â€˜WE ARE NOT AT YOUR DISPOSAL, MISTER PRESIDENTâ€™
ROME, October 12 - Whether Italyâ€™s premier Silvio Berlusconi can be defined a
misogynist or simply a chauvinist is for psychiatrists to determine. What any layman can see is this:
His paternalistic, depreciative and sexist ways of handling women - whether as cabinet members,
escort girls or international celebrities - is rapidly turning into his Achilles heel.
More and more Italian women are becoming outraged not only at his escapades and dinners at the
official residence with escort girls but his appointment of women to high positions after alleged sex affairs with
them. He won no kudos after meeting Michelle Obama when with hand gestures he indicated how well she was
build and added: â€˜She is also suntanned.â€™ This came weeks after his wife, Veronica Lario, denounced
him for frequenting young girls and appealed to his associates: â€˜Please help my husband. He is sick.â€™
Soon afterwards the escort girl Patrizia Dâ€™Addario offered taped conversations with the premier
and detailed their tryst in bed.
Berlusconi, who auto-defines himself as Italyâ€™s greatest Prime Minister ever, may be
the idol of millions of breast-beating Italian male sexists who dream of a return to the good old days
when men went to the woman â€˜with the whip in their hand.â€™ But his treatment of women as
mere commodities for the comfort and enjoyment of men has rekindled the battling spirit of women
warriors who carried the torch of liberation three decades ago. (Among their past triumphs is the
right to abortion in an Italy which is also the homeland of Catholicism and the Vatican.)
The ladies who burned their bras and bared their breasts in symbolic protests in that bygone era
last weekend called for a debate in Romeâ€™s â€˜House of Womenâ€™ under the title: â€œSex and politics
in the post-patriarchate.â€™
Speakers explained that Berlusconi promotes a sexuality and male power which reduces women to
the simple physical objects for enjoyment. In the paid harem of a Berlusconi virility is an extension of the myth
of the boss. But today we are in the post patriarchate period because women like Berlusconiâ€™s wife and
some of the escorts had the courage to expose this system and by doing so to fracture it. The feminist
movement is no longer in the 1970s but the knowledge accumulated in that era has given those women the
courage and desire to expose this sexual favor-for-promotion scheme.
The little soirÃ©e at the House of Women turned into an unexpectedly crowded affair only days
after a womenâ€™s petition against violation of womenâ€™s rights gained 70,000 signatures almost overnight
and a few days after Berlusconi insulted Rosy Bindi, a venerable member of parliament and womenâ€™s libber
in the 1970s with the quip â€˜she is more beautiful then intelligent.â€™ To this the lady promptly replied: â€˜I
am not at your disposal, Mr President.â€™ Her reply printed on T-shirts has since sold like hot buns.
The anger of Italian women has been slow in coming in a nation where Berlusconiâ€™s media
empire has created the image of women as scantily dressed and not very bright showgirls who are treated like
decorations and objects of jests by show masters. In the premierâ€™s Italy the virus of sexual exploitation and
boorish behavior has percolated, virus-like, from the top of government into the population after nearly two
decades of being exposed to Berlusconi â€˜culture.â€™ This culture exists on lies, blatant distortions of facts
and false promises like stopping immigration from Africa, easing tax and construction regulations, claiming
achievements that are invented or other peopleâ€™s work, creating public works that resemble money-
Berlusconi constantly boasts almost daily 70 per cent of Italians favor him when in fact he
received only 28.5 per cent of the vote and governs on a rightwing coalition with the neo-fascists
and the xenophobic Northern League who embrace his doctrines and his culture wholeheartedly.
Opinion polls he quotes are gathered by his own media.
Last week the Italian constitutional court lifted the premierâ€™s immunity from prosecution, a law his
coalition had voted into power to prevent Berlusconi from facing trials for bribery, tax evasion, corruption and
subversion of the press.
The court, like the judiciary, is the only institution left to impose chains on Berlusconiâ€™s
megalomania. It ruled immunity violated the constitutional clause that â€˜all citizens are equal before the law.â
€™ Furious but undeterred Berlusconi now wants to reform a large part of the Italian justice system, if
necessary by referendum.
But the main obstacle to his dream to rule longer then Mussolini may be the women he treats so
condescendingly but who constitute half the nationâ€™s votes that he needs to perpetuate his tyranny â€“