16 Nov 2011

Italian Women Want A New Era

By Marina Freri
Berlusconi is out of office but before Marina Freri starts celebrating a new era, she wants to see jobs for women and young people
I am a 25-year-old Italian woman and my generation does not know politics without Silvio Berlusconi. Before calling this political turmoil the end of an "era" — as commentators around the world are rushing to do — I would like to see Italy's youth and women being empowered.

Silvio Berlusconi quit last weekend as the European Union pressured his government over financial measures to revive the country's economy and avoid defaulting on debts. He did not quit his role as PM either because of a strong opposition within Italy or because his scandals cost him credibility.

When he faced a confidence vote he seized 308 votes out of 630: he lost because of only eight "traitors", as he called them in a handwritten note.

He has led the political debate for 17 years, either in his capacity as PM or as leader of the opposition. He gained popularity because he spoke a language everybody could understand, staying away from the intellectual lingo of bureaucracy and legislation.

He presented himself as a self-made man from a middle-class family and he responded to the middle-class quest for strong leadership and tax cuts. He told us not to worry and to have fun with his TV stations; he led the country as if it was a soccer team, his motto being "Forza Italia": Go Italy.

As the president of AC Milan he should have known that a team can't score and win the game with old players. Italy's youth has been left behind by decades of policies — even before the so-called "Berlusconi's era" — that denied them jobs. As for women, well they have just been forgotten.

29 per cent of Italians aged 15-24 are unemployed. More than 20 per cent of Italians under 30 are not in education, employment or training. Yes, that's right, they don't do anything.

For women aged 15 to 64 the situation is even more despairing: according to the Italian Institute of Statistics 48.6 per cent of them are "inactive" and many of them have ceased to look for jobs.

Women are absent in decision-making roles and more often presented on television as sexy bodies with no responsibilities, confined to secondary roles where no particular skill is required — but a toned butt is helpful.

In this scenario, the real risk for young women is to consider their body the only valuable currency to buy power and job opportunities. Many girls who attended Berlusconi's infamous parties declared they did it to obtain a job in television or in politics, as if there was a short cut from bedroom to parliament, from lingerie to business suit.

Entrepreneur and women's rights activist, Lorella Zanardo, has been fighting to empower Italian women since 2009, firstly with a documentary, "Il Corpo delle donne" (Women's body, watch it here), and secondly with a school campaign that teaches high-school students and broader audiences to watch television "with new eyes". On her blog, Zanardo has called on acting PM Mario Monti to include women in his cabinet of economists.

When she released the 2011 Global Gender Gap Report, Saadia Zahidi, the head of the World Economic Forum's Women Leaders and Gender Parity Program, stated that smaller gender gaps were directly correlated with increased economic competitiveness: "With the world's attention on job creation and economic growth, gender equality is the key to unlocking potential and stimulating economies." In this report, Italy ranked 74, Australia 23.

An Italian committee for gender issues and women's empowerment, Pari o Dispari (literally "Even or Odds"), wrote Monti an open letter urging him to act on gender discrimination.

The committee is calling for "free use" of what it sees as the greatest resource of the country: women. "We are aware that in this country, in order to be included in leadership positions, a woman must be very clever, but also simple-minded, gorgeous but a bit ugly, with experience but young (...)" the committee wrote. "But please Senator, look for capable, competent, honest women sincerely engaged for the best of the country, and surely you will find some."

Yesterday, Senator Monti indeed announced he would engage with young people and women during his leadership. If action follows Monti's words, then we will see the beginning of a new government fully representative of all its citizens. Until then, Italian women won't be calling it a new era.

Log in or register to post comments

Discuss this article

To control your subscriptions to discussions you participate in go to your Account Settings preferences and click the Subscriptions tab.

Enter your comments here

Frank from Frankston
Posted Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 17:00

Sorry Marina. Your article doesn't impress me.
There is no proven link between the gender of a person and the decisions, he or she make.
You may be better off proving a link between the sponsors of the Person promoted and the decisions they make.
You also make NO MENTION WHATSOEVER of your nation's crushing debt.
Surely, this is Italy's biggest problem.
Work for the dole and work for welfare may be needed.
Increasing retirement age to 67 or 70 may be needed.
Being dumped from the Euro is definitely needed.
Your country is simply not paying its way.
What's this situation got to do with gender issues?
Going on your article, I suppose nothing.
If you cannot list in order of importance your country's economic problems, then being female (or young) has nothing to do with the answer...

Posted Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 17:16

Thanks Marina - 29% youth uneployment - yes I'd want a change too!
48.6% of women "inactive" - yes being a woman, I would want that to change too.
FfF - WFD or welfare doesn't create employment, developing economies,industries, skills bases, social inclusion does.

Posted Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 22:26

This form of feminist claim is based on the Marxist model which claims history is class warfare by making the veiled claim that history is a war of the sexes and that the point would be to free women from the suppression of men by adding a mono determinist victim, in this case the woman, rather than the oppressed worker.

The argument looks something like this..." women are alienated by men and they must free themselves from masculine oppression.."

Legitimate demands of women are manipulated in order achieve more sinister ends, like making women the servants of a commercial wage worker society in order to proliferate both the lower labour cost of production on the one hand as well as the increased demand for consumer goods on the other. The State applauds the move since the move of women into the workforce increases the power of the state over the life and control of women's purpose in society as well as an increased role in the indoctrination of the now unattended children.

We already saw this in the USA when women were hoodwinked out of their homes, out of their non-mercantile role, and into the work place leaving those who chose to remain at home feeling alienated with a sense of guilt for permitting themselves to believe that housewives should somehow feel humiliated.

The result was that women, enslaved in their roles as housewives, were now to feel somehow less humiliated by their roles as workers enslaved, not only to their husbands and family, but now also to their new masters in the workplace.

THe result is a dual alienation, women end up alienated by their families as well as their employers and I don't think many Italian women, given their rich mediterranean and Romantic culture, have too much trouble understanding these concepts a lot better than their now doubly enslaved counterparts in the Anglo-Saxon world.

Italian women take their role as housewife, mother and home creator much too seriously to be so easily hoodwinked into the double shift of mother and housewife after hours and wage worker during commercial hours.

The only women who really have a serious interest in feminism is the wealthier class, the "upper class" who are really more interested in avoiding their role as mother, spouse or housewife.

The irony is that the working class woman really wants emancipation from the workplace to be placed in the position of bourgeois woman who has it all, a profession, money, a well earning spouse, servants for all the roles and no need to join the queue on the factory floor.

The poor working class woman must contend with the assembly lines and dreams of becoming the "liberated" bourgeois woman or the "provided for" woman acting in the role of housewife.

I think the Italian women have their heads screwed on a little more securely than our Anglo-Saxon lot.

Posted Thursday, November 17, 2011 - 09:44

Rockjaw - I like what you have written and tend to have the same critique of the motives of many in the feminist movement - BUT - you assume that all women in the roles you mention are treated fairly and valued fully both by society and by their partners. In the roles you mention women are often treated and used as no better than servants.

Having said that - I am an Aussie from English convict stock - and I have a strong value in looking after my family, in providing emotional security, social connection, values training, developing skills in my 2 kids (and a long list of other important contributions to my kids'emotional, physical, mental, spiritual and social wellbeing). I feel I get looked down on by women who sacrifice their connections with their children to work. That I should be doing what they are doing. The welfare system also supports this by forcing me onto a certain number of hours of work or obligations for looking for work.

When I read about the therapeutic alliance as part of my counselling training - I couldn't help but see the similarity with the parent-child relationship. I feel that this disintegration in family relationships - sacrificed for us all to work flat out, (half of us in the growing number of casual/part-time, insecure workforce), is a great influential factor in so many people needing therapists in the first place AND in the youth disillusionment that is the new social disease of the century.

Strong families and full connections between children and their parents, with stable role models on how aults can behave/think/feel (which is what counsellors examine with clients ie changes in how we think, feel, behave towards more healthy, constructive habits)are what is being lost in our society. This role is being transferred to counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists and drug companies.

Another instance where "the state" that with neoliberalist ideology which is based in no interference _ actually DOES interfere and in a pervasive manner over all of society.

Posted Thursday, November 17, 2011 - 09:48

I forgot to mention that of course I have given an idealistic view of families - having grown up in an abusive home, violent enough to leave me with post traumatic Stress disorder - I am aware that families can also be the source of the disconnect!

Posted Thursday, November 17, 2011 - 12:49

Mumma, perhaps your convict stock keeps you instinctively in touch with the plight of the working class woman since you do not appear to have been so easily hoodwinked by the prima donnas in the modern feminist movement.

I do not assume all women are treated equally mumma, to the contrary, I attempt to point out that the the legitimate claims of alienated women are hidden when the more influential and selfish bourgois woman, who has hijacked the feminist movement for her own selfish ends, seeking, as she does, to escape her housewife role, her dependent status or her role as mother, whilst the true female victim lobbies for emancipation and BEGS for a chance to be placed in the very position which the bourgois woman so selfishly seeks to escape.

The biggest flaw in the current feminist debate is that it does not transcend class warfare, which is the prinicple raison d'etre of feminism. Again, this is because the feminist movement has been hijacked by the upper class and well educated woman.

Why else do you see that at least 75% of the feminists of note are borgeois women?

The bourgois feminist seeks to escape the boredom of the housewife, it is a quest for a more interesting social life, more interesting professions, more interesting challenges which is not really a struggle for emancipation is it? It is more an ambitious struggle for greater luxury on the back of the working class woman's struggle for emancipation.

It is possible for a woman to be a wage earner if somebody is taking care of her other roles, particularly that of mother, and this too frequently means that behind most "liberated feminist women" we find another woman who is forced into the dual alienation role.

If I were that working class woman I would feel resentful at having to take care of the feminist's role of housewife as an alienated wage earner as well as having to take care of my own own home as an alienated housewife.

The big elephant in the room is that modern feminism liberates some women at the expense of other women who are forced to become doubly alienated as they are forced into the workforce when their working class husbands lose their ability to support the family as sole breadwinner.

Italians are not as dumb as us in this respect, they understand enslavement only too well.

Italian women understand that at the prime of their lives they give birth, they raise their children, and if they were to join the production line at the same time, who stretches out the 24 hour day?

There is no ubiquity in women anymore than in men and so who cares for toddlers during an 8 hour work day? Babysitters are not a matter of free choice, they are a matter of social class and this is not what the feminist movement was originally all about.

Italians are traders, they understand that the "right to work" is a load of BS, it is an obligation to work caused by our ever expanding markets which require ever lower wages and ever increasing buying power, this is what drives the feminist into the workplace and onto the production floor today, commercialism, and not altruism.

The Italian woman is not as dumb as her Anglo Saxon counter part, she is not about to become the useful idiot of mercantilism and the consumer society which requires more women to enter the workplace, to consume and to drive production ever higher.

With middle finger erect the Italian woman says to the feminist and to the mercantilist "what, me join the production line? FIGA!"

So my point is that the feminist movement has been hijacked by spoilt prima donnas in the Anglo-Saxon world and in our commercially bloated society and who have been the cause of much more misery in the lives of our working class women than the men who were originally accused of alienating them in the first instance.