Sex and Politics: two words which, in the past few years, have become more or less synonymous in Italy. We have all heard about the “Rubygate” scandal and Mr Berlusconi’s various sexual exploits, often involving “minorenne” (girls under 18 paid to partake in “bunga-bunga” parties with the Prime Minister). Whilst the press report using a mocking tone, poking fun at typical Berlusconian behaviour (behaviour that would be more fit for a gossip column than a national newspaper), the resulting image of a patriarchal Italian society both eclipses and negates the voices of the many who do not agree with Berlusconi’s conduct.
On the 13th of February 2011 the seed of discord was well and truly sown. The initiative “Se non ora, quando?” (If not now, when?), organised over the Internet, facilitated protests in every Italian town and city, and support was shown all over the world, with marches in London, Tokyo and New York to name a few. The banners held aloft read:
“Silvio, I am a woman at 360 degrees, and not at 90.”
“Seeks honest, dignified, and respectful Prime Minister. Need not apply: Sex-addicts, myth maniacs, blackmailers.”
“Out of date Berlusconi-ism is vulgar, it is a social plague that has removed morality from politics.”
Mr Berlusconi has dismissed these protests as yet another “shameful attack” and a conspiracy against him. The Italian Prime Minister is indeed quite famous for his brash comments, many of which have been directed at women in particular. Compiled in this article are perhaps the “best-bits”, taken from 2009, a year particularly filled with personal and political scandal for the “Cavalier”.
April: At a press conference during the electoral campaign for his party Popolo della Libertà (People of Freedom), Berlusconi launched an attack at the opposition declaring, “The Left even has bad taste in women. Our women, aside from all being beautiful, are indeed all super qualified. And when I say that our women are more beautiful, I say it because I look, in Parliament, and there is no comparison.”
Later in April, Berlusconi, amongst the ruins of the Aquila earthquake, picked an opportune moment to ask female councillor, Lia Beltrami, if he could “fondle her”.
May: After years of complicit silence, Veronica Lario, at that time the wife of Mr Berlusconi, confessed the private affairs of her husband to the press, leading to the scandal surrounding Berlusconi’s attendance at the 18th birthday party of Noemi Letizia. According to Lario, this is notable since he “never bothered to attend any 18th party of his own children, despite being invited”.
Three days following these happenings, photographs of Berlusconi’s week-ends at his private villa were published in the Spanish newspaper El Pais. He and important political figures could be seen “romping” with half-naked girls – all of whom were regularly flown to Sardinia with airplanes belonging to the state.
October: Live on national television, Berlusconi phoned in on a political debate and addressed Rosy Bindi (a female politician of the opposing party) with the words, “you are more beautiful than you are intelligent. I do not care at all about what you have to say.” Bindi, who does not meet the standards of Berlusconi’s pin-up model of beauty, was doubly offended by these words which not only questioned her beauty but also her intellectual capacity.
In fact, Berlusconi’s opinion on women has gradually been filtering into his politics. As a successful businessman, Silvio Berlusconi knows that sex sells. So, why should the field of politics be any different? There is a new phenomenon in Italy that allows beautiful women, often those who have participated in Miss Italy beauty pageants and have their own “sexy” calendars, to reach political positions based more often than not, on their physical appearance rather than their professional credentials. Search for the name ‘Barbara Matera’, Italy’s representative for equal opportunities at the European Parliament, with Italian Google and you will be presented with such results as “calendar”, “gossip” and “video hot”. The same goes for Mara Carfagna, who, with painful and distasteful irony, occupies the position of Minister for gender equality. Amongst other page 3 and pin-up girls, Berlusconi also thought it appropriate to give Angela Sozio, an ex-contestant on the reality show Big Brother, a chance to promote her political career.
Currently, Italy’s internal and external politics rest in the hands of these women: commonly under the age of 30, with no prior background in politics, they are nevertheless responsible for making crucial decisions regarding the welfare of the Italian people. Berlusconi is conducting politics using women as sexual objects, creating, in effect, an aesthetically pleasing Italian “brand”, selling sex in politics.
Berlusconi embodies an out-dated model of the Italian Maschilista (or macho). It is disturbing to note that men regularly comment positively on Berlusconi’s sexual hyperactivity, not only in Italy, but all over the world. Many men ignore his disrespect for women and declare him worthy of respect due to his famous conquests. The men who stick up for women, on the other hand, are sometimes accused of coveting the Prime Minister’s money and sexual opportunities.
However, if this problem persists it is also because there are women that permit it. This is a cultural crisis, and Berlusconi, whilst perpetuating the issue, is not the cause but merely a symptom of a plagued society. Initiatives such as “If not now, when?” serve to raise awareness, but more will need to be done to change people’s attitudes until women get the true respect they deserve in Italian society.