Sex, Violence, and Honor in Modern Italy

AHA Session 43
Society for Italian Historical Studies 1
Thursday, January 5, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Governor's Square 15 (Sheraton Denver Downtown, Plaza Building Concourse Level)
Mary S. Gibson, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York
The Crime of Honor: An Italian Story
Ernesto De Cristofaro, University of Catania
Legalized Rape and Beyond: The Fuitina” Tradition in Sicily
Antonella Vitale, City University of New York
Mary S. Gibson, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York

Session Abstract

The recent success of Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s film A Girl in the River has highlighted the problem of honor killing in current day Pakistan including the complicated relationship between the judicial system and the practice. Yet similar issues are not so temporally distant in European society, particularly in Italy where the delitto d’onore or “crime of honor” was recognized and privileged by legislation until 1981. The three papers proposed for this panel will examine that official toleration from different perspectives and would seem to complicate any simple interpretation of how honor and violence were connected in Italian society. Thus Ernesto De Cristofaro takes a longitudinal view that stresses continuity over change as successive epochs and regimes – including that of fascists – apparently bowed to popular culture in dealing with murder attached to sexual honor (adjudication of adultery, abortion and infanticide were all inflected by the same honor principle). Hughes, on the other hand, more specifically examines the creation of united Italy’s Zanardelli Code of 1890 in the shadow of previous pre-unitary codes on the peninsula. He attempts to explain why a penal code famous for its liberal tendencies, including the abolition of the death penalty, actually increased the legal latitude of Italians to commit murder in the name of family honor. Thus women could receive heavily mitigated penalties if they killed their adulterous husbands (as well as vice versa of course), but sisters and mothers could also kill female members of the family if found in flagrante delicto. Finally, Vitale looks at another manifestation of legalized honor violence in her study of fuitina, which - in its most negative form – allowed a legally recognized rapist to avoid prosecution by agreeing to marry the victim. However, Vitale suggests that fuitina could be turned to a woman’s advantage if the object of her affections was not acceptable to her family. Or the family could in fact push fuitina as a fictitious abduction in order to avoid marriage expenses. Obviously all of this offers a more nuanced view of the relationship of sex and violence in Italy and should produce some stimulating discussion. This panel should be of interest to anyone studying women, gender, masculinity, violence, honor and modern Italy.
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