Since Veronica Lario, the ex-wife of Silvio Berlusconi, sent a letter to the newspaper La Reppublica in an official demand to her spouse to excuse his licentious behaviour in 2007, the public debate on the role of women has consisted of the word 'Disgrace!’ (‘Vergogna’).
Supposing you’re a woman married to a political figure, who appears on television shows to shower the former presenters (and current ministers) with compliments. Vergogna! A septuagenarian attending eighteen-year-olds’ birthday parties. Vergogna! Journalists watch the rally march forth on all sides. Vergogna! The prime minister organises illicit festivities at his villa in Arcora, outside Milan. Vergogna! He sleeps with prostitutes, with minors. ‘Berlusconism’ uses and abuses the female body. Vergogna!Vergogna!Vergogna! The left-wing puritans reply Vergogna!
Read 'Papigate’: same debate about women and media in Berlusconi era on cafebabel.com
Yet on 12 February a double protest was organised by Giuliano Ferrara in the defence of Silvio Berlusconi in Milan. With slogans such as 'Alive and well in our lingerie' (‘In mutande, ma vivi’), it was against the ‘neopuritan bigots of the political left’ who raised the bar of the Rubygate scandal. It was a kind of demonstration of the affection and commitment of Giuliano Ferrara, who the director of the newspaper Il Foglio, Iva Zanicchi, an MEP for Berlusconi's party (and former singer and television presenter), and defence minister Ignazio La Russa.
A day later another protest saw women of every age and extraction, be it political or social, march by in defence of the dignity of the female sex. Headed ’If not now, when?’ (‘Se non ora quando?’), it was begun by the manager of the newspaper L’Unità, Concita De Gregorio. It gleaned a collection of signatures in rebellion of the predominant view of woman as a sexual object. With the participation of political and intellectual celebrities, which inadvertently drove it to theatrical extremes, it took place in many of the country’s major cities, from Milan to Rome via Naples and Palermo. It even spread across various world capitals ranging from Brussels,Honolulu to Kiev, united in a single cry of ‘Enough!’ - and, obviously, ‘Disgrace’.
It doesn’t matter that Giuliano Ferrara, a former communist in the sixties and a minister to Berlusconi in the nineties, commandeered a pro-life, anti-abortion battle for the rights of the foetus not so long ago. He even supported the government in its laws against street prostitution in the name of good, old-fashioned ‘public morals’. It is of little consolation that Susanna Camusso, the secretary of Cgil (the general Italian workers’ confederation) received a standing ovation of thousands of political protesters (for the most part) in her speech for the defence of feminine dignity. Only a month previously she had been abandoned even by the front bench of the mid-centre when she spoke in the defence of the Fiat Mirafiori workers. It was as if – predictably – women didn’t work either in that establishment. It’s all in the magic of the masses, little girl. Or in two-faced Italian politicians, devoid of all paradox or perceptible self-contradictions.
While the crowds come to blows in the fight for supporters, and the gossip of the political talk shows is whether Ruby was born in ’91 or ’92, right-wing columnists tell us that bunga bunga is not a crime. Leftists recall the evils of sleeping with minors and sending phonecalls to the police (which Berlusconi did for Ruby Robacuori aka ‘Ruby Heart Stealer’) to have the small-time Moroccan pickpocket released, passing her off as the former Egytian leader Mubarak’s granddaughter!
Italy is facing searching questions on the morally wrong and the morally right, on the liberty and self-determination of women and on the law and the role of the body in an advanced democracy. The public and political debate will necessarily have to transcend the question of how many centimetres of leg are showing on the advertising board. What if this conflict were not only a battle of the sexes? What if it were a poverty crisis, instead of being merely a matter of the way people dress? No, this isn’t the problem in question. The Italians that formed those masses still have their bread and even in some cases, their cake. However the people continue to be marginalised.