For young women, opportunities are especially limited.
have a very high percentage of young people who are unemployed, about
25 percent, but about half of young women are unemployed. This is the
real fact we have to keep in mind," said Fernanda Minuz, President and
legal representative of the Orlando Association, one of Italy's most
prominent women's rights organizations.
With employment prospects so dim, is it any wonder that more and more young women covet a career as a velina, or TV showgirl, on one of the stations privately owned by Berlusconi?
a professor or policymaker pays very badly. They have this model of
womanhood that says they are only successful if they are beautiful. Then
you can go on TV and have a very rich husband," said Robustelli.
as Ombretta Frau, a professor specializing in Italian women writers at
Mount Holyoke College, pointed out, Berlusconi treats Italy's networks,
of which he controls over ninety percent between his private channels
and state TV, as a personal, nationwide casting couch.
want to have a career in TV, that's fine," she said. "But it can't be
that in order to do that, you must go through the beds and basements of
all these powerful men."
Meanwhile, his government has taken
measures to curb prostitution. In 2008, Mara Carfagna, the law
degree-wielding former topless dancer whom Berlusconi appointed as Equal
Opportunities Minister, introduced legislation that for the first time
would fine sex workers for operating in public, something that Minuz
called "a step backwards."
Giancarla Codrignani, a feminist activist and former Member of Parliament, said women are not the only ones for sale.
have this big debate about the immorality of prostitution," she said.,
"but what is worse is the prostitution of the men in parliament who are
paid for voting for Berlusconi's laws, or the women in his party who
were chosen not for their merits or capabilities, but because they are
beautiful and perhaps were kind with him. For him, women and men are
objects to buy and leave, for his own pleasure or interests, without any
respect for any questions of their humanity, dignity, or liberty."
How does he manage to stay in office?
Before Berlusconi took the reins, television in Italy was a grim affair, dominated by the less-than-thrilling morals of the Catholic Church, and no match for the vibrant film industry based around Rome's Cinecittà studios. He introduced the concept of nudity to previously humdrum programming such as game shows or the evening news, and broadcast shows like Dallas and Dynasty. By skillfully catering to the baser instincts of his audience, he was able to expand his empire, which now includes real estate, supermarkets, sports clubs, including AC Milan, insurance companies, and more. He came from humble beginnings -- his mother stayed at home, his father worked in a local bank. Now he's the third richest man in Italy, the hero of a Horatio Alger story his supporters (or what's left of them -- his approval rating is around thirty percent) find inspiring and admirable.