Fabricating Women’s Histories

Laura E. Ruberto (March 07, 2009)
Italy’s construction and memory of International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day (IWD) is March 8. As I noted on this site last year, it’s a day that is not celebrated much in the U.S.; however, a great part of how March 8 is remembered today is mostly due to the experiences of immigrant women in the early part of thetwentieth century in New York—most notably, in the tragedy that has come to be known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

Here’s one of the online versions of IWD history I came across while preparing this post:

This version of events intrigued me—why would the Italian Communist Party fabricate and disseminate a story about immigrant women’s exploitation and death when they had a perfectly dreadful and indisputably true story in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of March 25, 1911?

I started surfing for more information. I found it, for the most part, only in Italian-language sources—like the notoriously unreliable Wikipedia:

I emailed or spoke to over twenty academics working in Italian and Italian American Studies, both in the U.S. and Italy, about Messori’s account. Many people sent my question on to others. (Mille grazie a tutti!) A few knew of the competing stories surrounding IWD in Italy, but no one could corroborate or debunk the Bologna-Pci/Udi/Cgil aspect of it. In short, the communist-fabrication connection was news to everyone.

Edvige Giunta of New Jersey City University offered me part of a story she had started writing about the two historical accounts of IWD:

Similarly, Margherita Heyer-Caput of the University of California, Davis, who also knew of the two versions of the story, evoked La Societa Italiana delle Storiche in reminding me of what she described in an email as the “volatility of capitalized History.”

History’s power and its fragility has been of concern to feminists for quite some time. In thinking of this particular case, it made sense to me to turn to the radicalized voices of Italian feminists. From the 1970 Rivolta Femminile’s evocative manifesto we read:

Earlier today, Clarissa Clò of San Diego State University responded to my query with a link about a recently-published book and documentary—8 Marzo: Una storia lunga un secolo (the trailer to the dvd leads my post), by Tilde Capomazza and Marisa Ombra. The story, it seems, is still unfolding.





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