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Italy’s Other Women

Gender and Prostitution in Italian Cinema, 1940–1965


Danielle Hipkins

In the period 1940 to 1965 the female prostitute featured in at least ten per cent of all Italian-made films, but she cast her shadow over many more. With reference to the changing social and film industrial context, this book explains why the figure of the female prostitute was so prevalent in Italian cinema of this period and offers a new account of her on-screen presence. It shows that the prostitutes that populate Italian cinema are much more than simply 'tarts with hearts' or martyr figures. Via the constant reworking of the prostitute trope across genres, the figure takes us to the heart of many ideological contradictions in postwar Italian cinema and society: these include the entanglement of rhetoric about political truth with the suppression of postwar guilt and shame, fears about racial contamination, and a preoccupation with non-normative forms of masculine behaviour and desire. The book also shows how the female prostitute is important to Italian national cinema as a 'borderline identity', used to establish, but also destabilize, the hegemony of respectable femininities. It is precisely through her borderline condition, this book argues, that the prostitute 'haunts' gender, sometimes policing it, but more often than not problematizing its very construction.

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I would like to begin by thanking the publishers and editors of this book, Robert Gordon in particular, who have patiently supported this project over a long period of time.

The project would not have been possible without support from funding bodies, namely a BA small research grant and AHRC-funded study leave. I was also helped by study leave from the institutions in which I have worked on this project, the Universities of Leeds and Exeter, and I am grateful to Loyola Marymount University, LA, where a Visiting Professorship enabled me to complete the bulk of the writing. Other universities have also helped me to develop this work, particularly by inviting me to speak on the topic: Bangor, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, Miami (Ohio), Ohio State University, Oregon, Reading, Sunderland and UCLA.

My colleagues at Leeds and Exeter have made it possible to work in a supportive research environment, where amongst many I have had particular help from Emma Cayley, Sonia Cunico, Mark Davie, Alice Farris, Sally Faulkner, Francesco Goglia, Fiona Handyside, Helen Hanson, Jenny Hickman, Will Higbee, Katharine Hodgson, Claire Honess, Song Hwee Lim, Angelo Mangini, Fabrizio Nevola, Peter O’Rourke, Luciano Parisi, Chloe Paver, Brian Richardson, Ricarda Schmidt, Ingrid Sharp, Stuart Taberner, Nela Vlaisavljevic-Kapelan and Michael Wykes. Postgraduate and undergraduate students have encouraged me with good ideas and enthusiasm; they are too many to name individually here, but particular thanks to Sophie Britton for her assistance with research tasks.

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