Italian Feminism and Masculinity Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

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.

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…

Sources Used in Document:


Angier, N. 2000. "Women: An Intimate Geography." Anchor.

Barker, P. 1998. "Michel Foucault -- An Introduction." Edinburgh University Press.

Beccalli, B. 1994. The Modern Women's Movement in Italy, in New Left Review. Volume a, Issue 204: 86-112.

Boccia, M.L. 1991. "The Gender Representation." In Bono and Kemp, "Italian Feminism." Blackwell.

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