Italian American Femininities

Authored by: Ilaria Serra

The Routledge History of Italian Americans

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415835831
eBook ISBN: 9780203501856
Adobe ISBN:


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Italian American women’s memoirs open traditionally locked doors. Though an Italian American feminine monolithic identity does not exist, memoirs offer multiple shades of chosen metaphors of self. 1 With unexpected honesty and sincerity, memoirs unveil hidden secrets no one dared to admit before, let alone make public. 2 It was in the 1970s that accounts of women’s lives started to materialize in fictional novels or in poetical verses, but not until the 1990s that a large number of book-length memoirs by Italian American women were published. This outing was revolutionary. 3 From the silence of their homes, women started choosing new roles and determining their own descriptions. In a joyful assertion of self-expression, they appropriated the pronoun I to express their own first-person discourse, as opposed to the ageless “third-person definitions of who they are, cultural prescriptions that are transmitted in oral tradition and private writing as well as written and published work.” 4 Thus, Johanna Klapps Herman starts her memoir by reflecting on her decade-long mutism: “It took the largest part of twenty years to be able to fully loosen my word hoard against this wordlessness.” 5 The same silence amazed the poet Sandra Mortola Gilbert who wondered: “I am always struck by how few people have written about what it means to be us!” 6

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