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Exporting Mrs. Consumer: The American Woman in Italian Culture, 1945-1975

  • Author(s): Harris, Jessica Lynne
  • Advisor(s): Stevenson, Brenda
  • Symcox, Geoffrey
  • et al.
Abstract

“Exporting Mrs. Consumer: The American Woman in Italian Culture, 1945-1975” examines the development and growth of a mass consumer-based society in Italy after the Second World War. Employing a gendered and transnational approach, the dissertation puts women at the center of the analysis by specifically focusing on American female consumer culture’s influence on Italian women’s lives from 1945-1975. This study, in contrast to existing literature on the topic, provides a more comprehensive understanding of the nature of the models and messages of American female consumer culture in Italy during this period, how they influenced Italian women, and the extent of this culture’s influence. Furthermore, the analysis of the intersection of the modern “American woman” (the white middle-class suburban American housewife), consumerism, and Italian female culture and identities provides new insight into the unique cultural relationship between the United States and Italy following the Second World War.

The American female consumer products and institutions—beauty products, the refrigerator, mass produced ready-to-wear fashion, the department store, and the supermarket—transferred to Italy by American companies and Italian entrepreneurs during this period, introduced new models of behavior and ways of life that promised prosperity, a higher standard of living, and relief from burdensome and tiring daily chores to Italian women seeking to emerge from the suffering they endured during the war. Additionally, they promoted democratic consumer capitalist values—freedom of choice, individualism, abundance, and affluence—that contrasted with Catholic values, such as modesty and religious morality, and Communist values, such as collectivism, equality, and financial morality. As such, the modern “American woman” became a significant figure in Italy’s cultural and social contest for the hearts and minds of Italians fought between the Catholic Church and the Italian Communist Party. Overall, American female consumer culture’s invasion of postwar Italy challenged Italian notions regarding women’s societal roles and transformed the ways in which Italian women from the upper to middle-classes styled themselves and their homes, shopped, and ultimately, how they identified themselves.

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