Title: BUNGA-BUNGA NATION. By: Nadeau, Barbie, Newsweek, 00289604, 11/22/2010, Vol.

156, Issue 21 Database: Film & Television Literature Index AS A MEDIA MAGNATE AND PRIME MINISTER, SILVIO BERLUSCONI HAS SPENT DECADES RESHAPING THE COUNTRY IN HIS HOW IMAGE. THE RESULT IS NOT A PRETTY SIGHT It's 8:30 p.m., and all eyes turn to Italy's most popular satirical news program, Striscia la Notizia (Strip the News). Two middle-aged men stand under a strobe light, one of them holding a belt from which dangles a vaguely phallic string of garlic. A woman slides across the floor on her stomach, wearing a sequined costume with a thong bottom and a deep-V neckline that ends below her navel. As she stands up, one of the men dangles the garlic in front of her open mouth. She takes it in her hands and rubs it on the side of her face. "Go, turn around, let's give you a little look," the other man says, and touches the model's derrière. "Thank you, doll." That's how prime time is in Italy. The parade of skin and jiggle is inescapable, an expression of the rot at the top of the Italian government and a reflection of the society's deeper problem with the evolving role of women. While headlines tell endlessly lurid tales of teenage models, paid escorts, and underage Moroccan belly dancers playing "bunga-bunga" with 74-year-old Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the media's constant message is that men are men, and women are window dressing. Boycotts, protests, and even complaints are rare, and few listen. So while Berlusconi may be acting like a dirty old man these days, it has to be said that a goodly number of Italian women have been willing to play his demeaning games for a long time. It's as if he planned it this way. Long before Berlusconi won his first stint as prime minister in the 1990s, the scandal-ridden media mogul owned 45 percent of Italy's television market. He gained control of state television--another 50 percent of the market--as head of government. With 95 percent of the TV market now under Berlusconi's umbrella, his cumulative influence on the way Italian women are seen and see themselves is hard to overstate. So are the negative results for Italy: while other European lands actively promote gender equality as a builder of national prosperity, Berlusconi has led the charge in the opposite direction, effectively stifling women by creating a world in which they are seen first and foremost as sex objects instead of professional equals. An appalling portrait of Berlusconi's Italy emerges from the World Economic Forum's October 2010 Global Gender Gap rankings. The report argues that closing the gender gap Europe-wide could boost the euro zone's GDP as much as 13 percent. But as things stand now, Italy would be left leering on the sidelines. In every category but education, Italy lags badly: in labor participation, it's 87th worldwide; wage parity, 121st; opportunity for women to take leadership positions, 97th. In the report's overall ranking, Italy now places 74th in the world for its treatment of women--behind Colombia, Peru, and Vietnam, and seven places lower than it did when Berlusconi took office in 2008.

the lowest rate in the European Union. By comparison. and they hold only 7 percent of Italy's corporate management positions. "Our only form of protest is changing the channel. The cumulative impact of all this is all too evident in the workplace. showgirls not only appear on every channel. are largely ignored. female workforce seems to be more of a joke than the key to economic progress. 80 percent of Norwegian women and 72 percent of British women work outside the home. they earn on average 20 percent less than men. a 30-year-old aerobics instructor. thanks to Berlusconi. "Women look like whores in advertising and on TV because that's what men want to see." Underrepresented in government and corporate life."Italy continues to be one of the lowest-ranking countries in the EU and deteriorate[d] further over the last year." Documentary filmmaker Lorella Zanardo recalls meeting with a top bank manager in Milan recently." says Concetta di Somma. there's no one to enforce them. An entire generation has grown up in a society where soft-core porn is a regular feature of the nightly news. A magazine with a seminude woman sprawled on the cover was displayed on his coffee table. some are even in government." says Celeste Montoya. He appointed an ex-showgirl. Berlusconi "has weakened institutions aimed at addressing women's issues by narrowing mandates and decreasing budgets. "It's a male-dominated society from the church on down. (American women spend just four hours a week on housework. Only 45 percent of all Italian women work outside the home. lawyers. or business owners." says Marina. Others just lose hope.) And Italian men aren't much help. "How does he separate these subliminal messages from reality when he makes these decisions?" Measures to stop discrimination. an associate professor of women and gender studies at the University of Colorado who has written extensively about Italy. But for Berlusconi the idea of an educated. On his desk in clear view was a calendar with each month represented by a bikini-clad babe." the report says." she says. . Polls show that more young Italian women want to be well-paid TV veline than doctors. and 95 percent have never run a washing machine. with its voluptuous women known as veline--literally "scraps of paper"--parading through the segments. Men make the advertising. When Italian women do have jobs. and thus drive how the products are displayed. a 57year-old jewelry-store owner who asked not to use her last name for fear of hurting her business. Mara Carfagna. A recent report by the Italian Association of Househusbands (a rather small group) found that 70 percent of Italian men have never used a stove. "But when even the weather girl is showing her cleavage. you miss the news. Italian women with jobs outside the home still spend more time on housework (21 hours a week) than any of their European counterparts except the Poles and Slovenes. It's been 23 years since Berlusconi's Canale 5 introduced Striscia la Notizia. Today. "This is a man who has to decide how many women will be in decision-making positions in his company. women have little hope of changing the system from within. especially against women of reproductive age. and also by appointing women who are often inexperienced and have few ties to existing women's-rights organizations. if you protest with the clicker. make more money.

Berlusconi.000 women signed a petition titled "Berlusconi Offends Us. (Yes.to be Italy's minister of equal opportunity. "This suggestion is not unrealistic. publicly protested her husband's behavior. the response was swift. Several right-wing newspaper headlines called her an "ungrateful showgirl. When the soon-to-be ex--Mrs. Although she makes speeches promoting "equal rights and equal dignity" for women. the nation's first lady was also a topless actress. the media. asking." such criticism is not tolerated in the vast swaths of media interests that Berlusconi controls. Veronica Lario. more than 100. and gender discrimination. Berlusconi himself is unapologetic on the topic." He just laughed it off." A year ago. "How can anyone say I don't love women?" While some in the Catholic press have at last condemned Berlusconi's escapades. "His departure would send a relevant message." says University of Turin economist Daniela Del Boca. . At a recent rally he said there was one sure way for women to ensure their future happiness and financial security: "Look for a wealthy boyfriend." he told a shocked crowd. But it will take Italians of both genders to reprogram their way of thinking if any real progress is going to be made." and splashed topless pictures of her from her former career on their front pages. calling him "ill. Just changing the channel won't be enough.) It's clear that Berlusconi's ouster--were it to happen--would weaken the toxic link between politics. Her topless-photo calendars still hang in the back halls of the Italian Parliament.

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