Research Article


DOI :10.26650/LITERA2018-0009   IUP :10.26650/LITERA2018-0009    Full Text (PDF)

Swimming with Cloelia, Running with Atalanta, Playing Ball with Nausicaa: The use of Classical Women in Fascist Italy 1930s’ Controversies about Women’s Sport

Marco Giani

Women’s sports were quite controversial in 1930s Fascist Italy. On the one hand, the regime promoted them: healthier girls would in time become healthier mothers, who would one day give birth to Mussolini’s future soldiers. Yet a large part of Italian society, led by conservative Catholics, protested the most innovative activities, such as public athletics and swimming competitions. In 1933, a big controversy broke out between Il Littoriale (sports newspaper, mouthpiece of Fascist sports policy) and L’Osservatore Romano (Vatican newspaper) about “immoral” women’s sportswear. An interesting feature of this controversy was the use, by both Fascists and conservatives, of Classical (both mythological and historical) women, such as Cloelia, the Amazons, Atalanta, and Nausicaa, cited as archetypical figures of sportswomen. Nausicaa seemed to be the most frequently used and diverse archetype, because she was better suited (more than Cloelia) to the Fascist vision of the future Italian donna nuova “new woman”: she was young, she had a healthy body, she was ready to embrace her “natural” fate (being a mother). The corpus used for the analysis is composed by journalistic texts (newspapers and magazines) and a sports novel, in order to test the spread of these archetypes in 1930s mass media: in order to fix this new image of the sportswoman, the Fascist regime had to find some well-known female figures that could be easily admired by the Italian people.

DOI :10.26650/LITERA2018-0009   IUP :10.26650/LITERA2018-0009    Full Text (PDF)

Nuotare con Clelia, correre con Atalanta, giocare a palla con Nausicaa: Il riutilizzo di figure classiche nelle polemiche sullo sport femminile nell’Italia fascista degli Anni Trenta

Marco Giani

Lo sport femminile era causa di attriti, nell’Italia fascista degli anni Trenta. Da una parte, esso veniva promosso dal regime, perché ragazze più sane sarebbero diventate un giorno madri più sane, in grado quindi di dar vita ai futuri soldati del Duce. Tuttavia una parte consistente della società italiana (capeggiata dai cattolici conservatori) si opponeva a tali pratiche, come ad es. le gare pubbliche femminili di atletica leggera e di nuoto. Alla fine del 1933 scoppiò una grave polemica sull’abbigliamento sportivo femminile - giudicato “immorale” - fra il giornale sportivo Il Littoriale (portavoce della politica sportiva del regime) e L’Osservatore Romano (quotidiano del Vaticano). Un aspetto interessante di tale polemica è l’uso di figure femminili sia storiche sia mitiche tratte dalla Classicità, quali Clelia, le Amazzoni, Atalanta e Nausicaa, sfruttate sia dai fascisti sia dei conservatori come archetipi della donna sportiva. Fra di esse, Nausicaa pare essere stata la più usata, perché più rispondente al modello fascista della donna nuova desiderata dal Fascismo: giovane, dotata di un corpo sano, pronta al suo destino “naturale” di madre. Il corpus testuale usato per l’analisi proposta è composto da articoli di giornale (quotidiani e riviste) e da un romanzo sportivo, con lo scopo di valutare la diffusione di questi archetipi nei mass media dell’epoca: se voleva imporre una nuova immagine della donna sportiva, il regime doveva infatti trovare qualche immagine femminile popolare, la cui comprensione risultasse facile per tutti.


EXTENDED ABSTRACT


Women’s sports were quite controversial in 1930s Fascist Italy. On the one hand, the regime promoted them: as Mussolini said in his famous Discorso dell’Ascensione (1927), demography was the key to the Empire. Italy could not have any economic growth or go to war without a demographic increase (on that occasion he said, “If our population decreases, we will never become an Empire, but a colony”). For this reason, the Fascist regime promoted physical education in Italian schools, and all forms of female sport: healthier girls would in time become healthier mothers, who would one day give birth to Mussolini’s future soldiers. Then, after the 1932 Olympic Summer Games (whose 1st place in the medal tally was achieved by the USA, thanks in great part to the outstanding performances of their sportswomen), Fascist Italy had one further reason for promoting women’s sports: during the following Games (Berlin, 1936), Italy would win more medals thanks to its female athletes. For this reason, starting from 1933, there was an increase in the promotion of female sports above all Olympic sports, such as athletics and swimming. Yet a large part of Italian society, led by conservative Catholics, protested such innovative activities and (public) competitions, where the audience would be able to watch young athletes and swimmers in shorts and swimsuits. In 1933, a big controversy broke out between Il Littoriale (sports newspaper, mouthpiece of Fascist sports policy) and L’Osservatore Romano (Vatican newspaper) about “immoral” women’s sportswear. An interesting feature of this controversy was the use, by both Fascists and conservatives, of Classical (both mythological and historical) women, such as Cloelia, the Amazons, Atalanta, and Nausicaa, cited as archetypical figures of sportswomen. Cloelia (an Ancient Roman girl mentioned by Livy, who escaped from her imprisonment during a war against the Etruscans by swimming across the Tiber) was given by Il Littoriale as an example of ancient Italian female virtue (being ancient Rome the ancestor of modern Italy, according to Fascist ideology). Rejecting this historical example, L’Osservatore warned that Il Littoriale should search for more appropriate role models for the new Italy envisioned by Fascism, based on a Christian model rather than a pagan one. Moving to mythical women, the Amazons were depicted as negative models by conservatives: their love for physical activity went hand in hand with their “unnatural” love for war. Italian women should prefer Penelope, the good housewife, instead. The supporters of women’s sports found some archetypical positive figures in Greek mythology, such as Atalanta (as a runner) and Nausicaa (as a ball player). Nausicaa seemed to be the most frequently used and diverse archetype, because she was better suited (more than Cloelia) to the Fascist vision of the future Italian donna nuova “new woman”: she was young, she had a healthy body, she was ready to embrace her “natural” fate (being a mother). Mentioning some other women from the Classics (Artemis as a hunter) and European mythology (Undines as swimmers, or even rowers) and from the Bible (Noah’s wife and daughters-in-law as rowers), this study examines these cultural objects, focusing on their language (lexicon) and iconic aspects. The use of these Classical women seems to be a very interesting 20th century cultural clash between the tradition (humanistic literature and mythology, well-known by everyone in 1930s Italy; the traditional view of Italian women) and the revolution (the Italian sportswoman, a very innovative image for the Italian audience, spread by the Fascist regime for demographic reasons). The corpus used for the analysis is composed of journalistic texts (newspapers and magazines) and a sports novel (La palla della principessa “The Princess’ Ball,” written in 1931 by La Gazzetta dello Sport’s journalist Bruno Roghi), in order to test the spread of these archetypes in 1930s mass media. In order to fix this new image of the sportswoman, the Fascist regime had to find some well-known female figures that could be easily admired by the Italian people. Classical myth was the answer.


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APA

Giani, M. (2018). Swimming with Cloelia, Running with Atalanta, Playing Ball with Nausicaa: The use of Classical Women in Fascist Italy 1930s’ Controversies about Women’s Sport. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, 28(2), 163-184. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2018-0009


AMA

Giani M. Swimming with Cloelia, Running with Atalanta, Playing Ball with Nausicaa: The use of Classical Women in Fascist Italy 1930s’ Controversies about Women’s Sport. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies. 2018;28(2):163-184. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2018-0009


ABNT

Giani, M. Swimming with Cloelia, Running with Atalanta, Playing Ball with Nausicaa: The use of Classical Women in Fascist Italy 1930s’ Controversies about Women’s Sport. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, [Publisher Location], v. 28, n. 2, p. 163-184, 2018.


Chicago: Author-Date Style

Giani, Marco,. 2018. “Swimming with Cloelia, Running with Atalanta, Playing Ball with Nausicaa: The use of Classical Women in Fascist Italy 1930s’ Controversies about Women’s Sport.” Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies 28, no. 2: 163-184. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2018-0009


Chicago: Humanities Style

Giani, Marco,. Swimming with Cloelia, Running with Atalanta, Playing Ball with Nausicaa: The use of Classical Women in Fascist Italy 1930s’ Controversies about Women’s Sport.” Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies 28, no. 2 (Dec. 2022): 163-184. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2018-0009


Harvard: Australian Style

Giani, M 2018, 'Swimming with Cloelia, Running with Atalanta, Playing Ball with Nausicaa: The use of Classical Women in Fascist Italy 1930s’ Controversies about Women’s Sport', Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 163-184, viewed 2 Dec. 2022, https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2018-0009


Harvard: Author-Date Style

Giani, M. (2018) ‘Swimming with Cloelia, Running with Atalanta, Playing Ball with Nausicaa: The use of Classical Women in Fascist Italy 1930s’ Controversies about Women’s Sport’, Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, 28(2), pp. 163-184. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2018-0009 (2 Dec. 2022).


MLA

Giani, Marco,. Swimming with Cloelia, Running with Atalanta, Playing Ball with Nausicaa: The use of Classical Women in Fascist Italy 1930s’ Controversies about Women’s Sport.” Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, vol. 28, no. 2, 2018, pp. 163-184. [Database Container], https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2018-0009


Vancouver

Giani M. Swimming with Cloelia, Running with Atalanta, Playing Ball with Nausicaa: The use of Classical Women in Fascist Italy 1930s’ Controversies about Women’s Sport. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies [Internet]. 2 Dec. 2022 [cited 2 Dec. 2022];28(2):163-184. Available from: https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2018-0009 doi: 10.26650/LITERA2018-0009


ISNAD

Giani, Marco. Swimming with Cloelia, Running with Atalanta, Playing Ball with Nausicaa: The use of Classical Women in Fascist Italy 1930s’ Controversies about Women’s Sport”. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies 28/2 (Dec. 2022): 163-184. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2018-0009



TIMELINE


Submitted19.09.2018
Accepted23.10.2018
Published Online01.12.2018

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