The Other Protest

With the raging unrest throughout North Africa and the Middle East last month, you may have missed the protesting in Europe. In February, over 100,000 women took to the streets in Rome crying for the Italian Premier, Silvio Berlusconi, to resign, and more so, to be thrown into prison for his crimes.

Berlusconi, 74 years old and a notorious womanizer, has most recently been charged with unlawful sex with a minor. Though this is only the latest charge to add to the laundry-list of misogynistic behaviors, it is becoming quite clear that Italian women have finally had enough. It is time, they say, for their leader to step down. Many women have complained, saying, "His dalliances with young women humiliate the sex as a whole and degrade female dignity."

His offensive behaviors range from extramarital infidelities to demeaning public commentary about women.

Back in 2009, in response to the rape of a young woman on New Years Eve and the role the government should take in protecting its citizenry from violent crime, Berlusconi quipped that "You can’t consider deploying a force that would be sufficient to prevent the risk. We would have so many soldiers because our women are so beautiful." Rather than declaring the crime as an outrage, Berlusconi seems to imply that men are defenseless against the beauty of Italian women, and hence their urges can’t be controlled, the (obviously ridiculous) idea being, it's simply not their fault.

Less controversial, but no less offensive, is that earlier this year he introduced Emma Marcegaglia, the first female head of Italy's national labor federation (and arguably the most powerful woman in Italy), as "a good looking chick."

Thus, it's no wonder that the women of Italy have decided to take a stand. The people of Italy deserve a leader that respects all of its citizens for the contributions they are able to make -- and not simply the way they look.

How can a leader possibly claim to promote equality among the sexes, while turning around and mistreating women the next minute? Such blatant hypocrisy sends the wrong message to both men and women throughout Italy. Not only that, but it seems as if Berlusconi has avoided real legal trouble simply on the basis that the majority of the women he's been involved with are call girls and not women of a more generally accepted social strata.

I can’t help but draw a parallel to an editorial that appeared in the New York Times earlier this week called "The Disposable Woman" by Anna Holmes, which commented on the Charlie Sheen scandal. Just as with Sheen, many of the women Berlusconi is acquainted with are prostitutes (and while prostitution is not illegal in Italy, the trade still maintains the standard negative connotation). As such, the loss of dignity and respect of the women involved seems to be an assumed part of the transaction:
‘These sorts of explicit and implicit value judgments underscore our contempt for women who are assumed to be trading on their sexuality. A woman’s active embrace of the fame monster or participation in the sex industry, we seem to say, means that she compromises her right not to be assaulted, let alone humiliated, insulted or degraded; it’s part of the deal.’
Berlusconi's behavior not only undermines the credibility of women in general, reducing them to nothing more than "good looking chicks," but also sets a dangerous precedent for men -- political leaders and the general population alike -- that it is fine to objectify women, as men are defenseless against their good looks. To borrow the sentiments of James Walston of Foreign Policy, "It would be a delicious irony indeed if the people who finally pushed Berlusconi out of power were the women he has spent so much of his career exploiting and degrading."