Women in Italian Society

When attempting to create a new political party, and from that party, a successful party government, the ideology cannot be too extreme, relative to the beliefs and the ideas of the populace. For example, the degree of Nazi anti-Semitic polices seems extreme to outsiders, but general German distrust and distain for Jews allowed the Nazis to implement these policies. In his novel, Bread and Wine, Ignazio Silone depicts the role of women in Italian society, clarifying how and why extremely masculine movements developed in early 20th century Italy.

In “The Futurist Manifesto,” in 1909, FT Marinetti states that the movement seeks to glorify war, militarism, patriotism, destruction, and contempt for women. This attitude towards women is seen again in Fascist policies that attempted to keep women in traditional roles. Mussolini himself declares in “What is Fascism” that war is the ultimate test of a nation. War excludes women, for the most part, therefore, women are not nearly as important to the nation as men. In Bread and Wine, the main character, Don Paolo, says to a prospective nun, “ ‘You would have the other possibility that life offers most women…You could become a good wife and mother of a family’ ”(Silone 101). Women had two choices in life: the Church or a family. These were the places for women in society. And if a woman were to stray from these honorable paths, like Bianchina, and, for example, become pregnant out of wedlock, she dishonors herself and her family. This social view is reflected in Italian laws that forbid abortions.

In Fascist Italy, the role of women was clear and traditional. Don Paolo even feels that he must “get away from the tedious female atmosphere by which he was surrounded”(Silone 112). This expresses men’s distain toward women, as well as the fear of appearing too feminine, and possibly homosexual, like Gabriele in Ettore Scola’s A Special Day.

How and why did masculine movements developed in early 20th century Italy? Was it the fear of the rising status of women or the fear of the loss of masculinity? Was it both? Was it neither? Why?

Mussolini’s Warmongering Fascism

In Benito Mussolini’s What is Fascism, the dictator attempts to define Fascism by casting it against what he sees as changing world politics. He describes Fascism to be the new man’s type of government, a drastic shift away from the 19th and 20th century’s swing towards liberalism and democracy. He breaks Fascism also from the supreme left of Marxism. He goes on to describe Fascism as a fast, warmongering – along with an exceedingly nationalistic core – belief system.

Overall, Mussolini’s message comes across very similar to his Italian acquaintance, F.T. Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto in its aggressive warmongering and nationalistic message. Mussolini immediately describes the “manly” Fascist ideal of war as a perpetual means not to an end but instead to as an integral part of a political institution. In historical perspective, this idea of the Fascist war as a necessary part of Mussolini’s new direction for Italy is another sharp change from Italy’s previous policies. Prior to the war in Europe, Italy had been unable to show any regional dominance or evidence of successful imperialism. Mussolini, in his concluding remarks of his work, discusses this idea of expansion. His attempts to suppress the Libyan revolts and take Ethiopia were both examples of his attempts for regional hegemony in Africa. While it was obviously followed by World War II, these early imperialist tendencies set the example for which he argues so clearly argues for.

Overall his work describes a strict clamp down on individual freedoms and a severely increased importance of the state and its needs. The warmongering part, similar to the Futurist ideal is only one facet of the Fascist ideology used to increase Italian power. This drastic shift from the rest of Western Europe towards an idea of “perpetual peace” with a league of nations calls into question the Italian motivation to become so radical. The idea of Fascism as a change away from the left and the right calls into question the deeper social cultural situation of Italy at the time for both the genesis and peoples’ rallying around this system.

A Futurist and a Surrealist

The “Futurist Manifesto,” written by F. T. Marinetti, and the “Surrealist Manifesto” written by Andre Brenton, are both interesting writings that contain radical ideas for the early 20th century. The Futuristic Manifesto focuses more on the rejection of the past, or in other words Futurism. It promotes sexism, war, and destruction of museums. The Surrealist manifesto focuses on revolution slightly more than the Futurist Manifesto does, but in a less violent way. It is written that they are “determined” on creating a revolution, yet refrains from mentioning violence in wars.

Two things about the Futurist Manifesto really intrigued me. Out of curiosity and to better understand the history surrounding this manifesto, I looked up the date it was published. I found out it was published at 1904, which I found interesting in regards to the manifesto’s discussion about violence and revolution. This manifesto was written before the Russian revolution and World War I, and at this point in time the world had not truly experienced the kind of war and revolution this writing was describing. This made me think, did this manifesto have any influence on the Russian Revolution? And second, why would Marinetti want to glorify war in the first place?

The main thing about the Surrealism manifesto that fascinated me was Article 2. Here it is written that Surrealism is not a means of expression but a freeing of the mind. Previous to reading this manifesto, I had always thought of Surrealism in the sense that it was an art style. To me, art has always been a way of expressing ones’ self, while concurrently freeing ones’ mind. I took my original view of Surrealism and applied it to the reading. I still think that one is expressing themselves while also freeing their minds, because free thoughts lead to great ideas. So to me, Article 2 was slightly contradictory. However, I could just be interpreting Breton’s ideas incorrectly.

Overall, I found both these manifestos very interesting in the ways they express their desire  and capability of revolution.

Marinetti and History as a Waste of Time

Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto expresses a very curious ideology. While it advocates revolution and the destruction of all moral systems, it anticipates and applauds a brave new world in which man resembles a machine. While this man does not transform himself into a cyborg in Marinetti’s fantasies, he acts on the basis of intuition, stripping him of rationality and superficial manners. Yet, I think responding to one’s base desires rather than to the inquiries of a higher intellect implies a more profound slavery, in which one can easily fall prey to leaders promising new and improved opportunities for the satisfaction of our desires. Today, we refer to such a system as consumerism, and to its Brahmins as marketing consultants. Marinetti’s calls for violence bring to mind the sort of impotent thrashing-about one might expect from the sort security-obsessed consumerist society described in the work of Aldous Huxley.

What can the contemporary student salvage from the Futurist Manifesto? After all, dubious projects occasionally have their merits. Its most interesting feature is its conflation of politics and experience. I think this sort of thinking stems from the early 19th century, with the development of conscription and centralized states. As states acquired more power, their subjects came into contact with history in ways inconceivable to the inhabitants of previous centuries. The Napoleonic Wars for instance, pushed millions of conscripts across the plains of Europe to foreign lands. There, they found themselves in a position to decide the fate of their homeland in small ways that became significant on a wide scale. Marinetti goes further, asking people to take history into their own hands and stop wasting time in museums and group tours of archaeological sites. To live fulfilling lives, they must act to build a new world. Though I disapprove of the type of world Marinetti would have us hope for, I think he does make an interesting point when he implores people to stop venerating the idols of the past and strive to remake the world according to their own values. On the other hand, I am not sure the great revolutionaries of the twentieth century ignored history and historical figures.  Does anyone else think this might be the case? Do revolutions depend on an ability to free oneself from the past, or does every revolution depend on a tradition?

Surrealism and Futurism

Both the Surrealist and Futurist Manifestos preach straying from the conventional and praising the artist. Written by F.T Marinetti in 1909, the Futurist Manifesto is a rejection of the past and a celebration of the present. It glorifies war, danger, and speed. Although it is an Italian document, It almost foreshadows the upcoming Russian Revolution with all the talk of crowds, revolt, militarism, and patriotism. The manifesto is in essence looking forward to the modern state. All the “speed” that Marinetti is writing about can be interpreted as the desire for increased industrial output. In addition, the artist is painted as someone who must write and paint about courage and audacity rather than “sleeplessness.”The manifesto is looking for a world where work and revolt are praised, and history is left behind. This is a world not too far off.

The Surrealist Manifesto is similar in a sense that it wants to contradict the conventional. It also gives power to the artist. Surrealism, as defined by the Andre Breton in 1925, the writer of the manifesto, is “total liberation of the mind.” They are like the futurists determined to make a revolution. These manifestos represent the rocky ground European society is resting on. The Surrealist Manifesto contradicts  the emergence of reasonable thought. Its aim is to express the real function of thought. However, it is not clear what they believed the real function of thought was.  With this, what was the purpose of thought to the Surrealists? In addition, why was the artist so highly praised in this era? Was it their ability to influence society and change so much, or for some other reason?

Olga Rozanova

Olga Rozanova was born in 1886 in the province of Vladmir. She is known as a painter, poet, graphic designer, and illustrator.

From a young age she was trained in the arts, attending Bolshakov Art School and the Stroganov School of Applied Art in Moscow.   In 1911 she moved to St. Petersburg where she attended the Zvantseva School of Art from 1912 to 1913. She became an active member of the Union of Youth Group, exhibiting with them regularly from 1911 to 1914.

In 1912 she met Russian Futurist poet Aleksey Kruchonykh and they began collaborating. Olga illustrated the first of his Futurist poetry books, which is how she was first exposed to the Futurist movement. They were married in 1916. She and her husband belonged to the group of Russian avant-guard artists called Supremus, and from there she collaborated with other colleagues. Supremus was intended to be a magazine about Suprematism, a style of art created by Kazimir Malevich, however no editions were ever published.

Her art started in the styles of neo-primitivism, Futurism and Cubism, but as she experimented it became more abstract, eventually morphing into a style all her own. She attended the lectures of the Italian Futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in St Petersburg, which undoubtedly inspired some of her work. Shortly after meeting him, her work was shown at La Prima esposizione libera futurista internazionale in Rome.

Through her art she expressed her support for the Bolshevik Revolution. Following the revolution she became involved in social movements, such as the Proletarian Cultural Organisation.

She died in 1918 of diphtheria. She was 32 years old.  After her death in 1918 a major exhibition was staged in her honor in Moscow.


Illustration to the book of Kruchenykh Duck’s Nest.

Self portrait, painted in the neo-primitivist style.

To view more of her work, including illustrations for various poetry books, follow this link to her page at the Museum of Modern Art. Olga Rozanova–MOMA