Correspondent Megan Williams reports on a campaign by Italian businesswomen Lorella Zanardo to change the way women are portrayed as sex objects on Italian television programs.
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MARCO WERMAN: Now to a very different story from Italy. For decades Italian TV has featured showgirls. We’re talking women whose only onscreen role is to look beautiful for the viewer. They grace everything from TV quiz shows to serious news programs. Now as Megan Williams reports one Italian woman is challenging this televised sexism.
MEGAN WILLIAMS; Turn on Italian TV day or night and it’s hard to miss them – long legged young women with bursting cleavage, clad and skimpy outfits, prancing around male hosts. By last year though Milan business women Lorella Zanardo had had enough.
LORELLA ZANARDO: I switched on TV and I saw this horrible image of women treated like object or humiliated which made me really very angry. I was really angry because I said I want to stop this situation.
WILLIAMS: Zanardo and two male colleagues decided to make a video on the subject. The result is a half hour documentary called “Il Corpo delle Donne” – Women’s Bodies.
WILLIAMS: The documentary consists almost entirely of scenes from recent Italian TV. In one game show a woman hangs from a hook alongside hams while a man stamps her bottom. On another popular show a young woman sits under a Plexiglas table like a caged animal and smiles at the audience. In her documentary Zanardo wonders aloud why Italian women accept this humiliation.
ZANARDO: I think that we are afraid that men don’t accept us, don’t like us anymore. The acceptance of man is very important to young women. And the fact that one woman can say listen I don’t want to follow this model anymore make herself feel very alone. So this is a terrible feel.
WILLIAMS: Zanardo is on a mission to change that. And her documentary has struck a cord in Italy. “Il Corpo delle Donne” has gotten almost a million views on the internet. Zanardo has had hundreds of invitations to show it around the country. She now spends most of her time traveling across Italy presenting it mainly to groups of young people.
ZANARDO: [SPEAKING ITALIAN]
WILLIAMS: On this day Zanardo is showing the video to high school student Genoa. After the screening the room is a buzz.
18-YEAR-OLD: [SPEAKING ITALIAN]
WILLIAMS: This 18-year-old says she hates the way young women are portrayed on TV. But she says a lot of girls she knows aspire to becoming showgirls because they think it’s an easy way to make money.
18-YEAR-OLD: [SPEAKING ITALIAN]
TRANSLATOR: It’s seems to me they’re not just victims. Those showgirls know exactly what they’re doing even if what they’re doing is humiliating. That woman who gets under the table in a game show is earning about 3000 euros to do it.
WILLIAMS: Another student in the room, a 20-year-old, says the film has got her thinking about how Italian TV has shaped her own view of herself.
20-YEAR-OLD: [SPEAKING ITALIAN]
TRANSLATOR: I hate to admit it but I do want to conform to the feminine stereotype and ideal we see on TV – high heels, a curvy body, and yes big breasts too.
WILLIAMS: Zanardo says she understands that young women take pride in their bodies and she doesn’t want them to feel shame in that. That’s not the point of the documentary. But she says a range of different kinds of women needs to be shown on TV. Some blame the status quo on the man who controls much of what Italians watch on TV – Prime Minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi. He’s been under fire recently for allegedly cavorting with young women and prostitutes. But Zanardo says Italian viewers share some of the blame for silently accepting what TV executives have put on their screens.
ZANARDO: It’s not only Berlusconi’s guilt. It’s an entire society responsibility.
WILLIAMS: Zanardo admits it’ll take time to change people’s attitudes. And she says in order for Italian women to take charge of how they’re represented on television they need to be willing to take risks.
ZANARDO: I am proposing to them but they can’t accept for a period of their life not to be loved the society by man. But the path towards independence, real independence, passes also through not acceptance.
WILLIAMS: That’s a message many young Italians seem ready to hear. And it’s not just women who are paying attention. Lorella Zanardo also has a blog. Almost half of the comments posted are from men. For The World I’m Megan Williams in Genoa, Italy.
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