Che Velina! The sad state of feminism in Italy

When it comes to culturally justifying a sexism so deeply entrenched in social customs you’d think it was genetic, the Italian populace takes its ques straight from the top; Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi.

Not only has the mainstay of Berlusconi’s public persona revolved around dallying with an escort and intimately interacting  with a minor, but he has the shameful reputation of promoting Italian ‘showgirls’ or ‘veline’ as their called, to political office.

The velina, translated literally as “flimsy tissue paper,” are the young, beautiful and near-nude decorations for many an Italian TV show. They don’t speak, always smile, and often shake their assets for a camera person who’s overly eager with the zoom feature. The painful truth behind the seemingly endless supply of young women is that so many girls of a certain age in Italy have come to see the velina’s path as the ultimate road to success and happiness.

To be fair, Italian TV has scandalously degraded  women long before Berlusconi came to power.  But since Berlusconi’s assumption of the three major prime time networks here in Italy, and indirect manipulation of other networks, veline have more notoriety, and in some cases, more political power than ever before.

To my elation, one of the more seasoned journalists of AP Rome has decided to tackle this phenomenon with an in-depth feature. I was lucky enough to be present for the inception of this project, one of the best shifts I’ve ever had to date.

I conducted loads of research on already existing analysis of  ‘velinismo,’ and even got to watch a trashy game show in the office with the reporter as research.

In this particular show, The Color of Money (Il Colore dei Soldi), it’s much a game of chance resulting in some bright-eyed contestant (usually female) either winning or losing large sums of money. In between these rounds of chance, like Wheel of Fortune,  the show’s  silver-bikini-clad velina takes center stage to do a short dance number, light on the dance, heavy on the shimmy and shake. For what you might ask? Who knows? To pass the time and give the male audience something to look at is my first guess.

Shows velina concluding short dance number

Show's velina concluding short dance number

After she’s done expertly pointing her exposed butt cheeks to camera, she resumes her position perched on the arm chair of an ugly elderly gentlemen, opposite a parrot on his other side. Sadly, the parrot talked more than she did throughout the program.

It was nothing short of sheer pleasure to see my own judgments of Italian TV poignantly voiced by the AP reporter. Furthermore, upon research,I found the sad state of the TV feminine has been tackled by some courageous activists in Italy and savvy writers in the U.S.

The grass roots documentary titled Il Corpo delle Donne (The Body of Women), intensely examines the machine motivating this parade of boobs, legs and crotches on Italian TV, and the significant impact it’s having on the mentality of the Italian female.

Comedic news strip, Channel 5

"Comedic news strip, Channel 5"

What’s interesting to me is that the public presentation of women is so contrary to the characteristics of the Italian women that I’ve come to know and love; strength, assertion, call-it-like-it-is determination, and general disgust with velinismo and everything it stands for. It’s almost as if such ridiculous TV imagery is part of a greater campaign to break down the robust spirit of the Italian woman, to remind her that she’s to be physically perfect, looked at and admired, and never engaged nor respected.

The director of Il Corpo delle Donne, Lorella Zanardo,  has been featured in  major Italian papers  and The New York Times as one of the several leading voices in the feminism debate.

Even Vanity Fair has mused on the subject in Michael Wolff’s article titled “All Broads Lead to Rome”

Here’s his secret: he puts big-bosomed girls on TV. So many girls that they have come, in Italy, to represent, like courtesans of another era, almost a social class: the veline.

The sad truth is, as audacious and blatant as  Berlusconi’s velina-mania is, there are trails of bread crumbs that lead to the same dark places in L.A. and other U.S. entertainment meccas.

Whether it was for his extra-marital shenanigans, his involvement with a minor, or general dirty-old-man-ness, I cherish the moment of Michelle Obama snubbing Berlusoni at the G20 summit in Pittsburg.

Image from Daily Mail, UK of Michelle Obama snubbing Berlusoni with a cold handshake.

Image from Daily Mail, UK of Michelle Obama snubbing Berlusconi with a cold handshake.

It’s so brilliant. He’s coming in for the hug and gets totally rejected.

Sure Berlusconi can be easily cast as a joke, and hopefully removed from office once his corruption trial resumes, and hopefully forgotten thereafter.

But he’ll still be a media mogul. So what punitive damages are Italian women left with? A government-sponsored assassination of their value and dimension.

In the latest chapter of Berlusconi’s fail-proof ability to offend womankind, he tactlessly insulted the intelligence and appearance of a prominent female politician in the Democratic Party, Berlusconi’s opposition, on a nationally televised debate shortly following the Constitutional Court overturned legislation giving judicial immunity to top office holders in Italy.

Rosy Bindi, while Berlusconi was teleconferenced in, exclaimed that his comments attacking the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, were “extremely grave.”

His immaculate response? “Is this Rosy Bindi? I recognize she is ever more beautiful then she is intelligent!”

Now, being a woman of maturity and political weight, she isn’t what Italian pop culture would dub as beautiful. So the comment was in essence meant to call her stupid.

Her immaculate response? “Sir, I’m not a woman at your disposal.” A clear throw back to his entanglement with escorts.

Lately, Rosy Bindi is given a hero’s welcome from women and Berlusconi critics alike.

As for my own involvement with the story, I anxiously await the finished product of the AP’s pursuit.


4 responses to “Che Velina! The sad state of feminism in Italy

  1. This is brilliant. What a great project this surely was (and, maybe, is, for I don’t think the veline or Berlusconi’s lust interests will be a cold story anytime soon). Well reported!

  2. I was ignorant of the entire “velina” debacle till I found “Videocracy” on Netflix. By way of heating up the story, Erik Gandinni`s documentary “Videocracy” pokes an unerring finger in the eye of misogynistic media hog, dictator wannabe Burlusconi. The systematic marginalizing of women and the deification of wealth and privilege are emblematic or his régime. I jump quickly to Mr Burlusconi`s side and thank him for the reminder that, ” Like your chickens, your freedom will wander off if you don`t pay attention to it.”

  3. sadly,” the strenght assertion, call-it-like-it-is determination” are values appreciated when you agree with your husband and in general the sciovinist italian society. Berlusconi simply took the problem on TV, but unfortunately,it’s deeply rooted in our mentality. believe me, it’s a torture

    • Suzanne Edwards

      Thank you for comments, showing that something like this isn’t only felt by women in the public arena, but is also felt on an individual and emotional level by a community of women living with a culturally endorsed mentality.

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