Few and stereotyped: women in Italian culture

We often think that the one of the culture is a universe in itself, capable of host and transmit higher values of our common miseries. Yet if we look at the world of the arts through the lens of gender equality and women’s representation, things aren’t much better compared to all other areas.

According to the first annual report on gender equality in the world of culture released on 22 November, edited by the Observatory inside the MiC, in fact, “results the gender gap is relevant in the world of cinema and audiovisual in our country”, a gap that also extends to all other areas of the cultural sector.

The report, entitled The question of gender between imaginary and realityis the first fruit of the researches of theGender Equality Observatory of the MiC, established on November 24, 2021: it is in fact an analysis of the gender gap in the various cultural fields, but has a focus on cinema and the audiovisual thanks to the joint work of the Directorate General for Cinema with Istat.

«From the Report – underlined the coordinator of the Observatory Celeste Constantine – one comes out condition of generalized imbalance in the various fields with some incontrovertible data: disparity of power between men and women, female under-representation in cultural products and unbalanced wages between men and women».

Few, and poorly paid

If we look only at the audiovisual world, it is evident from a superficial glance at the data how much it is gender imbalance is rooted and, above all, as an emanation (and at the same time replication) of the gender stereotypes applied to professions.

In fact, the ratio of women to men is 1 to 10 direction of feature films, while women in screenwriting, editing and production are around the 25%, a percentage that drops between 10 and 16% for those who deal with photography, music and special effects on the set. Women are mostly only in make-up (73%), scenography (58%) and costumes (82%).

The presence of women is higher in the direction of documentaries (21%) and short films (17%) than in feature films, where the percentage of women does not even reach double figures (9%).

And if some things move, they do too slowly: “analysis of the trend from 2017 to 2021 reveals a situation of substantial stability for many sectors, for others (direction, music, scenography, special effects), weak signs of a reduction in the gender gap, but the path towards equality genre still appears long”.

Few, and poorly represented

If women who work in cinema and TV are few and less paid than their male counterparts, even those who appear on the screen do not enjoy better treatment. From the analysis of a study commissioned by Rai (the results of which are reported in reports from Monitoring of the representation of the female figure, of the ability to guarantee the pluralism of themes, subjects and languages ​​and to contribute to the creation of social cohesion in Rai programming broadcast in the 2021 calendar year), one emerges strong underrepresentation of women in all types of television programs: the female presence reaches the 40% only in entertainment programs and fiction produced by Rai while, for example, it stops at just 15.8% in sports programmes.

Also significant is theassignment of roles in films and fiction: “the so-called central or relevant roles attributed to women are 4 out of 10, but the difference becomes greater for the roles of characters over 65 when only 25% of the parts on stage are assigned to women”.

The problem, then, is not so much (or rather, not only) the under-representation, but the very type of representation proposed: “the female presence dominates, as expected, compared to men, within the traditional female rolesrelated to the family and to the function of caregiver (in the “care of the home” the ratio is 14.8 against 85.2). On the contrary, women continue to be strongly underrepresented in a range of professional roles not only among those stereotypically considered male-dominated (engineering, entrepreneurial figure, etc.), but also in professional roles with a strong female connotation (health professionals, from the world of education, etc)”.

Few, still too few

The focus of the report is on the world of cinema and audiovisual, but the whole cultural sector does not shine for gender equality. “The invisibility of women in the art world is in fact an unfortunately evident reality”, the report’s editors laconically admit. The data is not very recent, but the study already Women Artists in Italy. Presence and representation of 2018, had shown how, despite the fact that 66.7% of students enrolled in Fine Arts academies are women, just 18% of the works exhibited in the galleries were created by female artists.

An artistic gender gap that also extends to the selection of museum institutions: less than 1 out of 5 shows it’s about the artists. And the same goes for auctions and therefore for the market. Not only that: “as happens in many other sectors, the more you climb towards top positions, the more the glass ceiling thickens and the female presence decreases”.

There male presence it also dominates the sectors that we are traditionally led to associate with femininity, such as the ballet. Eleonora Abbagnato, a dancer, is the only example in Italy of a theater director: the majority are men who represent women, shape and direct them. “It is clear that the point of view of women will struggle to emerge”.

From ballet to theatre, the report adds, “unfortunately the situation hasn’t changed much both as regards artistic directions and top roles and for a conception of women’s bodies”. The national average of female presence in the main theaters is 32.4%: differentiated by role, the incidence of women is higher for actresses (37.5%) and much lower for directors (21.6%) and playwrights (20.7%).

The same goes for the music, according to data released by Alessandra Micalizzi, professor of Sociology of new media at the SAE Institute of Milan: «The number of women it produces does not reach 3%.; professional female singers are under 30% of today’s music scene; in the record industry there is room for women up to a certain point and only in certain roles; female authors of music and lyrics, at least in Italy, are less than 10%. And these numbers do not tell the panorama of niche musical fields or of centuries ago. They are recent numbers.

And so what?

The report tells the state of the art, but how to change things? First of all, the speakers explain, “the first thing the community should do is no longer deny the problem. Too often the issue of gender is dismissed, set aside or even ridiculed”. The solution of women’s quotas – which “in some sectors has brought remarkable results” – for culture cannot represent the cure to an endemic problem: it is necessary to start from the data to open a broader reflection.

As for the STEM sector, also for that of culture, it is necessary that girls have role models to inspire. More generally, “what is needed – in addition to the indispensable work of governmental and cultural institutions – is a cultural revolution that contributes to changing the distortions of common thought. […] Starting from work in schools, that is where training takes place and which, in addition to the family, spreads and imposes wrong cultural models”.


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Few and stereotyped: women in Italian culture