La Scivolata

BANANA PEEL

It was with a certain pleasure that my husband, Professor of Economics at the University of Rome, Tor Vergata, handed me the newspaper today and said, “I think you might want to do a blog post on this letter to the editor written by an economist colleague of mine.” He knows me so well. I never miss an opportunity to point out the rampant male chauvinism that sadly still exists in some parts of Italian society, unfortunately often among the political and intellectual elites. Many women thought perhaps things had changed with the political decline of Silvio Berlusconi and his famous Bunga Bunga parties (See Blog Post: The End of Italy’s Bunga Bunga Era), but no, this time the scivolata (slip—as on a banana peel) as they say in Italian, was made by Eugenio Gaudio, President of the University of Rome, Sapienza.

Eugenio Gaudio, President of the University of Rome Sapienza with the three top finalist in the Miss University competition. May 6, 2015

Eugenio Gaudio, President of the University of Rome Sapienza with the three top finalist in the Miss University competition. May 6, 2015

On May 6, 2015 Eugenio Gaudio, President of the largest University in Italy, headed the Jury of the “Miss University” contest in which female University students were judged, among other things, in a bikini.   The contest was to find “The most beautiful and wise student from the Italian University.” The participants were given a free coupon for a center for esthetic surgery.

Now the Italian economist Mariana Mazzucato of the University of Sussex, together with a long list of top Italian female professors and researchers have written an open letter to him calling for him to step down. They have put a petition on the website Change.org gathering signatures in favor of his resignation.

Let me quote the letter, they say it much better than I could:

Dear President…

“…We consider that your participation as a jury member for the selection of Miss University, held in Rome on May 6, 2015 at Billions is not compatible with your institutional role, and represents a scandalous stain on the university that you were elected to lead.”

They went on to say:

“In a context in which the international reputation of Italy is more linked to Bunga Bunga instead of its enormous scientific and cultural heritage, your participation at this event does nothing but further diminish the fundamental role of the University (with a capital U) and of women.”

“…We expect that the President of the largest University in Europe would use his strategic position to push his students to believe in themselves and not in the way in which men value their bodies; to convince them that the future is in their hands and in their heads and not in their bikini; to encourage them to fight to reach their goals, to put into practice, in the working world and outside of it, everything that they learned at the University.”

“Your participation at this event demonstrates how backwards our society still is.”

The women academics conclude by demanding he publicly apologize, that he also declare that the University of Rome Sapienza will never again participate in a similar event, and finally that the University will support initiatives designed to promote the careers of its female students.

I just checked and the petition on Change.org now has nearly 1,300 signatures of individuals demanding the President’s resignation.  Looks like the “scivolata” may become a “caduta” (fall).

I will keep you updated.

UPDATE

The President of the University of Rome, Eugenio Gaudio, has responded, and here is what he had to say:

“I do not have to apologize for anything.”

“My participation was a way to be close to the students and was carried out with full respect towards the girls, and I want to emphasize, they were not in bathing suits but evening dress.”

“I decided to accept this invitation…after a careful analysis on the part of my secretary.”

 

22 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Kay
    2015/06/01

    I wouldn’t have a problem with this if there was an equivalent “Mr. Universita Italia” that awarded the most brilliant male students with a parade down the runway in their swim trunks…but I don’t think that ones gonna happen

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/06/01

      I love your sense of humor Kay!! Yes, don’t think we are going to see Mr. Brillian Italian University Student in a speedo competition any time soon!

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Robin
    2015/06/01

    The contest doesn’t bother me as much as the prize: a voucher for esthetic surgery? Wow.

    So the message is “even though you were chosen as the most beautiful and wisest student, you still could be even better….physically that is. So go get some esthetic surgery.”

    Wow.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/06/03

      Exactly. Go get your face cut up and see if you can make it look better. Aaarrghh, just makes my hair stand on end. I understand why the Italian female academics are so outraged.

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    John
    2015/06/01

    The banana peel of history eventually catches up!!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/06/03

      Remember when Larry Summers had to resign as President of Harvard after he declared that women had less aptitude than men in math and sciences. I don’t know what gets into these University presidents. A little too much hubris and too little humility.

      Reply
  4. Avatar
    Alys Blakeway
    2015/06/01

    If they are so beautiful why do they need aesthetic surgery? Thank you for “scivolata”, a useful addition to my vocab.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/06/03

      Exactly!!!! Why would they wanted ruin themselves with plastic surgery. And why is it assumed that that what they want if they participate. And yes, I love the word “scivolata” — enjoy using it.

      Reply
  5. Avatar
    Patricia Terry
    2015/06/01

    Trisha, thank you and your husband for pointing out, again, the inequities and backwardness of the Italian patriarchal system. These need to be brought to the forefront of the public’s consciousness before any change can occur.

    On a side note: I was in a bar yesterday morning when a regular customer (male) came in and grabbed the barista (female) around the waist; as she wriggled to get out of his grasp, he held on tighter and she couldn’t escape his hold. She was deeply embarrassed, but couldn’t say anything–hence another example of the cultural biases which are alive and well.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/06/04

      It really is a patriarchal system that is taking a long time to change. However, I find it incredibly encouraging in this story that such a talented, accomplished group of Italian women were willing to take a stand.

      Reply
  6. Avatar
    Joan Schmelzle
    2015/06/01

    Interesting prize for “all participants.” I wonder if the coupon for the center for esthetic surgery would help beautify their brains too. Mahybe they should hand one to the university president for his! Oh my!
    A presto
    Joan

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/06/04

      Yes indeed — I suggest a free coupon for the centro estetico for the University President too. Sigh, why couldn’t they do a free coupon to a bookstore??

      Reply
  7. Avatar
    Allegra
    2015/06/01

    Ah the Italian students must have heard the legend that says that Prince William noticed Kate during a catwalk in St Andrew. Ok that was based on fashion rather than beauty contest, but the skinny dress she was wearing has been apparently auctioned!

    Having said that, I am going to sign that petition right now!

    Trish you Reporter’s Notebook is moving, thank you for sharing with us

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/06/03

      Thank you Allegra. I am glad you liked the Reporter’s Notebook. I still need to do two more posts, but am having trouble finding the time. Yes, we have heard about Prince William noticing Kate on a catwalk. What can I say? Since you live in London, I guess you might be interested to know that the Italian woman leading the charge is Mariana Mazzucato, an economist at the University of Sussex– I am told she is an amazing super-woman-Italian-mamma with four children and a very successful career. Maybe they should make her President of the University of Rome!

      Reply
  8. Avatar
    Kathy
    2015/06/02

    This even made news here in Australia and straight away I thought of the football reporters, with their Grand Canyon cleavage, perched between the two older guys and commentating on the game- but I always thought ‘why is she dressed like she’s going to a nightclub?’. It was so anachronistic and quite baffling.
    I’m with Kay – where is the Mr Universita? Goodness knows there are enough superb looking Italian men out there (the ever delicious Mr Bova springs to mind) – and so does the lovely lad wearing nothing but an apron in that TV commercial you shared with us last year, Trisha. I’m all for equality!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/06/03

      I am all for equality too!! Oh, and don’t get me started on the football tv show-women and their grand canyon cleavage. That is worth a blog post all by itself. Sigh.

      Reply
  9. Avatar
    Nancy Rockwell
    2015/06/02

    I think you should propose a Best Male University Professor Contest, in which the profs would be judged wearing Speedos and prancing down a runway. They could be given sashes to indicate their subject of expertise. And the judges should be female students, of course.
    But joking aside, the other presidents of universities in Europe should protest and urge him to step down.
    He and Bill Clinton could commiserate over a beer sometime!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/06/03

      I think the female students might escape if they had to see the likes of the President in a speedo and a sash! But I guess this is part of the problem — it is always the unattractive 55+ men judging the much younger women. A lot of Italian women thought they had put that behind them when Berlusconi was condemned in his Bunga bunga trial. I think that is why the female Italian academics are so outraged — they can’t take it anymore and especially feel a need to protect their female students.

      Reply
  10. Avatar
    Alan
    2015/06/02

    . . these things are always a tough call between the rights inherent on each side of the argument. We should each be mature enough to tune in or tune out – join in or decline to do so. I am not a supporter of this type of stuff, on the other hand I am more opposed to being censored by anybody else or censoring others – I don’t have to participate actively or passively and I don’t have to be judgmental of others either.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/06/03

      Glad to hear a man’s perspective on this one Alan. You can tell where I stand on the issue.

      Reply
  11. Avatar
    Ciao Chow Linda
    2015/06/02

    To think that in this day and age women are still treated like this by a top administrator at a university is nothing short of appalling. Why would those women even submit themselves to this? And the prize is a coupon for plastic surgery? Sick. By the way, you know Mariana Mazzucato is an old friend of mine from Princeton. If you have a chance to meet in person, you and Gustavo would love her and her family. Talk about a woman who multi-tasks! The last time I visited her and her husband Carlo and their four adorable kids, she was wiping noses at the same time she was fielding a phone call from the BBC for an interview at their studio later that night, after a meeting at The Houses of Parliament ( and I got to join her!)

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/06/03

      Wow! I would love to meet Mariana Mazzucato some day, she seems like a truly amazing woman!!

      Reply

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