'Whore-ocracy’: show girls, the beauty trade-off, and mainstream oppositional discourse in contemporary Italy
Women on Italian television are objectified more frequently than on other European television networks. However, a moral panic in contemporary Italian culture about the figure of the ‘velina’, or television showgirl, perceived as dangerously akin to the scapegoated prostitute, has become shorthand for debates about Silvio Berlusconi, his media empire and political corruption. In this article I will begin by showing how a preoccupation with female performance and prostitution has in fact defined Italian culture since the Second World War. I will refer to the idea of ‘the beauty myth’ (Wolf, 1990), and how this has been used to keep women in a certain place in Italian society, showing how it has been further inflected in the Italian context by a beauty trade-off, namely the equation between female beauty, stupidity and sexual incontinence. I will then show how this history has informed the debate about the ‘velina’, ‘velinismo’, and women in public spaces to a point that seriously undermines criticism in the mainstream media, due to the terms used in the debate, the splitting of women, the beauty trade-off and problematic visual representations. I will suggest that in order to introduce some nuance into the ‘velina’ debate certain theoretical models require further development in the Italian context. These models stem from feminist media studies and the work of Rosalind Gill in particular, including postfeminist theory and subtler understandings of female subjectivity, pleasure and spectatorship.
Paid open access article.
Vol. 66, No. 3, pp. 413 - 430
Place of publication