Imagine if you will, for one moment, an afternoon chat show on the BBC on a Saturday in March, where the title of the discussion is ‘The appeal of foreign women’, and where a handy list is provided of all the wonderful reasons why British men should choose to marry a woman from a country in Eastern Europe.
It seems absurd, right? Well, that’s exactly what happened on Italian state broadcaster RAI 1 this past Saturday.
I woke up this morning to a tweet of this now famous list, and it took me a couple of minutes to digest it. Had this really gone out on state TV in 2017?
Parliamone Sabato (Literally: Let’s talk about it Saturday) is a chat show that’s broadcast on RAI 1 , Italy’s equivalent of BBC 1. This past Saturday, for some bizarre reason, the people behind the show decided that it would be a good idea to discuss the ‘threat’ (their choice of words) of women from Eastern Europe, and how Italian men ‘prefer foreigners’. Stereotypes ahoy! They even had guests in the studio, including one man with his Siberian wife, and an actor who was there purely because he had had relationships with women who weren’t Italian (wat?).
But the most horrifying moment was the list of six reasons why Italian men should choose an Eastern European girlfriend as opposed to an Italian one.
Let’s break these down:
- They’re all mothers, but after having given birth they recuperate their sculpted physiques.
- They’re all sexy. No tracksuits or thick pajamas.
- They forgive men who cheat
- They’re willing to let their man be in charge
- They’re perfect housewives and learn how to look after the house from a young age
- They don’t whine, they aren’t clingy, and they don’t sulk.
THIS IS 2017.
The more I read about it, the more I couldn’t believe my eyes. How the presenter (female!) used Trump as an example of how wonderful women born in Eastern European countries were, how guests had been invited purely because they had relationships with women who weren’t Italian citizens in the past – the actor who then called foreign-born women ‘a gift’.
I’m still trying to get my head around how people let this happen. I’ve just seen that, apparently, the people behind the graphic of the list have been sacked, and RAI’s president (a woman, who felt ‘personally involved’ in the matter) has apologised. But honestly, I don’t think any powerful heads will roll. The misogyny seen during this transmission is a symptom of a much wider problem, which many Italians still don’t see as an issue. So many times during my years in Italy, I’d complain at how sexist shows were – how women were used as decoration, either dancing or standing silently next to the presenters in revealing clothes or short dresses. How a show including a woman who did nothing but stand around in a bikini, with men openly ogling her being used as a joke, was resurrected only last year after being off the air for years. But people, including women, said it was fine, acceptable, that British TV was just as bad (wait, what?) and that I was making a fuss about nothing. I’d refused to go on a show commentating the Euros on RAI last summer, because what I’d seen of the episodes before they’d contacted me made my blood run cold. I couldn’t be quiet about it anymore, and as angry as I’ve been this morning, I’m glad to see that Italian women are standing up against this deep-rooted sexism that they have had to put up with on TV throughout their lives.
Then there’s the racism. Women from Eastern European countries who are seen as a ‘threat’ or that they ‘steal husbands’ when they move to Italy. I may not have been born in Eastern Europe, but I’ve experienced the weight of the stereotypes Italy has of women born abroad. They think we’re all blonde and beautiful, with less sexual hang-ups than Italian women, and that we’re desperate to find an Italian boyfriend. We’re seen as completely different, an entirely different species to Italian women. So many times I’d hear men say that they liked blondes, or about how they went on holiday to the beach the place was full of German girls who were blonde and beautiful. I have to admit, one of the reasons why I’m so angry about this stereotype is that it never worked in my favour. It dictated that Italian men loved blonde and blue-eyed women, but I was single for nearly the entire time I lived in Italy. It’s just that, it’s a stereotype. Like something ‘the lads’ say to each other when they’re at the bar. As for me, I wasn’t feminine enough, not pretty enough, not thin enough. Not to mention people’s surprise (even now on social media) at how well I spoke Italian. Italian society’s idea of a ‘foreign’ woman is a very specific one, and one I didn’t fall into – and because of that, I was left in a kind of no-man’s land (literally), too Italian to be foreign, too foreign to be Italian. I mean, how bad is it that that was a way of thinking I’d accepted in my life?
But I digress. Parliamone Sabato is obviously trending on Italian Twitter, and if you read Italian, it makes for some chilling reading. Not only for the necessary tweets denouncing such misogyny and sexism in 2o17, but also for the tweets by men who don’t see it as such a big issue, or that we’ve seen worse, or are quick to emphasise that ‘real men’ don’t think that way. There’s still a very a long way to go before such sexism and racism is stamped out, but hopefully some progress will come out of today’s outrage.