Themes and questions

Detailed here are themes and questions which arose from the first two workshops in the series: The Maternal Role and Representations of Maternity in Late C19th and Early C20th Italy (Dundee) and Mammismo. The Emergence of a National Stereotype (Glasgow).

Both workshops discussed the stereotype of the Italian mother as well as the lived experience of mothers in Italy and the way that the stereotype has been represented in social discourse, literature, film, art etc

Areas for investigation and questions arising from the first two workshops:

  • important to see Italy in the context of wider (European?) notions, policies regarding motherhood
  • wide range of practices/experience regarding motherhood in Italy in the period studied
  • to what extent is the stereotype more about sons than mothers? about anxieties around the changing roles between the sexes, crises in masculinity? (particularly since WWII)
  • relationship between the stereotype and notions of national identity. Part of a unifying discourse on Italian identity? Long-standing concerns about the ‘femininity’ of the Italian nation.
  • the use of the stereotype in explaining problems in Italian politics and society; the stereotype as linked to the weakness of the state
  • importance of images and stereotypes of Italy produced abroad and their impact on Italians
  • the importance of the family in Italy (or in Mediterranean societies) gives greater significance to power wielded by women within the family?
  • class – social class determines very different experiences of motherhood, which in turn vary widely over different historical periods. Stereotype has its origins in peasant classes?
  • geographical connotation? Discussions in the second workshop often returned to ideas of the Southern mother
  • role/influence of the Catholic church
  • differences between generations, communication between generations. Importance of relationships between grandparents and children as well as parents and children. Mother-daughter as well as mother-son
  • differences with other stereotypes – particularly the Jewish mother with its emphasis on making sons and daughters feel guilty, on food, particularly on humour, Jewish mother as subject of comedy, jokes. In Italy stereotype linked to wider malaise in politics/society. Similarities – strong figure, unconditional love
  • the use of maternity to rehabilitate/explain transgressive women (discussed in relation for example to first postwar female MPs, ‘second wave’ feminists, female terrorists, but of course see also Anna Bravo, ‘maternage’)
  • the mother as desiring, passionate, sexualised figure? influence of Catholicism in determining extent to which sexuality and the body can be discussed – discourse on mothers the only permissible one?