Thursday, February 3, 2011

I'm Just a Girl

The topic of my blog post today was going to about chocolate. The upcoming festival in Piazza Santa Croce running this weekend.  A sweet, lighthearted topic...

...That was until I logged onto facebook this morning and saw that a friend had posted a New York Times Article about Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi! He's at it again. Grande Silvio! Sei veramente un esempio di alto livello!  Of course this is not the first I am hearing of this, in fact there have been numerous facebook groups formed speaking out against him and his recent sexcapades and politics. It has been the topic of every late night Italian talk show and this past Saturday afternoon Florence held one of the largest protest in the country by Italian women. As you can see from the photo in the article the statement was that "Italy is not a brothel" Women are getting angry and rightfully so.

As it turns out this is actually a topic that I have had in mind for a while now, not necessarily about Berlusconi but about women in Italy in general.  You can read all the slimy details about Berlusconi in the article.  What I really am interested in is how it has gotten to this point? So out of control and why the Italians continue to vote him into power.  But more than that why men believe that it is ok to objectify women. Of course it  is an age old issue and many women have fought for their beliefs and yes there have been changes but certainly not enough.  I can speak from my own experiences in that I myself have been personally effected by this and have had to defend myself more than once.

Now yes we've all hear about the "Ciao bella!" (In fact it has sold a hell of a lot of t-shirts around here) and some may even feel flattered if they hear it, or even quite possibly disappointed if they don't.
 This famous photo by Ruth Orkin was taken in 1951 in front of Gilli Cafe here in Florence in Piazza della Republica, 60 years later, not much has changed, actually its probably gotten worse. 

But that is quite mild compared to some of the things I have dealt with around here; including being physically groped in public. Yes I was literally walking down the street with friend and just as this man passed us I felt a hand on my ass! And we're not taking about a "oh oops, he accidentally brushed up against me" we're talking about a full-on grab with a squeeze. No accident. I was completely and utterly shocked! Speechless, I could not believe that that had actually happened.  I said nothing, but was completely mortified. Imagine if I, a woman had done something like that! Just walked up and grabbed some random guy's penis in the middle of the street.  It is a violation of my body and my personal space.   

I have also experienced, dog calls.  No not cat calls, dog calls, as in how someone would call their dog, I think there may have even been barking! I actually asked him, if '"I look like a dog?!" I have also heard, "Mamma mia che tette!" (wow, nice tits!) Really? And this is all in the middle of the day, broad sunlight, walking around the city minding my own business probably on my way to or from work.  One evening as I was walking home a man on a bike slows down to my walking speed and literally asked me if I wanted to F**K.  I should have kicked him off his bike but I didn't say a word, I just kept walking. Now I wish I would have. Do I look like a f**king prostitute?? Mind you it was in the middle of winter and I was wearing a huge down jacket and boots up to my knees, there was no amount of skin showing anywhere but my face. However, what I was wearing is irrelevant.

 I used to go for a run early in the morning before work but was forced to stop after seeing the same man masturbating in public many times.  I have a friend who told me that she has also been asked quite blatantly to have sex with a man (even though he knew she is married) and that another actually pulled down his pants and showed her his penis.  Another friend told me that her polka-dot dress caused a response of "ti do io due altre palle" or "I'll give you two more balls"

I mean the list could go on.  This is complete and total disrespect.  I would like to ask these men how they would feel if it was their wives, sisters, mothers, daughters or nieces who were being disrespected like this? Who do you think you are that you have the right to touch someone else's body without permission?  And who made you believe that it was ok to harass a woman that way? Your mother? I doubt it.

We all know that the media is a very powerful enterprise. Billions of dollars/euro/yen, etc go into the media every year.  And just like glossy magazines can cause teenage girls to become anorexic, it can make men believe that women are objects to be gawked and hollered at. But I ain't no holla back girl! 

And take a guess as to who owns the [majority] of the media around here? That's right! Mr. Berlusconi himself. Three network television channels, as well as several cable channels, newspapers, gossip magazines, bookstores, and even a Spanish television channel, not to mention that he is the owner of Milan, the Italian soccer team.  You can find a full article here

Italian television has been repeatedly criticized for its use of young attractive women being the highlight of the show. Young Italian women are struggling with a media who often praises a standard ideal of physical beauty which rarely accompanies the expectation of intelligence. Along with a Prime Minister who has been caught several times in the company of under-aged women and shamelessly publicizes his objectified view of women, the situation only seems to worsen. Many of these recent scandals have perhaps shed some light on the gravity of the situation. Let’s hope so anyway. Here is another article on the subject and as you will see by the date, this is nothing new, he has been at it for a long time now.
 Italian show girls

Silvio Berlusconi's wife divorced him in 2009 and wrote a letter to the public stating why, reasons which included adultery, most of it committed with minors .  So here is the example for young Italian men. Now of course I am not foolish enough to place all the blame on him, but there is certainly nothing being done to stop him. First of all why do Italians continue to vote him into office? He has been prime minister for something like 17 years!!! Many may respond that they don't care about his personal life, but let's not forget about the tax evasion, accounting fraud, embezzlement, and accusations of mafia ties. Just in case the under age girls wasn't enough.  And yes there are sexual harassment laws in this country, just like there are laws for everything else around here, the problem is not the laws themselves, it the law enforcement that is the issue.

It seems that for a woman to be successful in this country, first she must be beautiful, and then, well maybe she should be smart, but not necessarily. 
 This is what is on television at 8:30 in the evening, just as most Italians are sitting down to dinner with their kids

“Women in Italy must work twice as hard to be seen as half as good as their male colleagues” as Emma Bonino said in a speech made on a popular Italian television show……

I am not a puritan by any means, I am actually incredibly liberal, and believe that everyone should get to choose what they want to do with their life and their body, the issue is that in Italy, the choices are mainly two. What you see above, or to be a housewife. Maybe if women had more options to make money, this is NOT what they would choose. And, ok fine, you want do this for a living, fine, but is it really necessary on every show? At 8pm?

Now of course I also know that Italy is not the only country that has these issues (we all remember Monica) but it seems that they are the only country in the developed world that hasn't taken steps to resolve them, or at least try. It always seems to be brushed under the rug and ignored, each time their leader makes a sexist comment or has yet another affair with an under-aged girl.

And I will certainly NOT stereotype all Italian men by saying that they all use these antics. I am married to one and I certainly would not be if his approach to meeting me was any of the above. I have the pleasure of knowing many intelligent, respectful, and educated Italian men.  But it is time for Italian women to get mad and demand more respect.


  1. Where do I start? Sara, for me this is a subject that gets my blood boiling. I am trying to raise a daughter in this sexist country, railing uselessly against the floodtide of PINK at Oviesse and elsewhere in the little girls' departments, trying to cultivate her little brain and not groom/dress her like a little velina (like so many Italian parents at school seem happy to do). We do not watch TV in our house, but instead prefer dvd's--this way I can feed her (and my son) a diet of fiesty, independent-minded, intelligent female protagonists.

    As for that pimple, Berlusconi, he is--unfortunately--merely the festering boil on the ass of a larger issue: that of conflict of interest in the political sphere. He preempts criticism and investigative journalism because he owns the networks. He shapes culture via his stream-of-crap TV shows to make himself a more acceptable--dare I say it, even desirable--public figure. In any other civilized country he would be recognized for what he is: a pathetic, octogenarian buffoon in pancake makeup, making desperate gestures--like some male version of Norma Desmond--in order to seem virile and relevant when he is merely crass and corrupt.

    Enough of this knave, this marzipan-complexioned fool! Basta with the veline, too, those sad little one-dimensional kittens who mew stupidly and splay their legs for the camera. I say let you run Italy, Sara!--and any man caught grabbing the ass of any woman, or otherwise discomfiting any female resident/citizen by any lewd means whatsoever, shall be painted pink and hung naked in a public gallows in Piazza della Signoria--and pelted with offal, dirty diapers, and copious amounts of dog shit.

    Whew. Glad I got that off my chest.

  2. P.S. Thanks for writing such a thought-provoking piece!

  3. Si!!! E Vai! Brava Elisabeth. I like that idea! I'll be in charge of public humiliation and you can be in charge of mandatory parenting courses that we as the new governing body of Italy will put into place!

    It's nice to know that there are parents out there that recognize these issues and are prepared to deal with them and teach their children why its wrong instead of using the T.V as a babysitter and then wonder why their kids act the way they do.

    As for the festering boil, once again fantastic and perfectly described. (right along with the Norma Desmond comparison, point on) And yes he is allowed, even welcomed to continue his leadership, if one could call it that, since he is essentially making the laws that will allow him to participate in any delinquent behaviors that he gets himself involved in. So of course the other delinquents have a free pass to corruption, greed and slew of other inappropriate activities. Owning half of the country certainly has its perks.

    So much work to be done, I'm glad that the ladies are FINALLY get just as pissed as we are!!!


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