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GIs and ‘Segnorine’: an Entangled History of Post-war Sex Work (1943-1954)

Project description

Illegal prostitution in post-war Italy

Italy was occupied by the Allied forces between 1943 and 1954 and relations between the American soldiers (Gls) and the Italian prostitutes (called ‘segnorine’) were prohibited. The prohibition facilitated the proliferation of an illegal sex market. Italian prostitutes were targeted by Italian society because of their relations with the occupying forces and became victims of racist attacks as they also accepted Afro-American clients. The EU-funded Sex War-k project will study these cases and the interaction between gender and race in post-WW II Italy. It will also review the transcontinental role of sexist and discriminatory stereotypes. Finally, it will determine the identity barriers that conditioned how each side (American soldiers, Italians) saw the other.


This project is the first attempt to carry out a systematic investigation of illegal sex work in a European country during the Allied occupation, from a perspective of cultural and transnational history. Focusing on the relations between American soldiers (GIs) and Italian prostitutes (the so-called ‘segnorine’) in 1943-1954, up to the settlement of the Trieste question, the research intends to analyze these women’s experience as the image of the cultural encounters and interconnections between US and Italian societies during the post-WWII transition.
In Italy, the Allies forbade any relationship between ‘foreign’ GIs and local prostitutes. The growth of an illegal sex market was one of the consequences of this decision. What emerges is that the ‘segnorine’ were treated as a great danger and were often victims of violence especially because of their sexual relations with African Americans. I argue that they played a key-role in the process of national re-building, a role that has not been thoroughly investigated by scholars.
The project addresses three core issues:
(1) The intertwining of genderization and racialization in the years of post-fascist democracy;
(2) The transcontinental circulation of ideas and models, with particular attention to the inter-crossing of sexist and racist discrimination (e.g. postcolonial and segregationist stereotypes);
(3) Imaginary frontiers and collective identities. How did Americans look at Italians, and Italian women? How did Italians look at their ‘conquerors’?
I will carry out an extensive review of archival and press sources, also pertaining to pop culture. I will conduct personal interviews too. UNIPI and Fordham University are a perfect match for my project, that will result in three journal articles, a book, and a number of training and dissemination activities. The GF would represent an important step in my career, helping me grow into one of the leading European experts in gender, racial, and warfare studies.



Net EU contribution
€ 269 002,56
Lungarno pacinotti 43/44
56126 Pisa

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Centro (IT) Toscana Pisa
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Partners (1)