The land that feminism forgot

The pulchritudinous women chosen by Silvio Berlusconi to serve in his cabinet should surprise no one. The resurrected prime minister of Italy, back for his third time in office, is renowned for flirting, making rude gestures to policewomen and remarking on the number of girlfriends he’s had despite the fact he’s married. The four females picked for cabinet include a showgirl, an actress, another who is best known for her short skirts and a Miss Italy contestant.

In fact, Berlusconi’s style fits perfectly into the Italian way of life where women are admired far more for their beauty than their brains. (Unless, it is an Italian man’s love for his mother, which seems to know no bounds.) When we lived in Florence, I watched television to try and polish my language skills only to discover that Italian TV is mostly about beautiful women. There were two fashion channels with endless parades of runway models in bikinis and sheer clothing. Sunscreen ads showed topless women on a beach. Italy’s version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” featured women in the front row wearing halter-tops and short shorts no matter the season.

Even the nightly sportscast was not exempt. Four men in suits and ties sat behind desks talking about the day’s events and tomorrow’s contests. In the middle of the foursome was a young woman perched on a high stool. Unlike her male confreres she had no modesty panel the better for the viewer to admire her legs rising to a skirt so short it barely covered her navel. She held a sheaf of papers, as if she was supposed to have a role, but was never called upon to comment. Every few seconds, while the men gabbed, the camera lovingly showed her shapely legs or her cleavage.

Berlusconi’s selections are not the first pretty parliamentarians. Porn star Ilona Staller, known as Cicciolina (Cuddles), was elected to parliament and served for five years. Nor is the national eye candy solely political. Pro golfer Sophie Sandolo sells a calendar with a provocative cover photo that shows her lying on her back, topless, with hips rampant. “Italy,” wrote author Tobias Jones in The Dark Heart of Italy, “is the land that feminism forgot.”

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