The Lost Wave: Women and Democracy in Postwar Italy

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The first women entered national government in Italy in 1946, and represented a lost wave of feminist action. They used a specific electoral and legislative strategy, constitutional rights feminism, to construct an image of the female citizen as a bulwark of democracy. Mining existing tropes of femininity such as the Resistance heroine, the working mother, the sacrificial Catholic, and the mamma Italiana, they searched for social consensus for women's equality that could reach across religious, ideological, and gender divides. The political biographies of woman politicians intertwine throughout the book with the legislative history of the women's rights law they created and helped pass: a Communist who passed the first law guaranteeing paid maternity leave in 1950, a Socialist whose law closed state-run brothels in 1958, and a Christian Democrat who passed the 1963 law guaranteeing women's right to become judges. Women politicians navigated gendered political identity as they picked and chose among competing models of femininity in Cold War Italy. In so doing, they forged a political legacy that in turn affected the rights and opportunities of all Italian women. Their work is compared throughout The Lost Wave to the constitutional rights of women in other parts of postwar Europe.