'The Boxer’s Locker Room': An exploration of masculinity in fascist Italy

Simone Puleo presented "The Boxer’s Locker Room: Fascist Era Masculinities in Italian Cinema" at the Rainbow Center on Wed. March 22nd. The lecture explored a cultural history of Italian Fascism, in which homosexuality is suppressed and often criminalized. (Zhelun Lang/The Daily Campus)

Simone Puleo, a PhD student at the University of Connecticut, spoke on the exploration of fascist masculinities in Italian cinema as a part of the Rainbow center’s Out to Lunch Gender, Sexuality and Community weekly lecture.

The lecture began with an introduction to the origins of the Fascist state, starting with Mussolini's rise to power following with the Italian Racial Laws and the state-sponsored implementation of them. These laws stated that Italians were a sort of superior race, much like that of the Nazi Regime, and discriminated against foreigners. Therefore, Italy became a nation of segregation and marginalization for mostly those of the Jewish faith.

“To discriminate was very basic stuff to the fascist state,” Puleo said. “There’s overwhelming evidence to suggest that all of the Italian Racial Laws duly applied to members of the LGBT community in that time period. For example, if a Jewish person could not be a tutor it would duly apply that any member of the LGBT community could not be a tutor.”

As an example of these laws, Puleo showed scenes from two popular films in Italian cinema. The first film called “Ossessione,” released in 1943, was banned by the Fascist state and became a cult classic when it was finally discovered in the 1970s. The scene showed a character called the Spaniard that hinted subtly that he was homosexual and had a hidden relationship with the apparent heterosexual main character of the film.

In an unfortunate event, Puleo explained how the real life actor of the Spaniard Elio Marcuzzo was brutally murdered by the Garibaldi brigade for what was considered “political reasons,” although it is largely believed that he died for being a homosexual.

The second scene Puleo showed came from the film “Gli Occhiali D’oro,” released in 1987. The film centered on a doctor who falls in love with a boxer in fascist Italy in 1938 after the implementation of the Italian Racial Laws.

This scene followed the boxer, Aldo, fighting in the ring, with the doctor looking on. When the fight is over, the doctor goes into the locker room to see Aldo naked in the shower. This gave birth to the name of the lecture: “The Boxer’s Locker Room.”

“The Boxer’s Locker Room,” according to Puleo, is the quintessential example of masculinity in fascist Italy. It symbolizes that even though some men in Mussolini-ruled Italy conformed to fascist norms of masculinity in public, private relations were altogether different. The boxer signifies the strong fascist desired man and the locker room signifies the hidden truth.

“Masculinity was associated with the ability to fight,” Puleo said. “Confusion about gender or sexuality was considered a serious threat to the goal of orienting people to these fascist roles.”

In a final statement, Puleo stated that, “Things have advanced, things have changed. Italians are very weary of their fascist history. However, given the history of concealment and silence that has persisted even into the 2000s, I think studies like this must be had in the consequence of which has little to do with sexuality and everything to do with ethics.”


John Moreno is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at john.moreno@uconn.edu.