Ariel Levy's article on Berlusconi in the New Yorker is a must read. She starts off giving the particulars of Berlusconi's excesses, including his habit of putting his former girlfriends in positions of power. But then she explains that Berlusconi's behavior has been excused for so long, because women are still second class citizens in Italy.
Ninety-five per cent of Italian men have never operated a washing machine. Until 1981, a “crime of honor”—killing your wife for being unfaithful or your sister for having premarital sex—could be treated as a lesser offense than other murders; as late as 2007, a man in Palermo was sentenced to just two days in jail for murdering his wife after their children testified that she had been disrespectful to him. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2010 Global Gender Gap Report, Italy ranks seventy-fourth in women’s rights, between the Dominican Republic and Gambia. Women constitute a smaller percentage of the workforce in Italy than in any other country in the European Union, apart from Malta, and those who work make barely half as much as their male counterparts. Emma Bonino, a Radical Party leader, told me, “When I was Minister of European Affairs, in 2007, I had to prepare a report on the status of women in Italy. The data came in, and I remember that I rejected it twice, saying to my staff, ‘That’s impossible: it cannot be so bad.’ ”
There is growing dissatisfaction with the status of women in Italy. In 2009, in response to rising sexual-assault statistics, Berlusconi said, “We don’t have enough soldiers to stop rape because our women are so beautiful.” Several months later, fifteen thousand people signed a petition to the wives of G8 leaders, asking them to urge their husbands to show support for Italian women by boycotting a summit with Berlusconi.
Americans have long been mocked for being puritanical next to the open-minded European. After this spring of scandal, the Puritans are looking damn good.