Thursday, June 26, 2014

Molly Tambor's "The Lost Wave"

Molly Tambor is assistant professor of contemporary European history and women and gender at C.W. Post Long Island University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Lost Wave: Women and Democracy in Postwar Italy, and reported the following:
Italian Communist Teresa Noce, one of the first 45 women elected as members of Parliament in Italy after women first achieved the vote there in 1945, and infamously known as “Madonna Tempesta” (something like “Our Lady of the Hellstorm”) for her loud mouth and stubborn temper, reaches the heights of legislative victory on page 99, as her 1950 law creating obligatory paid maternity leave, child care, and nursing centers for working women nears passage. Despite the intensity of the Cold War conflict in Italy at the time, her cooperation with women members of parliament from the Christian Democrat party and their argument that the new democratic constitution passed in the wake of Mussolini’s fall from power requires the recognition of women’s equal rights are about to overcome all obstacles. The law was the first of nearly twenty such cooperative campaigns among women activists in the following two decades using constitutional rights to argue that women not only deserved equal rights, but that women’s full citizenship in Italy was the only certain “bulwark of democracy” against either the return of Fascism or the worst excesses of Cold War brinkmanship.

In one sense page 99 is exemplary of the overall content and arguments the book makes—that women, acting across Cold War ideological boundaries, secured new citizenship equality for themselves through feminist participation in the new Italian state, and in the process stabilized Italy as a democratic republic after the collapse of the Fascist regime and the hardships of World War II. In another sense, however, the page is an anomaly, one of very few triumphal moments for the women of the Lost Wave, who confronted double standards and resistance regarding gender equality and sexual norms from their male party leaders, from voters at large, and from the international community scrutinizing every political development in Italy for evidence of revolutionary conspiracy in a Cold War that seemed ready to turn hot at any moment. Noce herself suffered from the betrayal and divorce of her husband, the loss of one of her sons to wartime and the other to exile in the Soviet Union, and a public opinion that slapped her with a second, more brutal label in the press: “Ugly, Poor, and Communist.”

In a time when what it means to be a woman politician has again become a pressing question not only of policy, but of gender identity—when the press debates whether Hilary Clinton can be both a president and a grandmother—the page is a reminder of the bright spots in the political history of women and the state. A somewhat consoling result, and perhaps a promise for the future.
Learn more about The Lost Wave at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue