Prostitutes and Politicians: The Libretto and Women's Citizenship in Italy

Friday, January 8, 2010: 2:30 PM
Point Loma Room (Marriott)
Molly Tambor , Barnard College, Columbia University
My paper examines the use and preservation of the so called “little books” (libretti) by which prostitutes were identified and registered in Italy throughout most of the twentieth century. I focus in particular on the transitional moment of the 1950s, when feminist activists fought to deregulate prostitution in the name of equal citizenship for women in the new post-Fascist democracy. Despite their success in changing the law, the libretto was not abolished and women continued to be compelled to carry it with them at all times, subjecting them to the invasion of their privacy and violation of their rights by the police. Here in the ambivalent space between the abstract citizen of the postwar constitution and the totally embodied woman of pre-Fascist and Fascist law, I place the struggle to control the libretto. The deregulation of prostitution became a highly complex and long-lived battle, which involved women's rights, sexual morality, public health, and women's work. Regulation in Europe had been in existence since 1860 but held strong associations with Fascism, since the regime had made several highly visible “roundups” of women on the street and had confined them to Fascistized brothels. In practice in Italy, the public health aspects of regulationism were not efficient; rather it enforced the brothel proprietors' profits and the state's taxes from these, the near impossibility of leaving the brothels once registered there, and police control over prostitutes (and by extension state control over all women). Despite feminist victories in the postwar years on the legislative front, the afterlife of the libretto is an important clue to the many continuities and legacies of Fascism for Italians and their experience of citzenship's rights and obligations.
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