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In the Italy of Prime Minister Berlusconi, the media is saturated with almost pornographic images of women who silently and happily suffer their own objectification. But now that a former television starlet has risen to become the minister of equal opportunity, there are at least some fresh hopes for change.
By Fiona Ehlers. Italian Minister of Equal Opportunity Mara Carfagna, popularly known as "Bella Mara," has had a fairy-tale, Cinderella-like career -- and one that would only be possible in Italy. Indeed, it's only been a few years since the native of southern Italy was posing -- her oiled body draped in fishing nets -- for the kinds of pinup posters that construction workers hang in their lockers and spending her evenings appearing on primetime TV shows, her skirt hiked almost up to the crotch.
Carfagna was what the Italians call a velina , the name given to the scantily clad women who regularly appear -- beautiful but silent -- on Italian TV shows. Indeed, she was a product of Italian television, where she appeared until , and you can still find photos and videos of her from those days online. But now, the year-old politician -- crowned "the world's beautiful minister" by the tabloids -- is a creation of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
In , after seeing her on one of the TV stations belonging to his media empire, he jokingly -- and on TV -- stated he wouldn't mind marrying her, precipitating a war of roses with Veronica Lario, his wife at the time.
A little more than a year later, Carfagna was appointed to serve as Berlusconi's federal minister for equal opportunity. Many Italian women perceive her meteoric rise to political prominence as both an affront and evidence of the distorted image of women in Italy -- as if having a perfect figure and being beautiful and obedient were all it takes.