"Soft porn" TV angers Italian women

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

Not every Italian woman is a scantily clad blonde. Although watching Italian TV shows might give you just that feeling. Women all over Italy are sick and tired of the constant stream of nearly-naked women on television and on advertising billboards. It is fuelling Berlusconi-style "machismo" and dragging their country backwards, they say.

[media:audio]
 
"What we are dealing with is a constant stream of soft porn from morning until night on our TV screens," says Lorella Zanardo, the maker of a documentary film about women on Italian television. "The real difference between Italy and other European countries is that women's bodies here are really shown as objects irrespective of the programme you're watching. It's the only thing on offer."

 
"Il Corpo delle Donne" ("Women's Bodies"), a provocative montage of national prime-time TV, raises questions about Italian society at a time when national headlines continue to be dominated by scandals over Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's liaisons with young glamour girls. His appointment of former TV starlets (in Italian 'veline') to government posts has triggered an outcry, with a group of high-profile women going as far as writing to G20 leaders earlier this summer urging them to boycott a summit hosted by Berlusconi (72). 

Lorella Zanardo, who watched 400 hours of television for her project, adds: "I was really shocked. In one show, a young woman was literally suspended among pieces of dried meat. She wore only knickers and they stamped her bottom like it was a prosciutto ham. It's pure humiliation." (see picture below) In another scene, a male game show mocks one participant, asking her whether she had "forgotten her breasts at home".

[media:images]

 
National obsession
"Looks have always been important here, but now it's a national obsession," says documentary maker Zanardo as we meet in the fashion district of Milan. A group of teenage girls nearby seem to endorse this. Gloria, a 16-year old, says: "It's indispensable for me to look good. I take at least an hour to get ready and I get up early to make sure that my hair and my clothes are right before I leave the house."

"My friend takes up to two hours to get ready for school to look good. She has to be the centre of attention," adds Isabella, an 18-year-old schoolgirl. "It's a bit much." 

A number of prominent commentators publicly deplored the damage being wreaked to Italy's image by Berlusconi. The prime minister is now trying to sue newspapers such as 'La Repubblica', which do not belong to his media empire and which have been outspoken about his affairs and comments about women.

"We can no longer tolerate this," Chiara Volpato, a sociologist at Milan University, said in a newspaper interview. "Today there are two Italys. One of which accepts Berlusconi's ideology, the other which rejects it." 

For Lorella Zanardo, the rot on TV has to stop in order for society to move forward. "That's why I decided to make this film, as a wake-up call. These programmes are dangerous because you are sitting there with your family at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon and these soft-porn images flood into your living room," she says, referring to a spate of family entertainment where cameras lure over women's bodies.
 
"But it does not really occur to you it's soft-porn anymore because they are made for families and ten million people watching. At least if you choose to watch porn, you get a DVD, it's private and you watch it at home. But here you have no control."
 
Pressure
to look good
Many Italians I met are unhappy with the media fascination for the young and beautiful. "Now even our politicians have to be beautiful or they get booed off the screen," says Katerina, a young mother from Siena. "We are under huge pressure to look good because these images are everywhere." 
 
But her husband Marco, disagrees. "I don't think the image of women here really has changed thanks to Berlusconi," he says, adding that the fascination with "glamour" is everywhere. "Look at President Sarkozy, he married Carla Bruni, a model. It's not just Italy, it's a media obsession."

Lorella Zanardo says the problem has its roots in machismo and tradition in Italy. "It's not just Berlusconi's party. The other parties have the same attitude to women. It's a problem with our society in Italy. We have lost the ability of saying 'enough'. Basta!" 
 
Watch the film "Women's Bodies" (25 mins)