Pope Francis has made plenty of headlines for taking relatively liberal stances on everything from LGBT issues to global capitalism. But the recent video — starring sexy, blonde, slim, conventionally beautiful Italian actress Nancy Brilli — indicates there may still be a lot of progress to be made regarding women and the Catholic church.
“I’m sure you’ve asked yourself, who you are, what you do, what you think about your being a woman. Your strengths. Your difficulties. Your body. And your spiritual life,” says Brilli — in wrinkle-erasing lighting, with perfectly coiffed hair.
The purpose of the video was to promote women’s input at the Pontifical Council for Culture this week which was focusing on the topic “Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference.” Women were to send in their thoughts and share them on social media using the hashtag #LifeOfWomen.
Some have responded that the “sex sells” tone of Brilli’s pitch — complete with hair tosses and a sultry voice — struck entirely the wrong note with women today.
"Aside from the obvious — sexy sell has long gone by the boards in developed nations and is totally unacceptable in predominantly Muslim countries — the fact of the matter is that highlighting a stereotypical spokeswomen is not the way to ask for women's input," Phyllis Zagano wrote in the New Catholic Reporter.
The English version created such a backlash it was taken down.
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who organized the initiative to crowd-source women’s input for the conference, admitted things had not gone to plan, and tried to spin it as a learning experience.
“It allowed us to understand… how we must represent not just the traditional sensibilities of Europe but also that of other cultures and other horizons,” he told a press conference Monday. “It allowed me to realize that the sensibilities were profoundly different.”
— WomensOrdinationConf (@OrdainWomen) December 29, 2014
All-Male Meeting to Discuss Women
The Vatican was, of course, facing an uphill battle promoting a conference on women where all church officials participating would be men. So perhaps it’s not surprising that their appeal to women to talk about women’s issues via an all-male hierarchy was so lambasted by their target audience.
Groups like the Women’s Ordination Conference, who have been calling out the exclusion of women in church affairs for years, took the opportunity afford by the video and latched on the the #LifeOfWomen hashtag to spread their message.
And even before the video, there had been frustrated commentary about the header image used on a web page about the conference, which showed Man Ray’s 1936 sculpture, Venus Restored — a headless and armless classical nude female torso bound all over in cords.
— mary jo anderson (@maryjoanderson3) February 5, 2015
And if that wasn’t enough, it didn’t help that Brilli has spoken openly about having plastic surgery, while the church, in a document about the conference, calls such procedures “a burqa made of flesh.”
“Having been given freedom of choice for all, are we not under a new cultural yoke of a singular feminine model?,” the document continues. “What do we think of women used in advertising and in the mass media?”
Well, if you think they’re all too often slim, blonde, white, perfectly groomed, and used for their sex appeal like Brilli was in the Vatican’s video, you wouldn’t be the only one.