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Post "One Determined Socialist Lady": Lina Merlin
Created by John Eipper on 05/23/17 11:52 AM

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"One Determined Socialist Lady": Lina Merlin (Roy Domenico, USA, 05/23/17 11:52 am)

In answering JE's question on the criminalization of prostitution in Italy, Eugenio Battaglia (23 May) mentioned some factors that may have pushed for it--democracy and buonismo, the UN and "one determined socialist lady." That would have been Lina Merlin--a socialist deputy from the Veneto. She gave her name to the "Merlin Law," ending legal prostitution in 1958. For all her trouble, however, the Socialists purged her from the Party, not supporting her in a 1961 run.

She then moved over to support the Christian Democrats (DC) in their unsuccessful 1974 referendum to end divorce (which had become legal by 1970 parliamentary votes.) The DC preferred to leave these issues alone in the hope that they'd just go away. It would certainly be awkward for a Catholic party to support prostitution--although it had been legal in the papal states. Maybe better than others, the Holy Mother Church and the Christian Democracy understood weaknesses of the flesh and the sins they lead to--so in the fine Italian tradition: regulate it, turn away and hope for the best.

JE comments:  I can see the criminalization of prostitution as a measure ostensibly in favor of women, but how could ending divorce be viewed that way?  Wikipedia says nothing more than "La socialista Merlin fu una convinta antidivorzista."  (There's no Wiki bio in English.)  I see no indication that she ever married--perhaps that's why she was against divorce.


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  • Attitudes Towards Divorce in Italy, 1950s and '60s (Roy Domenico, USA 05/24/17 5:11 PM)
    I am literally writing on this topic--part of my manuscript on Catholic cultural politics in the 1950s and 1960s.  So, if JE forgives me, I can strike here while the iron's hot.

    As to the reasoning behind women's suspicion of divorce, a few issues. First, this is pre-feminist Italy. Most women were socially conservative.  They followed Church teachings and voted Christian Democrat (DC). The two big arguments from the DC--often fronted by prominent DC women deputies--was that divorce victimized women by allowing the husbands to cut the ties and run; and it harmed the children. Remember, good Catholic wives were--ideally--mothers. All DC propaganda promoted "Mamma." In Italian mythology she's right up there with il Papa, San Francesco and Padre Pio.


    When divorce went through at least the Catholics got a 5-year waiting period, later, I think, reduced to 3 in the 1980s. But still, divorce remains at pretty low levels in Italy, much lower than the US, and with a big stigma attached to it.


    JE comments:  Social causes can create unexpected bedfellows.  We take it for granted that legal divorce is an issue of women's rights.  But who are the "we"?  Roy Domenico takes us to another time and place, in which an inviolable marriage was considered a good thing for women.  The situation vis-à-vis divorce it Italy is somewhat parallel to the 19th-century feminist movement in the US, where prohibitionism was a goal almost as important as achieving the vote.

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