Victoria de Grazia, “How Fascism Ruled Women: Italy, 1922-1944” (1992) – I had read de Grazia’s great book on the spread of American-style consumer capitalism in Europe in the early/mid-20th century, so was excited to pick this one up. She situates Italian fascism’s policies towards women as existing in a luminal space between the ideology’s misogyny, women’s efforts to make political space for themselves, and processes of modernization that both pre- and post-date the fascist era. For all of its totalitarian pretensions, the fascist state was never able to control and/or eliminate civil society the way Hitler or Stalin could. But it could promise just enough to the more bourgeois women’s groups to get them hopelessly entangled with the regime while eliminating any ability to act independently. More radical groups were quashed along with the left more generally.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff here. The Italian right believed itself to be in demographic decline (despite the numbers showing otherwise- their real problem was male labor migrating away) which put pressure on women to be mothers. Anglo-American consumption habits were both a lure and a threat, a level of living the regime wanted to be able to promise but also resented, in part because of the way it allowed women more independence from the home. Some bourgeois Italian feminists attempted to create a “Latin Feminism,” feminism that “respected Italian tradition,” which basically amounted to them getting their cut of power without sharing it with women of the lower orders, but even that didn’t hold the fascist regime’s interest. All told, a fine historical work tracing the delicate networks of continuity and discontinuity in women’s politics before, during, and after the fascist regime. *****