Vatican's Women Initiative Gets Off To A Bad Start : Parallels A promotional video produced ahead of Wednesday's conference on women's issues has been widely ridiculed as a sexist stereotype of the modern Western woman.
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Vatican's Women Initiative Gets Off To A Bad Start

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Vatican's Women Initiative Gets Off To A Bad Start

Vatican's Women Initiative Gets Off To A Bad Start

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A Vatican conference opening tomorrow is supposed to improve outreach to women. But some already see troubling signs. Women will be making presentations to an assembly whose members are all men. And those men will go behind closed doors to discuss many of the issues. And there is a certain video that some see as a sexist stereotype. From Rome, here's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: The conference on Women's Cultures: Equality and Difference is sponsored by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture. In December, organizers released a promotional video featuring a sexy blonde. Italian actress Nancy Brilli asked women to contribute 60-second clips of their lives to be broadcast at the conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY BRILLI: I am sure you've asked yourself many times who you are, what you do, what you think about your being a woman - your strengths, your difficulties, your body and your spiritual life.

POGGIOLI: The video drew intense criticism. Writing in the National Catholic Reporter, Phyllis Zagano, of Hofstra University, said, what were they thinking at the Vatican? Sexy sells, she added, has long gone by the boards in developed nations and is totally unacceptable in Muslim countries.

Outrage was so strong the Vatican's culture minister, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, removed the English version of the video from his department's website. But at a press conference he stressed that criticism came primarily from the United States and Canada, where many thought the video was too sugarcoated.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

GIANFRANCO RAVASI: (Through interpreter) These critics said - although I disagree - that when we speak of women, we must start with the abuse to which they are subjected, to focus on all that is negative.

POGGIOLI: Ravasi stressed that in Europe reactions were the opposite - extremely positive. He acknowledged the disconnect.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

RAVASI: (Through interpreter) It allowed us to understand how we must represent not just the traditional sensibilities of Europe, but also that of other cultures and horizons.

POGGIOLI: A draft document for the conference states flatly there is no discussion here of women priests, which according to statistics is not something that women want. One of the draft topics that has drawn the most attention concerns plastic surgery, which the document says can amputate the expressive possibilities of the human face and can be aggressive toward the feminine identity. One woman quoted in the report said plastic surgery is like a burqa made of flesh. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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