Fighting for masculinity: Male domestic workers, gender, and migration in Italy from the late nineteenth century to the present

  • Sarti R
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This article, after providing readers with a short review of studies on male domestic workers, focuses on male domestics in the twentieth- and twenty-first-century Italy via both a qualitative and quantitative approach. It shows, among other things, that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, male domestic workers underwent a symbolic castration in that they were prevented from growing moustaches which at the time were a sign of virility. Significantly, this prohibition provoked several protests. The article, therefore, investigates the historical background of servant de-virilization. It shows furthermore how domestic service became an almost exclusively female job and was culturally constructed as such. Broadly speaking, this happened in the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. In Italy, however, between the 1950s and the 1980s, domestic service experienced a slight re-masculinization which became more noticeable in the following years, when there was a kind of revival'' of recourse to domestic workers made possible by the arrival of large migration flows. While investigating how domestics perceive/perceived themselves and which strategies they pursue/ pursued to protect their male identity both a century ago and today, the article analyzes how working in a feminized sector may affect masculinity.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Italy
  • domestic service
  • ethnicity
  • facial hair
  • gender
  • masculinity
  • migration

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  • Raffaella Sarti

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