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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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Part II. New Readings of Doubled Women in 1950s Cinema


part ii New Readings of Doubled Women in 1950s Cinema Introduction to Part II Masculinity as an ideal is implicitly known. Femininity is, by contrast, a mystery. —steve neale1 Investigating the Feminine The 1950s was a period of ‘slow gestation’ for intense cultural change,2 which arguably found its symbolic focus in women. Early in the decade media focus turned towards women and, increasingly girls, as representative of a ‘new’ political demographic. Italian women now not only had the vote, but were also beginning to emerge more distinctly as consumers and audiences. There was intense curiosity about what these girls and women were like, alongside an anxious desire to keep them in their place.3 This mixture of curiosity and anxiety can be seen in the DOXA surveys of 1950–1951,4 which were an extensive survey of Italian lives and habits. The results regarding women were published under a series of articles entitled ‘La donna italiana si confessa’ in Oggi in 1951, in which the authors repeatedly interpret the sometimes surprising results of the survey as confirming the existence of a sensible Italian woman, who upholds the tenets of conservative femininity, 1 Steve Neale, ‘Masculinity as Spectacle: Reflections on Men and Mainstream Cinema’ (1983), in E. Ann Kaplan, ed., Feminism and Film (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 253–64, 264. 2 David Forgacs and Stephen Gundle, Mass Culture and Italian Society from Fascism to the Cold War (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007), 1. 3 Bellassai, La legge del desiderio, 40....

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