Gender and Religion

Italy is predominantly Roman Catholic and has historically strong ties with the Vatican, not least because of the presence of the Papal State within Italian territory. It is undeniable that Catholicism has exercised a strong influence on Italian culture and values. In particular, the Lateran Pacts conceded a great deal of control to the Church, especially in relation to education. The Christian Democrat party, which governed Italy for four decades after World War II, did much to consolidate the interests and values of the Catholic Church by translating them into policies.

The social philosophy of Italian Catholicism placed the family at the center of society and defined the attributes and roles of men and women in relation to the harmonious functioning of the family. Christian Democrat governments embraced this philosophy with varying degrees of conviction, promoting familial roles and values through specific institutional arrangements and policies. However, the capacity of the Italian Catholic Church to have a direct influence on public opinion has waned. An indication of this is the general decline in church attendance. According to Nanetti (1988, p. 66), 80% of women and 57% of men claimed that they attended church almost every Sunday in the mid-1950s. By 1985, the figure had dropped to 19% of men and 38% of women. Other indicators of the limits to church influence and the changing attitudes of the Italian public is the overwhelming approval given by the public in the referendum on the divorce law.2

In Naples there was an apparent contradiction between the declared religiosity of people and their equally open distrust of representatives of the Church. Few men attended mass and even many women only attended erratically. Men were quite openly skeptical about the benefits of churchgoing, but women were more concerned about their poor track record. Lack of time was a factor in this and many preferred to fit in their worship around their tasks. For example, they might visit a church briefly while out doing the shopping. Or they might limit themselves to worshipping in private, in their own homes. In fact, it was quite usual for homes in the old city to have small altars where sacred figures were displayed.

The devotion of the inhabitants of the poorer areas of the city is evident in the care bestowed on the shrines that dot the streets and alleys. It was usually women who took it upon themselves to ensure that the shrines were clean, the flowers were fresh, and bills were paid so that the lights would always illuminate the images they encircled. Many shrines are dedicated to various manifestations of the Madonna, reflecting the importance of the

Catholic cult of the Virgin Mary. The Virgin Mary was an extremely appropriate icon for the poor women of the city, and many said that they found inspiration in the compassion and devotion of the Virgin as mother of Christ. Women who were outworkers and largely confined to their homes were prepared to spend part of their meager earnings to support the shrines, finding solace and inspiration in the presence of their Madonnas. The Madonna, they felt, watched over them and their families.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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