The lives of Italian women were transformed over the course of the twentieth century. Gender disparities in both the public and private spheres diminished, family size grew smaller and female education improved dramatically. Feminist movements of various kinds were active, women voted for the first time and there were important legislative reforms. Women’s dreams and aspirations were increasingly fuelled by the printed word and the spread of radio, film and television. Modes of dress and housework were transformed. All such trends, of course, were similarly evident in other European countries in this period but, in Italy, the pattern, timing and speed of gender change were also marked by aspects that were peculiarly Italian. Here, economic growth came later than in northern Europe and, when it did, its dramatic pace produced, in many ways, a society that was a particular mix of modernity and tradition. Moreover, this period of Italian history included two decades of Fascist rule that marked the nation deeply, creating a legacy that was hard to cast aside. The influence of the Catholic Church was matched in few other European countries. Another trend specific to Italy (albeit shared with other southern European nations) is the fact that, despite plummeting birth rates and the introduction of divorce, the institutions of both marriage and the family continued to be cornerstones of society right up to the very end of the century.
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