Wine, Women, & Santa Costumes Have Italian Leader In Loads Of Trouble

As more allegations surface of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's wild bacchanals and trysts with prostitutes, some women are organizing a boycott of the upcoming G8 summit in Italy. One writer, oddly, uses the scandal to explore Italy's underlying feminism.

Berlusconi's wife Veronica Lario filed for divorce in April, accusing him of "frequenting underage females." One of the females he allegedly frequented was 18-year-old Noemi Letizia — he gave her a diamond necklace at her birthday party. Now he is also accused of allowing a local businessman to pay for women to attend lavish parties at Berlusconi's country estate. One guest at these parties was Patrizia D'Addario, who said she was paid thousands of dollars to attend, and who, fishily, Berlusconi's party backed as a candidate in local elections. D'Addario's friend Barbara Montereale says D'Addario is a prostitute who was paid to sleep with Berlusconi. Montereale says she also attended another party of Berlusconi's, in which several young Eastern European women dressed up as Santa Claus.

In response to these allegations, and to separate concerns that he habitually helped unqualified women establish political careers, three female social scientists have asked the first ladies of the G8 nations to boycott an upcoming summit in Italy. They write, "We are profoundly indignant, as women employed in the world of universities and culture, at the way in which the Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi treats women both in public and in private." They also say his "sexist speeches [...] systematically undermine the female presence on the social and institutional scene" and his behavior "gravely undermines the dignity of women on a moral, civil and cultural level."

Sarah Vine, writing for the Times of London, takes a slightly different view. She uses Berlusconi's scandals as opportunity to examine what she views as Italy's quiet feminism. She argues that rather than applauding Berlusconi, many Italians think of him as a fool (though others see Lario as the fool), and some suspect he is impotent. She also says that while men may appear to be favored in Italian society, women actually have a lot of power:

Unlike Britain, which traditionally was a genuinely patriarchal society, Italy has always been far more comfortable with the idea of the strong female. Not necessarily in public, of course - but in private, boy, does she exist. In small family firms it will often be the mothers and daughters who take the big decisions while the sons drive the fast cars and swagger around in sharp suits. [...]

Think of these women, if you will, as lionesses: fiercely protective, eminently capable, terrifying when provoked but, for some ancient reason, quite happy to let their feckless males lie around in the sun all day long, flicking their tails at the occasional passing antelope and generally looking magnificent.

The women-wielding-private-power argument has been made in other circumstances, though, and private power never seems quite as much fun as it's cracked up to be. Don't Italian women want to be the lion from time to time?

Whatever the case, Vine writes that Berlusconi is in trouble because, "there is one thing that Italians cannot abide. Already all the Italian newspapers are talking about it, and it will become increasingly inescapable as the G8 summit in L'Aquila approaches next month: humiliation in the foreign media." Time's Jeff Israely is more measured in his predictions. He writes, "in Italy, the only thing more difficult than trying to imagine how [Berlusconi] can avoid disappearing, is imagining what public life would be without him."

Berlusconi's Italy Shows A Strange Type Of Feminism [TimesOnline]
Silvio Berlusconi's Parties: Italian Prosecutors To Question 30 Women [Telegraph]
Academic Women Fight Back Against 'Sexist' Silvio Berlusconi [Times Online]
Berlusconi In Crisis After Allegation He Slept With 'Escort' [Time]
Veronica Lario, Accidental Feminist [Salon]