmentation according to Beccali. The social and political character of the feminist movement during the 1970s however, can only be described as distinct and unique.

According to Beccali, by the end of the 1970s, however, feminism was in decline; and the beginning of the 1980s saw it virtually disappear as a movement. It lost its visibility in political struggles and grew ever more fragmented and out of touch, as feminist activists increasingly committed their energies to private projects and experiences, whether of an individual or communal nature. Thus, it was that the ‘new’ feminist movement, following the example of other ‘new social movements’ of the 1970s, evolved into just another form of lifestyle politics. Beccali recounted that at this time, many attempted to account for the decline of these movements that had once aroused such optimism and political expectation, and in particular to question whether they had in fact disappeared or merely entered a period of inactivity.

Midway through the 1980s, however, the picture changed again: the years 1983-84 witnessed an unexpected renewal of interest in feminist politics, Beccali said. Three developments were of particular significance: the revival of ‘cultural feminism’; the emergence of a new space for women in political parties and institutions; the beginning of a new cycle of trade-union feminism.

Here, there appeared to be wider patterns of close contact between the Italian labour movement and other social movements, and of openness in the labour movement toward issues of cultural and political opposition originating outside the sphere of production, according to Beccali. As regards the interrelation of difference and equality, Beccali said that in some capitalist countries, the issues of women’s equality and women’s difference have been in apparent conflict since the end of the nineteenth century, when the fact of women’s difference formed the basis of merely protective policies. In Italy by contrast, the dilemma of pursuing equal rights or protection, which tended to divide the socialist and feminist movements, failed to generate strong conflict; in fact, in a later phase the two currents would often intermix, with neither dominant. This absence of division was a notable feature in the immediate postwar years, and then again in the 1970s when the politics of difference were ascendant. Indeed, it remains a distinctive feature of contemporary Italian feminism, where the principles of both equality and difference have once again been strongly asserted.

Beccali added that feminism offered a powerful instrument for analysing the real personal power relations at the workplace and in political life. The prevalent ‘masculine’ style of union militancy likewise came under criticism. Women began to articulate the uneasiness that they had concealed for years while trying to imitate the male model and thereby have equal weight in the movement. The practical, affective strength of women could find no place except at the margins of union activities – women could ‘keep others company, cheer them up or soothe their spirits, chant slogans at the head of a march, pass out leaflets, or smile at passers-by to gather support’. However, if they wanted to command respect, it was necessary to deny their own deep inclinations.

However, Beccali noted that this internal conflict that the women militants experienced gave rise to impassioned debates: how could union politics be changed if women simply ignored this conflict or pushed it to one side? In the analysis of such militants, the difference between women and men should not be denied, but rather affirmed and built upon. Drawing on the new feminism, they saw women not only as victims of discrimination, but also as the embodiment of an alternative approach to life and politics – which it was women’s task to develop. ‘”Equality of opportunity was downplayed as a goal; the aim should now be to change the rules of the game for both men and women,” Beccali averred.

Mainstreaming Feminism in Italy

The official commitment by the Italian government to develop sexual equality dates back to the passing of the Equal Employment Law in 1977, according to Passerini. Its practical implementation had to wait until the establishment in 1983 of the National Committee for Equality under the auspices of the Ministry of Labour.

Looking back, Guerra (n.d.) said that it is not easy to draw up the balance sheet: further research is needed both on the 1970s and on the subsequent decade, in which many of the new tendencies grew stronger, but in which others were decidedly reversed. Some of the laws passed in the 1970s were little used in practice (the legislation allowing fathers leave of absence to care for children is a case in point), and this reluctance shows how slow the pace of change has been in some areas. The search for an authentic mutual intersubjectivity grounded in an awareness of gender has known setbacks, for instance in the rise of certain right-wing women who apply their determined managerial skills to themselves as well as to their political and business empires. Such women regard feminism, and their own femaleness, as irrelevant to their public personalities.

Nonetheless, Sabbadini (200) said that even a superficial glance at contemporary Italy cannot but register profound changes which have been inspired by, or have come in reaction to, the experience of the 1970s. Many young heterosexual couples have relationships in which tasks are shared more collaboratively than they used to be. It has grown easier for couples to live together without being married. There is greater freedom for lesbian and gay male relationships, though more for the latter than for the former. Women have become more visible in a range of places and situations, and more visible to one another. “For all that, Italy remains a country in which gender relations are still often formed in the mould of an underlying masculinism -old-fashioned or newfangled, covert or manifest — and this masculinism both sustains old traditions and invents new ones. In the confusion and disillusionment of the 1990s, we do well to remind ourselves of the irreverent energies which broke through twenty years ago, Sabbadini said.

New Directions

According to Mantini (2000), the themes of family, lineage, patrimonial transmission, dowry systems, and their networks of private and public relations have occupied the majority of women’s studies and, when possible, have verified historiographical changes and continuities.

It is on the basis of this approach that the innovative contribution of current women’s history can be placed. According to Italian historian Ida Fazio, “The reflection on the theme of the identity of gender . . ., which forms the basis and constitutes the common background of the elaboration of the women historians and women, transferred, thereby reversing the planning, the history of matrimonial and familial bonds from the area of destiny (in which the normative and taxonomic approaches had enclosed it) to the area of resources. Resources that were created starting with the identity of gender, taking advantage of the possibilities of them and seeking to minimize the disadvantages; or resources that contribute to construct this identity, joining with other opportunities offered by the law, institutions, property system, and the intrinsic contradictoriness of patrilineage that is able to survive only by denying itself in the duality of family relationships and devolution.”

Women in history therefore have had to invent new configurations, once they completely entered in their “assigned part” in their social systems, with new strategies that appear as a harmonious disposition with the external world of relations and the internal world of identity. Under this new point-of-view, marriage becomes a resource to spend, to invest in other resources, Mantini said.

Another revision pertains to women’s space, Passerini said. In their conditions as unmarried woman, wife, mother, widow, or a widow who has become a nun, women have enacted, as Fazio has underscored, strategies of “active manipulation of rule systems” that question “the relation of subjects with juridical precepts,” without depending on interventions from above. This mostly takes place in normative “borderlines” where old and new roles coexist during and following political or institutional transitions, either because several jurisdictions exercise control in the area, or because individuals are in transition, as in a wife becoming a widow. Individuals were able to negotiate flexible interpretations of otherwise rigid legal rules. An example is failure to fulfill a marriage contract. Physical violence in marriage reveals women availing themselves of existing laws, gaining compensation for damages, and thereby creating new opportunities for themselves, according Beccali. Tied to this theme is that of the juridical status of women, which designates women as widows and mothers, for example. There are numerous cases in which women have pursued, through existing legal instruments and constructs, autonomous goals and constructed identities for their own purposes. Even the work environment has generated new typologies; rather than traditional sociological and economic classifications based, for example, on personal consumption and salaried work, women’s historians have considered female spaces that are tied to such different realms as assistance or management of services and organization of new activities as a fundamental contribution to household economies.

Moreover, Guerra said that economic property and the construction of female identity have been relevant to studies of dowry administration, management, and attribution. As a form of property and transmission of goods, the dowry has been utilized by various societies and cultures in nonhomogenous ways / for individual and group strategies. The dowry is dependent on matrimony and, therefore, has been gendered and inalienable. Here again, the category of resource, as described above, resurfaces as an important characteristic of itineraries of gender history. This interpretative hypothesis applies to studies of religious experience as well.

Gender Mainstreaming

Recent developments

The Commission of the European Communities cited significant improvements in labour market outcomes that were registered in 2000. Significantly, female employment rate grew at a faster rate than male employment (3.05% and 1.20%, respectively); consequently, a reduction in the gender gap of the employment rates was recorded. These trends continued in the following months, but progressively slowing down.

The progression, according to Villa (2002) might have something to do with the presence of the Equality Advisor (Consigliere/a di Parita) which provided important support for legislation on gender equal opportunities in the workplace and has operated at the national, regional and provincial levels for some time now. Due to the passage of several laws in the 1990s, the Equality advisors were given two main functions: promoting female employment, and enforcing sex equality law in the workplace. However, these laws did not provide adequate economic resources for such activities, which effectively nullified those of its provisions which empowered equal opportunities advisors – to act in instances of collective discriminations – and also on behalf of individual plaintiffs and to intervene in any gender equality case, according to Villa.

In relation to this, Villa added that the lack of resources allocated to mandated institutions and poor implementation resulted to the passed legislations’ unsatisfactory evaluation in terms of its concrete effects. This was uncovered, Villa said, in parliamentary inquiry conducted by the Italian Senate in 1995, which showed that although Italian legislation was among the most advanced in Europe in its use of innovative legal techniques to combat discrimination, and in its provision of measures promoting positive actions, it was also entirely and to the lack of resources allocated to equal opportunities bodies. “Partly as a result of this inquiry, article 47 of law no. 144 of 17 May 1999 mandated the Government to issue one or more legislative decrees intended to reform law n. 125/1991, by redefining and extending the functions and resources of Equality advisors, and by improving the efficiency of positive actions,” according to Villa.

A distinctive feature of the decree, as Villa examined, is that it uses both the feminine term “consigliera” and the male one “consigliere” for “advisor.” It does so not just to acknowledge that in the past this demanding role has mainly been performed by women, but also to diversify the legal language so that it takes account of the gender of those subject to regulation — which is especially apposite in a legal text on equal opportunities between men and women. The intent to promote equal opportunities between men and women in positions of responsibility is quite evident in the provision which states that if a male and female in possession of the same qualifications apply for being appointed as Equality advisor, precedence should be given to the woman. The decree refers on this point to the European Court of Justice case law on preferential treatment for women (Kalanke and Marshall judgements) and seeks to ensure that enhancement of the role of the Equality advisor does not paradoxically end up with its “masculinisation.”

On inequality in access in technology

According to Gazelloni (2002), technology, in Italy, is more diffused among boys than girls, especially speaking about the new technologies (computers, videogames, and things of this nature…). Although young girls are generally very active in leisure time and in cultural fruition (and more than their coeval boys), the new technological context may represents a new disadvantage for young girls, and this is probably due to the traditional relationship between men and technology, Gazelloni said (Gazelloni, 2000).

The importance being taken on in society by the new technologies (audiovisuals, informatics, telematics, etc.) is obvious, Gazelloni averred. “Since the spread of technology is a process which restructures the cultural models, perceptive habits, manual and intellectual capacities, and professional skills of individuals, it is not possible to speak of cultural consumption and activities without considering technology” (Gazelloni, 2000).

‘Attention will be focused on those practices which, more than others, may entail an active relationship with youngsters in the use of the various technological means that fill everyday life (for example, from this standpoint, the use of television is a process characterised by less active involvement by the individual, and thus does not fall within the activities that define the relationship between youngsters and technology in the sense just mentioned.” (Gazelloni, 2000).

However, Gazelloni noted that already in these first age brackets, the differences between boys and girls are pronounced, and a disadvantage among girls is observed starting in the first years of childhood and adolescence: 40% of the boys have a computer at home, while this figure drops to 24,3% for girls; 79,0% of the boys and 66,5% of the girls use the computer they have at home; play obviously reunifies the experiences; and studying, already at this age, brings girls closer to boys, even in a field which is so strongly characterised in the male sense.

Therefore, Gazelloni said that, in this case the influence that cultural tradition can have on educational processes, a tradition which for centuries has brought men in contact with technology to practically the same extent as it has kept technology away from women, seems evident. Indeed, it is at the level of first opportunity (i.e. starting from the presence or absence of a computer at home) that girls are more disadvantaged than boys, and this lesser frequency is also reflected on the use level, registering a lower tendency of girls (whether induced or spontaneous) to use the computer equipment available at home.

Obviously, in this case also, the influence of the parents’ educational level has its weight in determining the opportunity levels (around 630,000 of the children between 6 and 10 years have parents with university degrees; 1,800,000 with high school diplomas; 2,220,000 with junior high/middle school diplomas; 530,000 whose parents have finished or not finished elementary school) (Gazelloni, 2000).

Furthermore, the gender differences continue even with the change in the parents’ educational level. “46% of the boys and 39% of the girls with parents with degrees play with the computer, while these percentages drop to 17% and 9%, respectively, among those with parents with limited schooling” (Gazelloni, 2000). The more serious approach that brings the young users to study with the computer is obviously influenced by the family cultural climate, to the extent that the only significant “coming close” to males of the same age in the technological field (15,8% compared to 17,5% of the males) is registered for girls whose parents have degrees (Gazelloni, 2000).

The female disadvantage is in any case evident at the level of opportunity due to the fact that the computer is present among “52,1% of the daughters of degree-holders, compared to 11,1% of those whose parents have low schooling levels (a value almost 5 times lower than the first), while among males the gap is between 17,3% and 58% (a value about 3 times higher than the first)” (Gazelloni, 2000).

Future trends on gender equality

Although significant progresses in gender equality in Italy have been made, not all problems have been solved, Villa said. There are informative gaps, insufficiently developed areas (violence, abuses, life conditions of foreigners … ), difficulty in obtaining information on employees by sex and professional position, when the survey unit is the enterprise, the need for a different structure of enterprise archives not currently distinguished by sex, the more frequent information on certain areas, the adoption of a gender approach in choosing the survey variables highlighting the gender differences in all the most important sectors.

Regulating gender statistics means take a step towards a better quality, it means that by making them compulsory, Europe recognises the social value of gender approach within public statistics; it means asserting that gender difference exists and it is necessary to assess it on the main fields of social and economic life. Above all, it means creating a reference point for other sectors.

There should be continued efforts to develop gender statistics, according to Sabbadini. New areas should be surveyed which is particularly significant from the viewpoint of gender difference. She said that more attention should be placed into the following: growing attention to reproductive health, breastfeeding, pregnancy and childbearing which has always been underestimated in official statistics systems; questions on fecundity not only for women but also for men are topics characterised by growing interest, from gender point-of-view. From an economic point-of-view, Sabbadini said that it is also significant to include certain questions in the intermediate Census of industrial and service enterprises in order to check typology and characteristics of male and female businesses that can have access or not to industrial incentives.

Another example of gender statistics, according to Sabadini, is the analysis of gender differences in the division of family work based on findings of a survey on time use. However, she said that there still are some problems with wages and salary differences in Italy, thus, the qualitative progress in gender statistics is due to the development of a strong interaction between equality bodies and the Equal Opportunities Ministry.

Furthermore, the international work on both a European and UN level allows Italy to take part to the international debate and to profit from the more advanced experiences made by other countries. Thus, Sabbadini is optimistic that in very few years great gaps have been covered. Not all the problems have been solved but a great revolution in gender and social statistics has taken place in the past ten years. With increasing efforts on the part of women, politicians and socialists more work and greater advances can be realized in upcoming years. Solving all problems takes time, and time is all people have in this day and age.

International difficulties are to be summed up to the national ones. Not all statistics are comparable since they have not been previously harmonised. Not all the information is available in all countries, Sabbadini said. An ex-ante or ex-post harmonisation, which would improve the situation, has not been developed at a central level, including Eurostat. As a consequence, harmonization cannot take place spontaneously.

Since gender statistics does not only mean spreading information by sex, the scenario is more complex than it seems. Apart from the single countries, a new central initiative is required. Gender statistics cannot be developed only by the countries and the national statistics systems. Responsibility on a political level must be taken. In order to plan mainstreaming policies and developments, the social utility of gender statistics must be recognised.


According to Foucault, the “challenge to sex divisions would not just come from biology and its medical or cosmetic alteration, but from the formation of relationships not structured by sexuality and gender” (Foucault, 1998).

In Italy today, one might argue that the maternal “stereotype” does indeed continue to predominate, infusing the image of a female operating from a traditional societal role as wife and mother. Masculinity and feminism are indeed products of society and upbringing, of impressions gained through cultural interaction and social factors, of habit and pattern.

In Italy, issues surrounding feminism and masculinity have existed and been well entrenched within society for many years. From an outsider’s perspective, Italy might be considered predominately a country that is masculine in nature. There is not a great deal of research related to masculinity in the country however, the research conducted on feminism and the historical accounts of feminist movements are by far more prevalent and popular.

Issues of femininity and masculinity have permeated many avenues of Italian culture, including the workplace and home front. Gender inequality issues have subsequently surfaced, created some have suggested as a basis for continuing the dichotomy that exists between masculinism and feminism.

Gender inequality issues within Italy have surfaced primarily as a condition brought upon by patterns naturally inherent in day-to-day living amongst Italians. Women are fighting time old traditions which define women as having characteristic behaviour patterns.


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Jeffries, Giovanna M. “Feminine Feminists — Cultural Practices in Italy.” Available: http://www.upress.umn.edu/Books/J/jeffries_feminine.html

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Sabaddini, L. 2000. Making Gender Mainstreaming a National Priority, presented in Conference of European Statisticians, Work Session on Gender Statistics. Economic Commission for Europe. Italy.

Segell, M. 2000. “Standup Guy: Manhood after Feminism.” Villard

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