More than 100,000 Italian women took to the streets yesterday in Rome, Naples, Palermo and other cities, loudly protesting what they saw as the disgrace caused by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s sex scandal. Chanting “Italy is not a brothel,” and “If not now, when?” the women denounced Berlusconi’s actions as demeaning to Italy and to female dignity generally.
Berlusconi is being investigated for allegedly paying for sex with a 17-year-old girl. Prostitution is not illegal in Italy, but paying a minor for sex is. Officials are also trying to figure out whether Berlusconi helped the young woman get out of jail on a theft charge. Berlusconi has claimed that the scandal is a left-wing conspiracy to oust him from power, but for many Italians, it’s just the last straw.
“Women are offended. The image of our country that Berlusconi is presenting to the world is just unbearable,” said one woman at a rally in Rome.
In 2009, Berlusconi’s wife of almost 20 years announced that she was divorcing him because of his repeated flirtations with younger women. She also criticized his tendency to appoint ex-show girls to political posts. This has also angered other Italian women, who say that Berlusconi’s glorification of a particular type of female beauty only serves to objectify women.
One woman at a Milan rally said that she was “fed up with the way women are portrayed as objects in the Italian media. The way that young girls are glorified by their looks and youth and then what? I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking that that is the only way to be … that the only thing that matters is to be pretty and show off their legs. … We are more than that.”
It’s inspiring to see so many Italian men and women standing against a prime minister who has so blatantly treated women as second-class citizens, valuable only if they conform to a certain type of beauty. One particularly poignant moment was a protest in L’Aquila, a mountain town where Berlusconi has boasted about his reconstruction efforts following an earthquake in 2009, where women claimed that they were still waiting for a shelter for abused women.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.