During the twentieth century, Italian women have dealt with the alternation of periods in which small steps were taken towards emancipation and periods characterized by a return to traditional ideals of conformity and stereotyped roles.
In a highly cited essay on the relationship with consumption from a female point of view published in “Contemporary Italy” almost twenty years ago, the author Maria Chiara Liguori suggested the use of “alternative” sources of reference, little exploited by historiography, to recompose the cultural transformations that had women as protagonists in the 1950s; his hope was based on the observation that in the existing studies the reconstructions were mostly integrated by personal memories of the author or by the memories of the subjects interviewed and that; however, studies on women after the Second World War focused a lot on the themes of work and ‘political commitment, while less attention had been given to the attempt to reconstruct the interactions between daily choices and visible transformations in society.
For this reason, it is interesting to reconcile the history of women with the history of cinema and, in particular, to analyze films in a genre reading, through the cultural models proposed by the filmic text from the most widespread and prolific genre after World War II: comedy.
With this contribution, we propose the analysis of some comedies produced in the 1950s – a significant period in which Italy can claim to have emerged from the post-war reconstruction phase and be projected towards what will be defined as an “economic miracle” – with particular attention paid to the second half of the decade. In fact, the focus of this intervention is defined by the group of films starring Marisa Allasio between 1954 and 1958: the filmography of the actress constitutes a homogeneous whole, a series of case studies which represent a significant trend, especially in relation to the complexity present in the Italian panorama, both in the context of the differentiation of national productions and in relation to the expression of gender identity. They are films that emphasize the protagonist and feminize the comedy, directly making fun of and making fun of the prototypes of Italian masculinity: Marisa Allasio embodies in practically every work the character of a “modern girl, moderately free and nonconformist,” a possible model of synthesis of a way of being and of behavior that is at the same time an example of both a break and a continuity with the female models of the past.
Italian women after World War II
To understand the role of the character embodied by Marisa Allasio in the Italian social scene of the 1950s, it seems appropriate to contextualize what the image of women was in a moment considered particularly “significant in the history of social and cultural transformations concerning the life of women and the development of their identity. “
The question of women in the twentieth century lived through different seasons that characterized relations within Italian history and society, with moments of turmoil and revolution, as well as sudden setbacks: if the achievements of the early twentieth century are comparable to the emancipatory path experienced by women in the United States, in Italy the fascist rhetoric of the angel of the hearth had triggered a process of annulment of all the economic, cultural and legislative achievements already obtained, relegating women to a subordinate position to men, the which he held in his family (and in society) the economic and cultural heritage. The image of the woman was thus confined to the domestic dimension, identifiable only in the traditional roles of wife and mother, functional to the fascist ideology.
Even if the Republican Constitution had established formal equality between the sexes and women had obtained the right to vote, the 1950s are characterized by being years of great changes and profound contradictions: in the postwar period, it manifested itself in the passage from this rigidly patriarchal, hierarchical, traditional cultural framework to a scenario of slow and conflictual secularization, secularization, modernization in a broad sense is evident.
Although the female question became more evident only in the late 1960s (when the feminist movement will give a strong sign of its presence by questioning the existing asymmetries in the relationship between men and women within the family, society, and world of work), it is possible to define this transitional phase on the basis of the friction between values and moral norms belonging to the traditional heritage and the growing manifestation of new desires for autonomy on the part of young Italians: in the 1950s, female roles began to articulate themselves search for new models of self-representation, revealing growing mobility in desires, aspirations, and behaviors, thanks also to the media exposure of lifestyles from overseas and linked to the nascent consumer society.