Weary of the persistently sexist and substance-lacking portrayals of women that pervade Italian screens, power signora Anna Maria Tarantola is making headway in the ongoing media sexism battle. The president of Italy’s answer to the BBC, RAI, made headlines this week as she made the unprecedented decision to ban the broadcast of the nation’s beauty pageant, Miss Italia. Bent on dismantling the rigid media structures which depict women as housewives, mothers and showgirls, Tarantola has (quite rightly) insisted that “a woman must make a name for herself because of her talent, her ability. She must have the opportunity to express her capabilities…Public TV should not, in my opinion, be sending out the message, ‘look…you can become someone if you’re beautiful’.” Preeeach.
In a move which certainly heralds a more progressive era of Italy’s public service broadcaster, Tarantola is acting to subvert the deeply entrenched Italian ideology towards women, in defiance of the likes of Gian Marco Centinaio from the Northern League, who sees no inherent problem in “silent women dressed in bikinis.” Also steeped in controversy was the decision of pageant coordinator Patrizia Mirigliani to omit the contest’s bikini round. As if we needed any more proof of the ongoing pertinence of Mulvey’s male gaze theory, national newspaper Il Giornale (owned by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s family) protested: “If we are to cover the bottom, the object of male dreams, with centimetres of cloth what sense does the competition have?” Aaand it’s exactly these kind of old-world dogmas that Tarantola is thankfully seeking to eliminate.
It’s more than evident that sexism is still firmly lodged in hegemonic culture, with the media industry being one of its biggest perpetrators. While there’s indeed a whole lot more that needs to change (the world over), I’ve gotta salute Anna Maria for her ardent equality efforts, which include a thorough rethinking of the RAI’s long unchanged policies on gender. As well as striving to project a non-discrimatory , non-stereotypical, multidimensional image of women, she’s also shaking things up on an editorial level. All of this points to a more forward-looking, equality-centred public service broadcaster that’s sure to chip away at a deep-set misogynistic media mentality. Here’s hoping.