This morning, I am reading the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera. As usual, I scroll the online version down to the bottom of the page. Today, Il Corriere dedicates the first article to Berlusconi’s attacks to his ex-wife Veronica Lario whom he accuses of being supported by feminist (and communist) judges, i.e. the two species il Cavaliere probably hates the most. On the right column, the regular section “female flesh & motors”. Used to the decades-long TV education of the Berlusconi era, most Italians have by now come to terms with the fact that the female body is vilified in most media and therefore in society. The documentary “Women’s bodies” by Lorella Zanardo has already pointed at the ways in which women are presented in the Italian media: a mainstream that does not reflect the reality of our bodies and values and promotes the erasure of female identities. Lorella Zanardo’s fight against gender stereotypes is remarkable in that she is able to show that TV is not only a talking screen, but an edifying tool. In the Italian case, a noxious one. If Italy can claim a backlash in gender relations, it owes this to the private and very lucrative enterprise of Silvio Berlusconi. This affects thousands of teenagers who dream to appear (undressed) in a TV show.
The Italian press faces a financial crisis, and editors must find new pathways to survive. This does not sound new in a time where information changes abruptly. However, again gender stereotypes are employed to sell copies and promote unreal images of women. Even more sadly, the newspaper misses an opportunity to value female talent and excellence in sports. Today, an entire photo reportage is dedicated to female tennis players. The title of the gallery is “Female tennis players at the top: male biceps“. In the photographs, women are presented in poses of muscular tension where they perform strength and, apparently masculinity. Interesting enough, the reportage just next to it is titled “sexy” and shows a woman flirtating from a swimming pool. That femininity equals being undressed, thin, tall and white (even though a note of exotism is welcome) is not new to Italian readers and commentators. Yet, the newspaper today shows that certain women are actually men, because they have muscles. And we all should know that only men have muscles!
We learn that the female body if it does not correspond to Berlusconi’s canons of beauty becomes male. However, the women pictured here do not look like men either; their muscular effort distorts their faces and bodies and gives them a monstrous semblance. These women are savage, that is why Il Corriere is interested in them today. This view is not only sexist, but also racist because of the image it conveys of black bodies: the fantasies about black strength are representations inheriting from colonialism and slavery. These women are athletes, professionals who deserve to be rewarded not only with medals but also by the public opinion. Instead of publishing these bodies as barbarous because muscular, the press should highlight their talent. Strength is not a male thing, and strong women remain women.
In biology books for children, the lesson on muscles is always represented as male. Muscular bodies are always male. Instead, women are reproductive machines. This is wrong, and we should teach our children that a muscular body is just right, be it male, female or queer. Also, we should not miss opportunities to show that some women have done outstanding things in society. We should claim the right to be women with (or without) muscles. We should educate our bodies against gender stereotypes and promote female talent.