Beauty over brains

Italians trade in feminism for sex appeal?

By Abby Margulies
Published December 3, 2008 7:15PM (EST)

Traveling through Italy one summer, I developed an unexpected love for the country's nude beaches. Sure, there were a fair number of impossibly bronzed women who appeared to have fallen out of a swimsuit catalog, but there were others as well, old and young alike, thick and thin in all the "wrong" places. I left the country convinced America could cut its eating disorder rate in half if we simply embraced the same relaxed attitude toward nudity.

As it turns out, I may have misread the situation. NPR has just declared that feminism is out in Italy and that the woman as sex symbol is back in. The happily naked women I admired may have just been filling the role they have been taught is best to play. As NPR so succinctly puts it, "scantily dressed women can be seen -- but rarely heard -- on all types of programs, from quizzes to political talk shows."

Women make up only 2 percent of the country's top management positions and only 17 percent of Parliament -- a smaller percentage than in both Rwanda and Burundi -- and recent opinion polls show that the No. 1 role model for Italian girls is the showgirl. A number of Italian feminists are placing a substantial portion of the blame on the prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who is also a media mogul. Apparently the dwindling amount of clothing on television's females coincides with the launch of the Berlusconi networks themselves, known for their strange mingling of politics and sex. And Berlusconi recently raised eyebrows by appointing former showgirl Mara Carfagna as minister of equal opportunity.

Said veteran feminist Grazia Francescato: "We have gone from equal opportunities to equal opportunism ... You try to be very appealing to the other sex, especially to very powerful men. I am very, very disappointed by women."

Abby Margulies

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