Italy Has a Problem with Sexism and It’s About Time They Admit It

Growing up in Italy, it was perfectly normal to see scantily dressed women parading around on prime time television on various gameshows geared for the family. In fact, even full-on stripteases aired where the girls strategically placed their hands on their breasts to avoid being completely topless. A very popular gameshow, Colpo Grosso ran for five years where every night the contestant’s objective was to get one of the showgirls to completely undress through the acquisition of points by the means of correct answers to trivia questions. Sure, this show aired around 11pm but that didn’t stop any of the kids I knew from staying up to watch it. If seeing women being treated as mere sex objects beneath a male gaze on TV wasn’t enough, I got to live through my very own version of that anytime I stepped foot outside the house. Catcalls are so common in Italy that they’re basically perceived as “compliments.”

In Italy the highest currency a woman can hold is her own beauty. It becomes apparent from a very young age where shop owners are more likely to give you a discount or offer free merchandise in addition to your purchases if you’re a “bella gnocca.” Of course, when you grow up in a patriarchal society steeped in reducing a woman’s importance to her attractiveness then it’s easy for girls to grow up with the notion that this is normal – and the race to be impeccable and beautiful at all times becomes imperative.

If you’ve ever been to Italy you may have noticed that the majority of the women walking around on the street are always dressed to impress. You will never see an Italian woman dressed in pajamas and a messy bun out shopping on a Saturday morning and it isn’t solely chalked up to having more self-respect rather it’s the reality of not wanting to warrant any backlash from the males one may encounter on the street. In fact, it’s very common for a man to shout his opinion of your looks as they drive past you on a moped.

When you unpack all of that, it’s easy to understand why sculptor Emanuele Stifano’s tribute to La Spigolatrice di Sapri (The Gleaner of Sapri) unveiled a woman wearing a tight-fitting transparent dress. This is how the majority of Italian men see women, a creature to be ogled for her beauty and nothing more. For a country that has one of the lowest gender equality rates in the EU it makes all the more sense that women are more valued for their bodies than their intellect.

Even more demoralizing is knowing that a movement like #MeToo (#QuellaVoltaChe for Italy) was doomed to fail from the very beginning because in a society where the patriarchy reigns supreme, the dominant culture is for women to be subservient objectified beings. Inappropriate sexual remarks are often brushed off as compliments or jokes, thus normalizing harassment across the board. Targeted violence is often the next step when men know that they won’t be reprimanded for their actions. The most notorious case was when the Supreme Court ruled against a rape victim’s case in 1999, because the justices felt that the only way the rapist could’ve removed the victim’s tight jeans was through some form of consent. Women worldwide were appalled by such a ruling sparking the birth of the Denim Day movement. It wasn’t until 2008 when this ruling was reversed, almost a decade later.

In 2021, it’s about time Italy admits it has a problem with sexism, because the first step towards eliminating a problem is to acknowledge that one exists.

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