"More than a Tree, Less than a Woman" Sex and Empire: the Italian Case

Daniela Baratieri

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This article will examine a fundamental drive that indirectly supported Italian expansionist lust in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia between the late-nineteenth century and the Second World War. These colonies in Africa provided Italian men with sexual excess, a place outside the boundaries and mores regulating sexuality in the metropolis. Native girls were considered to be “full grown” by the age of eleven, bigamy was rampant, rape and homosexuality tolerated, and slavery overlooked. One ex-soldier remembered that in Africa women “reeked of booty”, others filled their memoirs with accounts of the purchase of women. The conquest of Somalia did not offer the Italian State more than a strategic position on the Indian Ocean but well into the 1960s it remained in the common imagination, as the land inhabited by the “black female Vikings”, the “most beautiful women in the world”. This paper will also analyze changes in the regulation of sexuality in the period of consolidation of the Italian Empire with the Fascist “Laws for the Defence of the Race”, 11 November 1938, while documenting the hard to die practises and fantasies of colonial desire. The tension between desire and the asymmetrical power to realise it, will illustrate a one-sided dream, ultimately a colonial nightmare.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)360-372
JournalAustralian Journal of Politics and History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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