An afternoon downtown Milan: loud advertisement, bodies of voiceless women, and a bit of hope

Mauri Favaron
Posted December 14, 2009 from Italy

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).

16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence 2009

Comments 2

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  • malayapinas
    Dec 15, 2009
    Dec 15, 2009

    Dear Mauri,

    I love reading your articles. Honestly. I hated mathematics , physics, chemistry and other subject with numbers. I'm so slow in numbers, that's why I maybe love social sciences.

    My activism force me to appreciate numbers and natural sciences. It's always a struggle for me to calculate. But later in my involvement in environment issues I begun to appreciate science because I learned how important it is in social change movement including women's miovement.

    I'm trying very hard to teach my pre-school daughter how to love science and mathematics.

    Please continue writing.

    love, malaya

  • Mauri Favaron
    Dec 15, 2009
    Dec 15, 2009

    Dear Malaya, you are so kind - I don't know if I devise so much admiration!

    About numbers, I have a confession to do: I too feel intimidated by them. I had to master them (meanwhile discovering something fascinating about) if I wanted to exit alive from my mathematics courses.

    But I found the really interesting part of mathematics is in its ability to find unexpected connections. To reveal threads one might never imagine starting from different grounds. Both in the natural world, and inside mathematics itself.

    And, its "universality". There were many women among the most important mathematicians. And also, people from everywhere in the World. On a day I've seen a man, sitting near me on the underground, who was reading a mathematical book written in Arab (a language I unfortunately don't know): formulae were exactly the same, just written in the "reverse" (for me) direction. Touching this with my eyes, in those days of racism and fear, was like a caress to my soul. Different languages, yet the same language!

    Sure, it is hard! (I don't still know how I was able to survive the courses and get my m.s. degree; on some nights I have the vivid nightmare of having to pass another time the final exam ;-) And still today I'm not able to state "I'm a mathematician").

    Yet, I happen to use mathematics in my work, a lot of it. Now, I can see its usefulness.

    Retrospectively, I add that my early contact with mathematics would had been much softer, if the level of abstraction was much less. Concepts like "material point" did evoke almost nothing in me - I felt them very far. But, there are parts of mathematics which are immediately connected with nature and applications. There, a nature like mine, more inductive than deductive, may thrive. Now I'm convincing bit after bit that this might be for other people, too.

    In my case I had a great luck: a science teacher during high school cared a lot of me, and introduced me to the field of mathematical biology, then in its early development. This woman was literally a light. Passionate, humane, sensitive, and meanwhile authoritative the way only deeply confident people can be. A scientist of the "unusual" (but not so rare, fortunately) type. Thanks her, I went in contact with some quantitative biologists in the University of Milan. I can't say I've really done serious research work, but I had an incredible opportunity to learn.

    I understand not all people can have the same destiny. Mine was so lucky (including the lovely unconditioned support of my parents: in my working class family, from countless generation no one had got a degree of any kind; I was the first, but without their help and encouragement I would have never be able to get it).

    But: why should we just wait for luck? I know, we may hope more. It's costless.

    I've recently re-found a very attracting way to show the ubiquitous presence of mathematics in natural world, by Fibonacci numbers (I've posted an ugly account of this). I say re-found, because that was also the way a teacher of mine presented the subject countless years ago. She elicited a question which I never was able to answer... Counting petals of flowers and realizing they relate to an apparently abstract concept is revealing, and inspiring - at least I found it to be. (More puzzling, something which makes me smile, is the fact most children draw 5-petal flowers: a "correct" solution, even though they know nothing of the Fibonacci sequence or what a "right" flower is supposed to be).

    You say you love social science maybe because you feel slow with numbers. Wow! How immensely complex, rich, unfathomable is your beautiful beloved field! I feel a sort of opposite problem: numbers and natural "people" (stones, plants, animals, that so large part of my world) sometimes seem to me so thrilling... I'm quite sure that happened as, due to a quite independent temperament, I found myself more confident in the nature than with little boys and girls. It passed, by the way, now as an adult I have some deep enduring friendships in which I thrive - and a deep interest in human nature, too.

    But with some people I feel not able to predict, to really understand their motivations. This disturbs me. I'd like to, but I'm not really able. This is so puzzling, as there are so many people with whom I feel immediately in tune. For example, to me is very difficult to understand what some people find of so essentially important in "belonging to an exclusive club", or exert coercitive power on others and feeling a sense of fulfilment because of that, or something like these - just to give examples. This is my limit, in the moment. I desire becoming "human", and develop a true compassion. But am on the way, far away from a meaningful end... Sooner or later maybe I'll learn opening up fully, and becoming more "vulnerable". A hard task, I know. I'll need guidance, I'm sure. Examples, models...

    But in this moment, the chase is on! ;-)

    And this is not sufficient! "Preys" are multiplying, too, and my becoming more humane slips further away, one day after another. I really don't feel a need to "grow so much" to date however, and keep exploring.

    So, this is...

    Nature, by the way, is so wonderfully beautiful and akin to us humans (we too part of it)...

    Guess I've taken a lot of your so precious time. But, let's continue exploring - "social" and "natural" seem to me the two sides, internal and external, of the very same reality.

    Hugs, Mauri