Sexist Italian Pols Fail to Intimidate Pregnant Candidate

Italian women are outraged after prominent male politicians—including Berlusconi—say a pregnant woman shouldn’t campaign to be mayor of Rome.

03.16.16 5:36 PM ET

ROME — Guess the year and the country in which this happened: A prominent male politician announces that a pregnant woman cannot run for public office because she should concentrate on breastfeeding her baby instead of bothering herself with complicated matters. If you assume this is some sort of Victorian era trivial pursuit question, think again. The comment was made this week in Italy.

And worse, if that’s possible, is the fact that the sentiment was shared publicly by not one, but two male politicians. The first to voice the sexist comment was Guido Bertolaso, a former head of Italy’s civil protection agency and now a candidate for mayor of Rome. He made the comments when Giorgia Meloni, who is three months pregnant, announced her own candidacy for the job. Bertolaso said that Meloni, 39, should not challenge him for the mayoral job, but instead, “she must do the job of being a mom.”

“It seems to me to be the most beautiful thing that can happen to a woman,” he said on La7 television over the weekend. “She has to handle this chapter of her life. I don't see why someone should force her to do a ferocious election campaign and take care of potholes and dirtiness while she is breast feeding.”

Bertolaso’s candidacy is supported by Silvio Berlusconi, who, not surprisingly perhaps, was the second politician to publicly share the archaic sentiment. “Being mayor means being in your office 14 hours a day,” said Berlusconi, whose milestones include his bunga-bunga orgiastic parties and being tried for abetting underage prostitution. “It’s clear to everybody that a mother can’t do that job,” he told Radio Ancio’io radio station.

The comments angered women in Italy, many of whom posted photos of their pregnant bellies on social media. A small flash mob of pregnant politicians also gathered outside Rome’s senate hall to show support for Meloni, whether they agreed with her politics or not. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who famously appointed his first health minister, Beatrice Lorenzin, when she was nine months pregnant with twins, told reporters that while he preferred his own party’s candidate for mayor, he did not see any reason why Meloni shouldn’t run.

The latest scandal follows a disturbing trend in Italy that seems in stark contrast to the rest of the modern world, in which Hillary Clinton is running for the American presidency and Angela Merkel is easily the most powerful woman in Europe.

Instead, Italy is clearly stuck in a male-dominated time warp that only seems to get worse. Renzi’s government has the highest percentage of women in his cabinet in the history of Italian politics, but it is still shy of 35 percent. And the latest United Nations Gender Gap survey showed that Italy’s gender wage disparity is actually getting worse, not better, with women earning 7.3 percent less than their male counterparts for jobs in all sectors.

Blatant sexism, which was once seen as a byproduct of the Berlusconi era, is apparently still alive and well. Last week, Patrizia Bedori, a mayoral candidate in Milan, actually shuttered up her campaign after being ridiculed for her looks and being criticized as “ugly, obese,” and a “housewife” who should stay home.

Maria Elena Boschi, Italy’s reform minister, who is often the subject of intense sexual innuendo despite her considerable portfolio, tweeted, “When will a male candidate be asked to step aside because he’s not telegenic? Or because he should just be a father? My solidarity goes to Bedori and Meloni.”

Meloni, who was Italy’s youngest ever parliamentary member and Youth Minister under Berlusconi’s fourth and final government, announced Wednesday that she is going ahead with her candidacy under her own Brothers of Italy nationalist party.

“I have decided to run for the office of mayor of Rome,” she said at an open-air press conference in the capital. “I think a woman should choose freely. No man can tell a woman what to do or not do—that’s why I chose to enter the race even though I’m pregnant. Rome is symbolized by a she-wolf suckling twins."

“I hope to be an excellent mother like all the other women, who, among a thousand challenges, manage to combine work and motherhood.”