Leadership in Public Arenas

During the fascist period Italian women were defined primarily in terms of reproduction, and their activities in the public arena were radically curtailed. A slogan from the period sums up the fascist regime's polarizing view of gender relations: "Maternity is to women what war is to men." However, the experience of authoritarianism and war prompted many women to become involved in the anti-fascist resistance. With the fall of fascism and the establishment of the Republic, many of these defiant women found a respected place in the world of politics. It was also in the postwar period that the Unione Donne Italiane (the Italian Union of Women) was founded. This organization has played a crucial role in shaping policy regarding women's rights and legislation concerning the family. Then, in the late 1960s, feminism became a small but vocal and influential force and to this day continues to provide an alternative view on all aspects of Italian politics and culture (Bono & Kemp, 1991).

Currently, men occupy the majority of public roles but there are a number of prominent women in parliament and several women hold or have held ministerial positions or other important public positions, such as in Naples where the position of mayor is currently held by a woman.

Interestingly, Silvio Berlusconi, the current head of government, displays many of the qualities associated with hegemonic masculinity: he is successful, supremely confident, his beautiful wife testifies to a successful virility, and, although not a famous sportsman himself, he is the owner of what many consider to be Italy's most famous football club, AC Milan. There are also some parallel flamboyant displays of feminine success in the political arena. Alessandra Mussolini, Benito Mussolini's granddaughter, is a graduate from medical school as well as an actress whose good looks have been widely publicized in the media. She is currently a councillor in the local government of Naples, representing a right-wing party. Like Berlusconi she exudes self-confidence and has a somewhat brash manner not immediately associated with femininity, while maintaining an aura of glamor and feminine attractiveness.1

Other women politicians rely on their distinguished career rather than a glamorous profile, as in the case of Emma Bonnino, a Radical who entered the world of politics through her involvement in the campaigns for the legalization of abortion and divorce. Similarly, Tina Anselmi was a prominent member of a number of Christian Democrat governments. As Minister of Employment and, before that, as head of the National Equal Opportunities Commission, she exerted a great deal of influence, undoubtedly facilitating the approval of legislation promoting gender equality in employment.

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