The Catholic Church has remained powerful in Italy despite many people leaving the religion, and it’s ideologies have long affected both religious and non religious citizens in Italy. I decided to further investigate gender inequality in Italy after reading an article from la Repubblica, Italy’s second largest newspaper. la Repubblica has a long history of criticizing both political figures and the Catholic church. This past October, Pope Francis called Eugenio Scalfari, founding editor of the newspaper and self proclaimed atheist, for an interview.
In the interview, Scalfari notes that Catholics have become a minority, even in Italy where the Pope resides. Pope Francis ends the interview with plans for another meeting with Scalfari in which they will discuss the role of women in the church. It seems that while many Italians find themselves leaving Catholicism, they are still affected by a religion that has a history of portraying women as submissive and refuses to incorporate women in its ancient papal practices.
Italy struggles to catch up to other European countries in terms of gender equality. Many critics suggests that the media has a large role in discriminating against women. Italian feminists attribute the problem of reinforcing these age old stereotypes to Silvio Berlusconi, who served as Prime Minister of Italy on and off from 1994 to 2011. Berlusconi has extensive control over Italian media, and many analysts and oppositional leaders claim that because of him Italian media has limited freedom of expression. He owned 3 of 7 national television channels and has censored shows that speak against him.
Berlusconi has long been accused of sexism. In the 2008 general election, Berlusconi was quoted as saying, “female politicians from the right are more beautiful,” and “the left has no taste, even when it comes to women.” When asked about these statements, he disregards them as compliments to Italian women. When a female reporter asked him if his increase in patrolling soldiers would secure Italian women from being raped, he replied, “We would need as many soldiers as beautiful women and I don’t think that would be possible, because our women are so beautiful.”
In June 2013, Berlusconi was convicted of having sex with underage prostitutes, and was sentenced to seven years in jail. But women are still suffering from rape and domestic abuse in a post-Berlusconi Italy. He still has a huge influence on national Italian TV. In 2012 viewers of the 8 pm news broadcast of Rai 1, a national public network, were outraged by a clip from the Festival di Sanremo, in which two male hosts and the cameraman objectify and mock a beautiful woman. They remove her coat and expose her body, and the camera pans her up and down multiple times. The men try to get the foreign woman to pronounce Italian words, and laugh at her when she has difficulty with pronunciation. RAI refused to apologize for the aired clip. Many Italian feminists believe that Berlusconi’s sexist behavior and media control has left women in a dangerous position.
Rape and assault are romanticized in Italian media, always portraying women as beautiful victims in need of protection. The media tends to use sexualized or romanticized images of women to accompany a real story of brutal rape. 32 percent of Italian women are abused by their partners or former partners every year, and many female journalists are concerned that the sexist views of Berlusconi have been too far implanted into the minds of Italians through the media that continues to support these ideologies even after his imprisonment. They fear that because of the long standing ideologies of both the Catholic church and the controlled media, it will be long before Italy can catch up to the strides in gender equality that other European countries have made.