Silvana Patriarca

Does Mammismo Have a Politics? The Origins and Uses of a Stereotype, 1940s-1990s

As the signifier of a political and social disorder, mammismo epitomizes an Italian peculiarity which sets the country apart from rest of the “West” to which it aspires to belong. It points to an “unnatural” situation of dependence and a prolonged state of informal subjection of the male from the female. It is a signifier that resonates very much in the culture and abroad because – among other things – of the centuries-old feminized image of Italy. After the failure of the fascist attempt to aggressively “virilize” the nation, the events of WWII made the trope of feminization resurface with a vengeance. The period of the Cold War -when Italy became a dependent/client of the US without an autonomous foreign policy- could not but strengthen the perception of dependence. By looking at the first elaboration of the idea from the mid-1940s through the
early1960s (especially in the writings of Fabio Cusin, Corrado Alvaro, and Antonio Gambino) and its transformation into a cultural stereotype through the mid-1990s, the paper will reflect on its malleability and its many uses. If mammismo has a politics, it has certainly more than one, being a target of criticism on many sides and revealing, among other things, the continuing and entrenched misogyny of Italian society, in spite of Italian women’s struggles and advancements since the 1970s.