I live in Italy for about a year now. Being a Greek, I thought it would be relatively easy to adapt to local attitudes and culture. But, it seems that my personality, ideas and beliefs, as well as, the fact that I have lived in a north country (UK), where certain behaviours are considered to be suggestive and offensive indeed, made things not so easy, after all. After almost a year, I still find it quite difficult to fit in, to get used and to understand certain things.
One of them is the fanciness and the sympathy that the majority of Italians show towards Silvio Berlusconi. Italy’s Premier Silvio Berlusconi has made headlines around the world, lately. The reason? It is widely known that he is extremely fond to younger women. Few weeks ago, he proposed as candidates for European elections, a number of “show girls”, as his wife, who she is threatening to divorce him, called them.
In other countries this “unceasingly conduct”, with very young women, especially, from a Prime-minister, would have caused shock waves. But, not in Italy! Here, things are different. Newspapers in Italy show that his popularity among the Italian voters has been rocketed, despite the fact that his behaviour has been criticised – mildly though- by the Vatican.
How does his popularity remain intact among the majority of Italians, and especially among the Italian women? I think Berlusconi uses this flirtatious behaviour and the incidents with young women to build up his image as a charmer, an image that may have an effect in many Italians. He also manages very cleverly indeed, to turn everything around him into a joke. Ok! He may have this “foible” toward younger women, he may have and some other… flaws as well, but who hasn’t, after all. He is one of us, one of the people we meet everyday on the street, going to work, he behaves accordingly. He does not belong to this, untouchable, political elite that stands above and away from you and your problems. The only explanation that it comes to me is that a big part of women in Italy are still under the spell of wealth and power he represents. Berlusconi is immensely wealthy; indeed there are several jokes in Italy of Berlusconi, meeting a beautiful woman and ask her to accompany him in a store and buy whatever she wants. That image of sexiness and wealth, of male arrogance, a man that can be smooth and rough the same time, maybe still sends waves of desire and attracts many women.
It is also significant that he controls the majority of the media in Italy. He uses them in a way that he builds further his image as a populist and charming leader. And, his image is everywhere, from the serious newspapers like the “Republica”, to the wide circulated weekly gossip magazine “Chi”, and always in a sympathetic and charming way.
But, what is the big mystery to me, is how such a short, not good looking man, in his seventies, with such offensive behaviour and close relationships with the far right, has managed to have such a popularity among the women. I find this attitude and behaviour tasteless, stupid and deeply offensive but here it is, the Italian women seem to have a different opinion.
All these, made me wonder about the feminist movement in Italy. Where are, and how feminists reacts to this behaviour by their Primeminister? Italy used to have a strong feminist movement, but in the last 10 years or so, things have not been very well. There is some feminist opposition, but these women are struggling to find some space in the media to express their thoughts and opinion.The worst enemy of the feminists, though, is this lightness that exists everywhere in Italy today. It is very common, if a woman tries to express a more serious speech, to be accused of snobbyness, or even that she talks that way because she lacks beauty and grace.
It is not easy to be a woman in the land of Berlusconi.