Consuming Women, No. 5: Il Corpo delle Donne, Il Corpo delle Animali *

January 29th, 2011 5:57 pm by Kelly Garbato

Best known outside of Italy for his role as prime minister – or, more accurately, the many sex scandals surrounding his prime ministership – Silvio Berlusconi is also “a successful entrepreneur” (as Wiki so nicely puts it). In 2010, Forbes magazine ranked him the 74th richest man in the world (and the 3rd richest in Italy), with a net worth of $9 billion. While he started out in construction, much of Berlusconi’s wealth comes from his vast media holdings, which encompass “television, newspapers, publishing, cinema, finance, banking, insurance, and even sport.”

Not surprisingly – given both his own conduct, as well as the media culture in which we live – much of what Berlusconi trades in is women. Young, white, conventionally attractive, eminently fuckable, and oftentimes objectified and humiliated women. Italian television has a reputation for routine sexism and misogyny – most commonly expressed in its gratuitous displays of women’s naked or scantily clad bodies – and the programming on Berlusconi’s channels is no exception. (In fact, Berlusconi acts as a lightning rod for much of this criticism. Just today, for example, Italians saw anti-Berlusconi protests in Milan.)

Writes Tom Kington in a piece appearing in The Guardian, circa September 2009:

After a summer of sleaze in which Berlusconi has been variously accused of “frequenting minors”, sleeping with an escort girl and holding debauched parties at his Sardinian villa, a feminist backlash is gaining momentum. The target is not only Berlusconi but the wider culture of a country in which a prime minister could survive such allegations.

According to Chiara Volpato, an academic at Milan’s Bicocca University, matters hit rock bottom when Berlusconi’s lawyer said his client would never pay for sex with an escort because the prime minister is merely an “end user” of women: “The choice of language really summed up how far we have sunk.”

This summer a group of academics, including Volpato, persuaded 15,000 people to sign a petition asking the wives of world leaders to boycott the G8 conference in Italy in protest at the plight of women in Berlusconi’s Italy.

The most recent sex scandal – involving the exchange of money for sex, most notably with a then 17-year-old girl – served as a reminder that I’d yet to blog about Il Corpo delle Donne (“Women’s Bodies” or “The Body of Women”; embedded at the top of the post), a short indie feminist documentary about sexism in Italian television. In it, director Lorella Zanardo narrates a veritable clip show of misogyny, all of which appeared on daytime and prime time Italian television:

  • a pair of women, clad only in lingerie and high heels, dances sensually for the camera (cue: Everyman’s faux lesbian fantasy);
  • one particularly large-chested woman is subjected to a shower in a see-through Plexiglass stall (while wearing slinky white dresses, natch);
  • another large-chested woman, this time allowed only a satiny towel to cover her torso, is asked to toss the host her bra; in doing so, the fabric cover her top “slips,” revealing her naked breasts (oops!);
  • two women, tits and ass busting out of impossibly short and low-cut mini-dresses, “ride” a mechanical surfboard (strategically placed at eye level of the mostly-male audience), while trying to stay on the board – and in their dresses; and
  • in a number of clips, women are verbally degraded, most commonly by male hosts: one woman’s worth is called into question by her male co-host because, compared to the female guests, she is relatively flat-chested; another woman is called stupid and told that she should work in pornography, as it’s “more money for less trouble”; yet another (seemingly, an audience member!) is called to “like a dog” by the male host.

    Naturally, nearly every woman, young and old, seems to have had “work” – cosmetic surgery – of some sort: Botox, breast enhancements and face lifts abound, while frown or laugh lines are nowhere to be seen. In contrast, many of the men pictured are older, and look it: peppery gray hair and wrinkles are not uncommon sights on men. Men, too, are allowed to keep their clothing on (and in layers, to boot!). The prevalence of and disparity in plastic surgery remains the primary focus of Zanardo’s critique; however, sexualization, dehumanization and objectification are all evident and problematic as well.

    Il Corpo delle Donne first came to my attention via an article in the Summer ’10 issue of Bitch magazine (my procrastinating skills, they are legendary!). In “Body Check: Standing up to Berlusconi’s boob tube,” Amanda Hulse begins the discussion with two particularly egregious clips from Il Corpo delle Donne, in which women are treated like nonhumans:

    A woman sits, smiling, under a boxlike Plexiglas table with holes for breathing, not unlike those provided a caged animal. The table is loaded with a mountain of fruit from behind which the host reads the “news.”

    On another channel, a woman wearing a tuxedo top and bikini bottoms hangs by a hook, her own legs dangling among haunches of ham, which are also clad in bikini bottoms. She kicks and squirms as a man brands her buttocks with a stamp.

    Regarding the first example, Zanardo suggests that the producers of the program themselves draw the comparison between a woman imprisoned in a Plexiglas box (of which there are actually four instances in the film) and an animal imprisoned in a cage:

    When the programme was first shown some people complained but the authors of the programme and the presenter Mumuccari said that “the girl is a living sculpture, she is in a cage, and even has breathing holes.”

    How very humane of them.

    Clocking in at just over 24 minutes, Il Corpo delle Donne is a bit on the long side; plus, it can be difficult for non-Italian speakers to catch everything, since attention is divided between video footage and subtitles. The Plexiglass clips appear multiple times, most notably around 4:00 minutes and 11:30. Here are a few screenshots for those who can’t or don’t want to watch the entire film:

    Women's Bodies, Screenshot01

    Women's Bodies, Screenshot02

    Women's Bodies, Screenshot03

    Women's Bodies, Screenshot09

    Women's Bodies, Screenshot10

    Note in the first screenshot how the woman must crawl around (“like an animal”) at the male host’s feet in order to climb into her cage; this positioning seems particularly demeaning.

    Moving on, the second example is one I’m more interested in, at least in relation to this post. It’s yet another in a long line of imagery that links consumable animals with consumable women, by either sexing up farmed animals and/or disembodied “meat” products in a uniquely feminine way, or by depicting women as one might a piece of “meat.” Each practice is equally despicable, as neither women nor animals are objects to be exploited at will: both are sentient beings who can think, feel and suffer; love and are loved; and value their own families, lives and wills. A cow is more like a woman, than she is a carrot. Like a human woman, she deserves to live unmolested, in peace.

    The “woman in a butcher shop” footage is shown at the end of the film, perhaps because it’s among the most appalling examples of misogyny included therein.

    Women's Bodies, Screenshot14

    Women's Bodies, Screenshot16

    Women's Bodies, Screenshot17

    Women's Bodies, Screenshot18

    Note the bemused gentleman who appears in on the bottom of the screen in the second screenshot. The “meat’s” father, I presume?

    For what it’s worth, I doubt that many porcines derive pleasure from the suffering of their sisters, daughters, mothers and female friends. Nope, that’s primarily a human trait, my friends. “Humanity,” indeed.

    —————–

    * I’ve no idea whether this phrase translates as intended (i.e., Women’s Bodies, Animals’ Bodies), but it represents my best guess given Google Translator’s (characteristic) absurdity.

    ** I filed this post under “Sexy Meat” as well as “Consuming Women” because the final segment of the video involves elements of each: not only is the woman shown hanging from a meat hook “like pork”; the many haunches of “ham” sport bikini bottoms, like the woman. Each form of oppression enforces and reinforces the other; no one is free while others are oppressed.

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  • One Response to “Consuming Women, No. 5: Il Corpo delle Donne, Il Corpo delle Animali *”

    1. Denise Says:

      Awesome piece i saw the documentary a while ago!

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