Italian Women and the City: Essays

Italian Women and the City: Essays

Italian Women and the City: Essays

Italian Women and the City: Essays

Synopsis

Studies of the city, and of women's experiences of the city, have focused primarily on modern times, especially as modernism was defined in large part by urban life. Italy, however, has a long history of urban-centered culture, and women have been a vocal part of that culture since the Renaissance. This volume, therefore, looks at the art and literature of both earlier and more modern periods to investigate the meanings of the city for Italian women, the intensely gendered meanings (for both sexes) of those city spaces that excluded women, and the conditions that permitted a limited permeability of gendered boundaries. Two aspects to the combination of "women" and "city" are salient to these investigations. One involves their metaphorical relationship. Urbs, citta, ville -- the words for city tend to be grammatically feminine, and a long tradition of representation associates the city. with a woman. Women, especially writers, could exploit, modify, or resist the prevailing uses of such metaphors. The second aspect of connection involves social realities. What was or is the relation of the (female) city with the real women who inhabit it? What kind of site has it provided for women seeking a satisfying life for themselves? How has art and literature, by men and by women, represented the relationship of female persons or characters to urban spaces?

Excerpt

Two topics have elicited considerable interest in recent years within the study of Italian literature and film: the image of the city and the image of women. It seemed to us that these two topics could be—needed to be—fruitfully combined. The last fifteen or twenty years of urban studies have seen a lively development of research in the intersection of gender and space as categories for social ordering and signification. Both sociology and urban design have begun to ask how city spaces and institutions shape or constrain women’s lives, and conversely how women contribute to the formation of their urban environment.

What has come to the fore in these studies is the recognition that we need to deal not only with the “real” or physical city but also, just as importantly, with the imagined city: the city as it is experienced and lived differently by different groups, the “social maps” or “maps of meaning,” perceptions of the city as it is “decoded” to reveal its symbolic orders and its invisibly marked boundaries for women or for women of a certain class, the utopian visions of a place of emancipation and the dystopian visions of a place of contagion, the feelings of anonymity (welcomed or frightening) and of communal belonging made possible by different ways of living the urban life.

Studies of the city, and of women’s experiences of the city, have focused primarily on modern times, especially as modernism was defined in large part by urban life. Italian culture, however, has a long history of urban-centered culture, and women have been a vocal part of Italian culture since the Renaissance. It is worthwhile, therefore, to extend our gaze back into earlier periods to investigate the meanings of the city for Renaissance women, the intensely gendered meanings (for both sexes) of those city spaces that excluded women, and the conditions that permitted a limited permeability of gendered boundaries.

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