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Thesis Proposal:

Violence, Sexism & the Media

The Fight for Women's Rights in 20th Century Italy

Few people today would deny that sexism and violence against women are worldwide phenomena. And though many see these prejudices as primarily limited to undeveloped or unenlightened countries, the facts are it is a continuing problem in Europe and the United States as well. Take the case of Italy, an industrialized G-20 nation with a history of social advancement and cultural achievement that stretches back millennia to the age of Roman empire and glory. I was fortunate enough to live in Italy in 2011. Like so many others before me, I fell in love with the Italian culture, people, and of course, the outstanding food. Italy is a country that is culturally advanced, including early recognition of the rights of women, having granted women the right to vote in 1945, many years before other countries. Despite this, sexism seemed to sneak its way into daily life, just through the interactions of women and men in the streets and on public transportation. This contrast between forward thinking politics and the acceptance of sexism both puzzled and intrigued me.

Even after I came home to the United States, I was unable to stop thinking about the instances of violence against Italian women I had learned about. As a result, I began independently researching the state of women’s rights in Italy – which eventually led me to new perspectives on Italian feminist thought – by collecting books on the subject in both the Italian and English languages, and by devoting my spare time to learning more about their history of gender bias and inequality.

Although Italian society is not widely identified as particularly misogynistic, the United Nations has reported that more than 120 Italian women were killed during 2012 – and at least 80 more have been murdered already this year – mostly by their husbands and former boyfriends. In fact, one of every three Italian women will be a victim of domestic abuse at some point during her life, and this plague of violence has only accelerated over recent years.

In its 2012 Gender Gap Report, the World Economic Forum cited Italian gender-based wage inequality and the disparate underrepresentation of women in public and private senior management positions for ranking the country 80th among the 135 studied, thus earning Italy the dubious distinction of being among the least gender egalitarian nations in Europe. But it wasn't always this way.

As recently as the 1970s, during the peak of the women’s rights movement in Italy, women succeeded in overturning laws that forced them to marry their rapists in addition to eliminating sentencing statutes that penalized murderers with no more than three years imprisonment if their victims were deemed to be adulteresses. Yet, the great strides of the 1970s toward Italian gender equality have slowed exponentially in the 40 years since.

The tide of violence against women was rising mostly unnoticed by the general public until the recent brutal murder of a 15-year-old girl whose boyfriend stabbed her multiple times, and then burned her alive. In light of this tragedy, Italian legislators subsequently ratified the Council of Europe Treaty in an effort to combat and prevent violence directed at women.

Unfortunately, any judicial system falls prey to slow progress toward reform. The passing of a law does not necessarily immediately enforce changes within the actions of perpetrators. Therefore, my proposed project would investigate to what extent the reforms embodied in the treaty are ameliorating the burdens of the second-class status borne by Italian women. I will investigate whether these issues of violence potentially correlate with Italian culture, media, traditions or even possibly religious values. I assert that the alarming rise of gender inequality issues in Italy correlated with the dwindling volume and caliber of Italian feminist discourse and the rise in the hyper-sexualised representations of women in the media.

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