The changing face of motherhood in Italy
Modern Italy is heavily influenced by its religious and cultural heritage. The traditional family model and the mother’s role within it remains the ideal. Matters concerning the family and the duties of motherhood are for the most part considered a private affair, with which the state should not interfere. Italy was recently judged to be the 21st best place in the world to be a mother. The ranking, which is relatively low compared to other western European countries, has been blamed on low levels of female participation in the workforce, lack of family services and the low prevalence of contraceptives.
The values of the Catholic Church, including the veneration of the Madonna, have long informed the concept of motherhood in Italy. A traditional family structure is still the norm today, where the parents are married, the father is the main breadwinner and the mother is responsible for the day-to-day running of the house and care of the children.
The fascist era in Italy was a period of extensive state intervention in family policy. From 1922 to 1943 the regime under Mussolini declared that the place of a woman was in the home. In order to ensure that the Italian nation was strong and capable of expanding into new territory, the mothers of Italy where tasked with giving birth to plenty of healthy babies. Mussolini’s government criminalised abortion and the dissemination of birth control information. In addition, civil codes were promulgated between 1939 and 1942 that restricted women’s participation in the workforce. A sense of pride and prestige in being a casalingua, or housewife, continued after World War Two as Italy tried to recapture a semblance of normality. During the 1950s, though, pressure also began to mount for the provision of an alternative to this traditional role as women began to want more choice in how they lived their lives.
Like much of the rest of Europe, the youth of Italy underwent a political awakening in the 1960s and began to demand changes in society and a break from the conservative 1950s. This, along with the rise of the feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s, meant that issues concerning the emancipation of women were high on the political agenda. Huge changes were seen over these two decades. The advertising of contraceptives was legally permitted in 1969, divorce was introduced in 1970 and abortion within the first trimester of pregnancy was legalized in 1978. Family rights legislation was introduced in 1975 that promoted the equality of women in the family and shared responsibility over children between the mother and father.
The expectation of various forms of government initiative directed towards helping mothers continues up to the present day, although it is tempered by the understanding that family life is primarily the responsibility of the family members themselves. The stereotypical Mamma, who is completely devoted to looking after her children well into their mid-30s, remains. Changes, however, can be seen as rising costs and the desire to provide the very best for one’s children means that today’s families are getting smaller. In addition, a new generation of well educated Italian women are questioning whether they have the time or support to have children and so are forced to make a choice between having a career and having a family.
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The Changing Face of Motherhood research was commissioned by Procter & Gamble (P&G)