La Bella e la Bestia
What now for Berlusconi's women?
Through his media, Berlusconi had a direct influence on how Italian women were perceived. Women under his control came to accept their role as sexual property and unashamedly used their sexuality for personal gain. The Berlusconi bubble has burst and the Italian women on all levels now face a new and difficult journey to break this image.
When I was asked to host a debate about Berlusconi and the women that he controlled, I had to think how best to raise awareness on how Italian women are perceived today. I knew that this subject was not for the faint-hearted and that we would hear time and time again of how the lines of political correctness and decency were being crossed.
Silvio Berlusconi came into power in 1994. For the 17 years as leader, he was surrounded by controversy. The seedy side of Silvio's lifestyle was making worldwide headlines and the pressing political and economic issues were being neglected. Berlusconi's Italy has been described as being part of the dark-side where sexism is not shameful.
He had a way of attracting, celebrities, footballers, fellow politicians and other political leaders. 'Berlusconi ran his life like a cheap porn movie.' And it appeared that his view point was stuck in the 1950's groove.
When I threw open the question to the professional women in the audience, I was not surprised by the answers... Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida and Carla Bruni were the names I heard when I asked who came to mind when thinking of Italian women...
Italian women are faced with many issues to over come and culture being just one of them. Italy is a country that is recognised for being proud of its 'sexy' image. Things get a little darker when we realise that Berlusconi owns 90% of Italy's television networks, where day in and day out, viewers are overwhelmed with provocatively dressed women. Annalisa Piras, an Italian journalist and London Correspondent for the Italian news magazine 'L'espresso said 'Through his media, he was able to control the way women were viewed'. This kind of television was considered 'normal'. A very frightening realisation emerged when she said that it could take upto two decades to assess the magnitude of damage Berlusconi had caused to the image of women.
There were disgruntled women but without a platform to display how vexed they were at the situation, their feelings remained unknown. Even though Italian women have the reputation for living 'la dolce vita', life is not that sweet at all. According to a new survey, Italian women are the most unhappiest in Europe. The strong feminist movement of the 70's diminished mainly down to the hold that Berlusconi had on the media.
Italian women received their catalyst in a form a young women that Berlusconi was accused of having under-age sex with. Further insult came when he contacted a police station and authorised them to have the girl released from prison after being charged for theft, saying she was the niece of a former Egyptian leader and he wanted to prevent him from the embarrassment...
Basta! Enough! No more humiliation could be tolerated and Italian women organised a demonstration titled Se Non Ora Quando? - If Not Now When? One million women took to the streets holding around 230 protests in cities across Italy, with others taking place in Paris, London and other European cities, all echoing the same slogan. Cristina Comencini, one of the organisers wanted to emphasised the situation by saying 'The Government may have changed but not the country'. The movement wants to build a better structure for women's rights which include a battle against discrimination and the right to work. The World Economic Forum ranks Italy 74th in its treatment of women, which is behind Columbia, Peru and Vietnam.
For women in their 20's, they have only been exposed to Berlusconi's view point and although they have feelings of discomfort, the women are not organised enough to react and make change. The Berlusconi bubble is all that they have known and they would use their sexuality for personal gain.
A recent survey stated that female students in their 20's would think favourably about sleeping with their Professors to 'help' further their education. The results were worrying: In 2010 this was 45% and in 2011 the figure rose to 57%! It is evident that there is a great deal of work to be done.
Italy now has a new government and Mario Monti the Prime Minister certainly has his work cut out. A clever political move was to appoint women in his cabinet. Although only 16% of women occupy roles in this government, the three women in question are heavy weights and they have been given key positions :
Elsa Fornero has got the ball rolling straight-away. She has made it clear that should she receive an invite to speak as an expert at a seminar for equal opportunities and sees that she is the only woman, she will refuse to go. 'This does not represent equal opportunities'. These are indeed heavy words spoken by a powerful woman and never heard in Italy before.
The three women ministers have powerful positions. The women have been given the responsibility for law, social policies and security. The real pressing issues in Italy are being confronted. The worrying areas that face Italy are now in the hands of competent women.
And so it begins... the change may be gradual but as long as the trend is positive it will prosper into seeing the lives of so many talented women in Italy alter, giving them the respect and praise that they truly deserve. As women we all want to share and celebrate beauty and encourage the brain to blossom in harmony - What a winning combination. Buona fortuna!