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Italian women protest Berlusconi's sexist quips

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's frequent demeaning comments to women stirs a protest as Italy's gender equality rating falls.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / October 28, 2009

A woman reads an article about the "Women offended by the premier" appeal in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in Rome October 22. Silvio Berlusconi's cutting remark about a female rival's lack of beauty has stirred a rare public backlash from thousands of Italian women who had largely kept silent about the prime minister's womanising and sex scandals.

Alessia Pierdomenico / Reuters

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Rome

Silvio Berlusconi often declares that he is passionate about the opposite sex, but for many Italian women the feeling is very far from being reciprocated.

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A petition against the Italian prime minister's chauvinistic quips and saloon bar repartee has attracted more than 100,000 signatures and thousands of captioned self-portraits.

The grass-roots rebellion was prompted by an insult thrown by Mr. Berlusconi recently at a female political opponent.

During a national television debate about a pair of corruption trials he is facing the 73-year-old premier found himself in an argument with a matronly, bespectacled opposition member of parliament, Rosy Bindi.

Angry and frustrated with the direction the debate was heading, he lashed out and told her she's "prettier than she is intelligent" – implying that she was neither.

Ms. Bindi tartly replied that she was not a woman at the prime minister's "disposal" – a dig at his penchant for elevating into politics a string of beautiful women, including a former model, Mara Carfagna, who is now his Minister for Equal Opportunity.

Berlusconi's remark provoked indignation and anger among many Italian women, who objected to him muddying a political discussion with personal insults.

The online petition is hosted at the website of the centre-left La Repubblica newspaper, with many posting photographs of themselves bearing indignant messages.

Some of the photos were superimposed with the words: "We are not your concubines," while others read: "I am not a woman at your disposal."

A self-portrait of a bare-shouldered young woman in a straw beach hat, with a cigar in her mouth, was simply captioned: "Unavailable."

Not a woman's world

Berlusconi is an expression of the fact that when it comes to equal treatment for men and women, Italy lags far behind the rest of its European peers.

This week Italy slipped three places to 72nd in the World Economic Forum's annual Gender Gap Report, putting it behind countries like Kazakhstan, Moldova, Paraguay, and Jamaica. Germany was 12th, Spain was 17th and France was 18th.

A prominent member of the upper house of parliament, Patrizia Bugnano, said: "Someone tell Berlusconi he's no George Clooney. It's offensive that he always refers to women in aesthetic terms."

Berlusconi claimed recently that he is popular among Italians because he loves what they love: football, having fun, and "above all else" beautiful women.

But he has caused offense with his numerous off-color remarks, often laced with old-fashioned sexism.

In January, he sparked outrage by saying that although he was considering deploying 30,000 troops to Italy's cities to combat crime, there would never be enough soldiers to protect the country's many "beautiful girls" from rape.

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