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Silvio scandal spurs sexism debate

Italian TV's portrayal of women questioned

ROME As Silvio Berlusconi weathers allegations of hanky-panky prompted by his parties with TV starlets, growing numbers are questioning what they see as the exploitation and objectification of women on the Italo smallscreen since the media-mogul-turned-pol launched local commercial TV in the 1980s.

The scandal is known as “Noemigate” after Noemi Letizia, the aspiring teen TV star whose birthday Berlusconi, 72, attended in Naples — causing his wife, Veronica Lario, to file for divorce in May.

All the talk of TV showgirls and innuendo involving the prime minister has put the spotlight on sexism in media.

“Noemigate has served as a wake-up call,” says TV and radio journo Loredana Lipperini, author of “Ancora dalla parte delle bambine” (Still on the Side of the Girls), a 2007 expose denouncing the objectification of women in Italian media.

“More women are protesting about the truly pornographic use of women on our generalist television channels,” Lipperini says. “They are beginning to worry about teenage girls … being constantly exposed to the equation that being beautiful and a bit slutty is the key to having a career.”

The trend began when Berlusconi’s webs included sexier content to pump up ratings in the 1980s. Pubcaster RAI, which until then had been known for more highbrow, cultural programming, followed suit.

The observation that Italian TV treats women not just as sexual objects, but much worse, is spelled out dramatically by documentary “Il Corpo delle donne” (Women’s Bodies), culled from hundreds of hours on Berlusconi’s Mediaset webs and on RAI.

Helmer Lorella Zanardo’s “Il Corpo” includes clips of women strung up like slabs of ham in a meat locker; used as an ornamental table leg; thrust into a plexiglass in-studio shower; and made to ride a mechanical inflatable surfboard in a mini-skirt with the TV camera zooming in from below.

Most of the shows featured aired in daytime, including the local “Wheel of Fortune” on Mediaset’s Italia Uno, where the wheel is spun by skimpily clad Swedish model and 1997 Playboy playmate of the year Victoria Silvstedt.

“We picked some of the most insulting footage and found exactly the same amount of material on Mediaset and on RAI,” says Zanardo, a management consultant on diversity and equal opportunity.

The docu recently aired in part on smaller generalist station La 7 and has been posted on the Web at ilcorpodelledonne.net, where some 220,000 people have seen it over the past two months.

A blog for “Il Corpo” is now being flooded by thousands of emails from women and men incensed about the humiliation of women on TV, which bodes well “not so much for immediate change,” Zanardo says “but at least for a greater awareness of the problem.”

Though significant, this grassroots level of consciousness-raising and protest in Italy is not expected to induce the all-male managers at Mediaset and RAI to treat women with much more respect on TV anytime soon.

“The only change I’ve seen so far is that for the first time, RAI has decided to have a female host the Miss Italy beauty pageant this year” instead of a lecherous male, Lipperini says.

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