Lorella Zanardo: real women 'endangered species' on Italian TV

Article published on Oct. 6, 2009
Article published on Oct. 6, 2009
Chat with the co-writer of the documentary 'Il Corpo delle Donne', which looks at how Italian TV dissects 'women’s bodies'. Since spring 2009, it has attained enormous exposure across all networks thanks to its intelligent and ruthless critique of Italian television

A collection of samples taken from public and private Italian television channels, Il Corpo delle Donne ('Women’s Bodies') is dedicated to the image and role of women - and the results are chilling. The author of this visual essay, which has been translated into four other languages including Spanish, Portuguese, English and French, is Lorella Zanardo. She was European brand manager for Unilever in Milan and Paris, marketing director for Gruppo Mondadori, holds an MBA and a degree in English and German literature, been a theatre and cinema actress and also runs her own consultancy, Sportgate. The mother-of-two is now more known as a consultant and lecturer on feminist issues.

We meet to discuss Zanardo's sensitisation campaign concerning gender differences and the rights laid out in article three of the Italian constitution. She has two ways of ensuring that her valuable work does not lose momentum, to not merely turn into a passing fad. Firstly, her daily militancy gains strength through national network agreements. Secondly, her educational project Nuovi occhi per la TV ('New Eyes for TV') is directed at schools and teachers and can be accessed through its official website. Interview

Is the Italian situation unique? Are there other European countries where the role and image of women is deemed to be in danger? 

Everything starts with the concept of gender difference and equal opportunities. In other northern European countries such as the UK, this has been assimilated as a constitutional right and is not debated. In a country like France, a strong feminist comradeship has emerged which has responded to possible 'lapses' in respect to female dignity. The same goes for Spain, where there is a big problem with violence against women. Instead, Italy and Greece have been defined by Censis (centre for social investment studies) as countries in which there is a 'resistance' to the subject of equal opportunities. In other words, it’s a problem which needs to be addressed at an institutional level, since it seems to hold little value and is seen as non-threatening by the existing political institutions; you can clearly see that by how the issue is handled in our politics. 

In the course of your career as an entrepreneur, have you met women who have adopted masculine attitudes? 

That’s what I have seen the most! I saved myself from that because I have always had an inborn pride, probably inherited from my mother; but I have worked in an environment where I have sadly seen many women abdicate to some qualities of feminine nature in order to get onto the career ladder. I can understand that, because at the time, working alone in a masculine environment was hard, but now it’s different. It’s time for us women to assume the responsibility of asserting our qualities, to be real women within organisations. Society needs that, and so do men, definitely. 

What is the best strategy for promoting a concrete plan which will work? 

I’m a real believer in advocacy campaigns. Sensitise people with a blog, websites, documentaries, and establish a solid base of agreement, for example on networks, which will be able to deal with television companies and large advertising companies. It works. It’s a practice widely used in America. Threats are not involved, it’s just firm, educated negotiation which works to everyone’s advantage. For example, the Rocchetta brand of mineral water withdrew an advert featuring the model Cristina Chiabotto. In it, she competes with a 'normal' girl to see who looks better in a revealing outfit. They realised that the campaign was damaging to the product itself. That’s not the only positive result achieved by our sensitising campaign!

How do you combat that uncomfortable feeling you get when you see escorts and aspiring starlets flaunting themselves on once-historical red carpets? Take the Venice Film Festival as an example...

We all feel uncomfortable. You young ones, as far as I’m concerned, have every right to feel very angry. I was in Venice and when I saw that all the attention centered on [former F1 manager Flavio] Briatore in his slippers and [his wife, underwear model Elisabetta] Gregoraci in her knickers. I thought of the Lido, of the great Silvana Mangano and Luchino Visconti. Well, you can just imagine, it wasn’t easy. Cesare Lanza, the maker of almost all of the programmes featured in the documentary, was a guest with me on journalist Gad Lerner’s programme. Lanza was saying, 'Your attitude is like a missionary; don’t you realise that these programmes are what Italy wants to see?' Yes, maybe Italy might want to see these programmes. But that's because that’s the only thing that’s been on offer for the past twenty-five years, TV has a duty to educate. I have no choice in making television’s misfortunes my business in order to clean it up. In the sixties, when Italian television was seen as one of the top three networks in the world, we had an educational programme called Non è mai troppo tardi ['It’s Never Too Late', 1960-1968 - ed]. Alberto Manzi, the legendary teacher in it, taught the Italian language to a fragmented nation which spoke mostly in dialect after the war. If we had a public network today which respected its role as an educator, things would change. But it will take time.

Italy wants to see these programmes because that’s the only thing that’s been on offer for the past 25 years

In the economic world, the consumer has been brainwashed into believing in small bursts of time, that we need to have everything, and right now. In reality it’s not like that at all: one needs to have lots of patience. When I’m carrying out my daily militancy I am absolutely certain that things will change, but I know that we’re in for the long haul. We need to change our attitudes: things will start to make sense as we tread a long hard path. It would be a great feeling of achievement for your thirty-something generation to know that you have been instrumental in the change which will take place in this country.