Yesterday afternoon, as many people in the same moment, I went downtown Milan to search for some gifts (I confess: I did!).
I didn't plan to, but I found myself at Piazza Duomo, the center of the center of Milan. The underground station was crowded as it only can on the days immediately before Christmas. But the crowd immense buzz was not sufficient to cover a 7-year old boy singing playfully and in a disproportionately loud voice "Meno male che Silvio c'è!" ("Thank goodness Silvio exists!" - The quoted "Silvio" is mr. Berlusconi, and the strophe is part of an ad by his party).
As I glanced to the child I noticed his mom, dressed in fashion clothes shoes to hairs, who proudly smiled to me and others. Oh, no question, her son has a place in tomorrow' arena... (He sings very loudly, that's sure)
I was still resonating inside of this disturbing wonder as I finally left the underground and emerged to the back side of Piazza del Duomo. And there, I discovered why the child was so singing. Or better, I may say the truth hitted me with the power of some ten thousands watts, as an immense loudspeaker was transmitting with unbearable loudness the same song, "Meno male che Silvio c'è!"
The noise was decidedly too loud for me to indulge in shopping (I prefer classical and world music; I'm a generation not that impressed by advertisement jingles). Moving to the Galleria (I admit, in a desperate and partly unsuccessful attempt to escape the din) I noticed how few people were attending mr.Berlusconi' show: remove the bodyguards, the policemen, the cameramen, the "staff girls" and the various other minor actors of the show, some a hundred people remained, to be fair. But, I considered, the visual impact may look quite impressive, would a camera be used in a clever way.
This seems to me, today, politics in Italy: just that. Appearance. A lot of politics, and very little policymaking, if any at all. And, unavoidable corollary, so few people sincerely following it (almost deaf in the specific case, considered the loudspeakers volume).
Suddenly, on the way off Piazza del Duomo, I ran into a giant placard portraying a young beautiful woman lying down in a supposedly seductive position, watching to you with an expression betraying a deadly boredom below a very artificial and insincere sensual allure.
The advertisement may have been designed to promote costly lingerie, but I'm trying to imagine who may look at it, a large part of men completing the job of undressing the model, and many women wondering why is that figure watching them this way.
Incidentally, the placard model resembled many of the "staff girls" of mr.Berlusconi's show: young, pretty, smiling, and silent.
You haven't to be crazy with details to notice in Italy women bodies and half-presences are ubiquitous. It seems nothing can be sold without accompanying it with the presentation, the image of a pretty body. It counts not so much, if the people who will actually buy a large part of these goods are female: the message is, the buyer is a powerful man.
Young beautiful women bodies, as a reinforcement of sale potential...
The problem, here in Italy, is of publicly accepted and valued available roles. In my opinion, the fairness and resilience of a civilization is related to the amount of available roles. Saying our state is a bit alarming is plain understatement: women are allowed to be either "Veline" (an Italian variety of showgirl), mothers, whores, or invisibles. Not a great fantasy.
This is mainstream culture.
Or maybe, more appropriately, what many Italians imagine it is, gathering almost all of their information (food for mind) pre-cooked from television.
Of course there are many other roles. The trick is, not buying acritically what the stereotypes try to say. Reality is still reality after all.
(Far, far away from this crazy crowd! What am I doing here? Maybe, the young lady in the placard was admonishing me just of this: "You are not of here! You belong to another world!" Guess she's right)
Constricting women in marginal roles is having a deep impact on Italy.
First and foremost, economy. I maintain Italy is declining largely because women potential is systematically untapped. More generally, because "feminine" values are undervalued, in front of appearance and void prestige.
Overall human climate, too. Obsession of costless security, fear, homophoby, cult of show, desire of having all immediately with no investment, ruthless and egocentric rush to profit, all seem to me necessary consequences of a place where women have little free and independent voice.
Denying women their voice then is a violence, of which all, men included, are victims.
The remedy is hard, and simple in the meantime. Shift culture. Elicit voices, and making sure they are listened.
May this be our mission?
And, listen attentively, actively.
The positive force is huge and vibrant (this evening I visited an acquaintance of mine, who is running a non-profit association aimed at ensuring child and women development in Africa; she's one of the very many, a galaxy of wonderful people no one will ever see on a placard; on the next week I plan visiting a friend of mine, still in her desire to do serious business in the field of environmental education, something in Italy is desperately needed: she too is incredibly committed and enthusiast - and striving to survive; I may say of many more, but there is not enough space and time). The force is warm, immense - only waits connections, to deploy.
Let's try it. All together. (I said of this Milan so different from the one I was born in, but the problem is global).
Take action! This post was submitted in response to 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence 2009.