The very enjoyment of Whiteness: Class, Gender and Italian bourgeois women between the metropole and colonial Libya (1900-1940)

My paper investigates how representations and self-representations of Italian bourgeois women in colonial Libya contributed to the construction of ideas of Italian whiteness, shaping gender and class identities both in the metropole and in this colony. I adopt the concept of whiteness in order to challenge ideas of national community in “Italian” Libya, stressing differences of class and gender among the Italians who settled or travelled across Libya. The possession of this specific colony liberated Italian elites by the anxieties of being confused with other Southern European and Mediterranean people fault of the alleged backwardness of most of nationals. The Italian bourgeoisie was eager to secure its European belonging, and performed its white and European identity studying, patronizing and civilizing Italy’s new colonial subjects, as well as domestic southern and rural populations. The colonial setting thus expanded the national setting in the shaping of ideas citizenship and race. Images of bourgeois Italian women were extensively used in the official visual representation of this colony, and some examples of their self-representations in travel writing, photography and interviews shed light on their active participation in the construction of ideas of whiteness. The presented materials – i.e. documentation of Ladies’ charities in Tripoli, press reports of the Young colonial fascist’s (Giovani fasciste coloniali) camp in Libya in 1938 – reveal such desire for the sharing of a “modern” colonial culture (notably through forms of consumerism of the exotic) and the subsequent enjoyment of an imagined European whiteness. From the paternalistic attitude performed under Liberal Italy, to the mass-inclusive strategies designed by the Fascist hierarchies, these women’s representations also point out the shifting strategies of colonial rule, and the interplay between bourgeois search for distinction and fascist racial and totalitarian politics.

Barbara Spadaro graduated in Modern History at “La Sapienza” University of Rome. Her dissertation on the colonial training courses for women under fascism awarded the Franca Pieroni Bortolotti Prize in Women’s and Gender History by the Società Italiana delle Storiche, SIS, and was subsequently published as an article (Intrepid housewives. Gender, imperialism and totalitarianism in women’s colonial training under Fascism (1937-1943), in “Contemporanea”, 1, 2010 [in Italian]). She holds a PhD in History at Istituto Italiano di Scienze Umane (SUM); her research project on the Italian bourgeoisie in colonial Libya intersects Gender History, New Imperial History and Oral History. She is an active member of the Società Italiana delle Storiche – Italian Association of Women Historians (SIS).

Colonisatrices et colonisées : les femmes dans l’Éthiopie de 1936 à travers les écrits et les photos de Ciro Poggiali

Ciro Poggiali est un journaliste italien, envoyé en Éthiopie en 1936 pour le Corriere della Sera, quotidien complètement “fascistizé” dès 1925. L’Empire a été proclamé à peine trois semaines auparavant et Poggiali parcourt le territoire en long et en large pendant plus d’un an. Il envoie ses articles en Italie, écrit une monographie sur Éthiopie, parue en 1938, et un très intéressant journal intime, qui ne serait publié en Italie qu’en 1971. Il prend et rassemble aussi de nombreuses photographies. L’un des sujets qui revient le plus souvent, soit dans ses écrits soit dans les images, ce sont les femmes et ce au-delà même de son fort intérêt pour les coutumes sexuelles dans la colonie. La confrontation des différentes sources documentaires (son écriture privée, les articles du Corriere della Sera et les photos, soit celles parues dans le quotidien, soit ses archives personnelles) donne des visions différentes du thème. A travers ces matériaux, on lit les représentations et les rôles considérés comme convenables non pas tant pour une “femme coloniale” générique et indistincte mais pour les femmes qui vivent l’expérience de la colonisation, soit comme sujets actives soit comme colonisées. Une pluralité des figures soumises aux obligations qui sont perçues comme propres au genre mais qui sont aussi nuancées par rapport à la nationalité, la classe, la profession. Ces documents relatent aussi les attentes masculines, des Italiens mais aussi des Africains, par rapport à ces rôles.

Monica Di Barbora est archiviste photographique et chercheuse. Elle a travaillé pour plusieurs instituts historiques italiens, en s’occupant des collections photographiques. Elle est membre fondatrice de la Società italiana per lo studio della fotografia et membre associée à la Società italiana delle storiche. Elle travaille surtout sur la représentation des femmes et du genre.
Elle est notamment l’auteure de Fotografia e storia di genere : costruire il corpo con la luce, dans L. Guidi, M. R. Pellizzari, éds., Atti del quinto congresso della Società italiana delle storiche, Napoli, gennaio 2011, Università di Salerno, 2012 (en voie de publication) ; La fotografia come fonte, tra corpo dell’immagine e informazione digitale, dans B. Cattaneo, éd., Il restauro della fotografia, Nardini, 2012 (en voie de publication) ; Una terra di confine : il Novarese e il Verbano, dans A. Castagnoli, éd., L’imprenditoria femminile in Italia. Il caso emblematico del Piemonte, Milano, Franco Angeli, 2007 ; Scrivere la storia con le immagini, dans « Italia contemporanea », n. 243, giugno 2006 ; Cinquanta anni da fotografo di paese, dans « Millenovecento », n. 3, gennaio 2003 ; I fondi fotografici degli Istituti storici della Resistenza e della società contemporanea, en collaboration avec A. Mignemi, dans O. Goti et S. Lausini, éds., Strategie per la fotografia. Incontro degli archivi fotografici, Prato, AFT 2001 ; postface, avec A. Mignemi, du livre de Joe J. Heydecker, Il ghetto di Varsavia. Cento foto scattate da un soldato tedesco nel 1941, Firenze, Giuntina 2000.

Ethiopian “Madamas”: Cohabiting with the Fascist Subalterns – Les concubines éthiopiennes à l’époque de la colonisation par l’Italie fasciste

Colonial concubinage – “madamato” – characterized Italian colonialism in Africa from its beginning (1880s). After the pioneering work of A. L. Stoler, some women scholars have worked on the Eritrean case (G. Barrera, B. Sòrgoni, R. Iyob), while I am studying the Ethiopian case. By empathizing in the Horn of Africa a form of temporary marriage (dämòz), colonial sources implicitly justified the abuse of colonial concubinage by Italian men. According to Pollera (La donna in Etiopia, 1922), “madamato” was the “fatality” for those Italians who lived surrounded by “Abyssinian women”; thanks to their “Semitic ancestry” they were supposed to easily mate with Italians (see the “Euro-African species” theorized by anthropologist G. Sergi, 1900). Around 1935, thousands of fascist soldiers poured into the Horn to occupy Ethiopia, where the peasants without land were expected to become less subaltern, thus solving overseas the dichotomy of the Italian Southern Question. In 1937 Rome banned colonial concubinage (opening the road to the 1938 racist legislation against Jews, Africans, homosexuals, etc.). In spite of the relatively short Italian occupation of Ethiopia (5 years) and the banning of “madamato”, concubinage flourished in colonial Ethiopia. Even if the official Ethiopian judgment on Italians was always very bad, in everyday life Ethiopians often appreciated those “love-stories” and the fact that all occupants were eager to “get married” and to “mix blood” with the Ethiopians, in spite of the fascist efforts to ban “mixed” unions! Even if Ethiopian families are usually very religious, right after the occupation war, in years marked by emergency and transition (as historian S. Bekele told me), some families accepted their relative’s Italian partner; not only because Ethiopians knew that women were often forced to please the colonizer, but also because women were expected to benefit from it, by getting some extra-money for their family or by having “access to modernity”. Thus, the role played by Ethiopian “madamas” in Ethiopian society was complex or even contradictory. The “fiancés” or husbands of some of those “madamas” had left their homes to fight against the occupants, while their partners were seen by locals cohabiting with the enemies. Ethiopian colonial concubines were often considered as spies or traitresses, who were favoring the enemy, but at the same time they were also perceived as potential informers of the partisans, infiltrated into the occupants’ homes. After the return of Haile Selassie I in 1941, some former Italian soldiers (the “insabbiati”, interviewed by F. Le Houérou) remained for decades in Ethiopia and developed stable relationships with their Ethiopian partner, although often marked by contradictory feelings.

Giovanna Trento has hold a PhD magna cum laude in Social Anthropology and Ethnology of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Center for African Studies), France, and a PhD in African Studies of the University “L’Orientale”, Naples, Italy. She is currently Postdoctoral Research Fellow of the Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape (South Africa), Program on the Study of the Humanities in Africa, supported by Ford and Mellon Foundations, USA. She current research project is: Madamato and Colonial Concubinage in Ethiopia: Practices and Representations. She is also affiliated to the French Center for Ethiopian Studies of Addis Ababa. She is member of the American Comparative Literature Association (USA) and of the French Research Center CRECI, Paris 3/Sorbonne Nouvelle (France). She is the author of two books. A recent book on the representations of Africa in the work of writer and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini allows the reader to question Italian colonial memory in postcolonial Italy within the frame of contemporary African discourses. Her approach is interdisciplinary (History, Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Postcolonial Studies, Literature, Cinema). She have lectured internationally (France, US, Canada, Italy, Ethiopia, Israel, and South Africa) and have published numerous articles and book chapters (in English, French, and Italian) on topics related to: the representations of Africa in XXth century; Italian colonial memory and imaginary; Italian colonial cinema and fictional literature; colonial concubinage in Ethiopia and in the whole Horn of Africa (practices, memories and representations); colonial racism (legal practices, anthropological discourses and representations); Southern-Italian subalternity; the impact of the “colonial diffused culture” on Italian Futurism (i.e. writer F. T. Marinetti or filmmaker L. Comerio). Her current research interests focus on the problematic interstice between the representations of colonial life and the actual practices that took place in Africa.

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