Gender equality is not exactly part of the Italian national debate. Each year hundreds of women are fired or not hired from jobs for being pregnant, for being of child-bearing age or for simply being too old or unattractive. Many companies require applicants to send along a photo with a resume, especially if the job may involve serving the public. Domestic violence is a national pastime, and femicide - the act of murdering a wife or girlfriend - is an epidemic in the country. An average of 171 women have been killed each year by men who once loved them since 2000.
None of these factors played a role in why Amanda Knox was again convicted of the murder of Meredith Kercher in a Florentine appellate court on January 30. She was found guilty because there was credible evidence that linked her to the murder, according to Italy's appellate court.
But the mentality of mascilismo or machismo that keeps these outdated practices relevant in Italy may well have contributed to her conviction in the court of public opinion. In the days after her arrest, fresh-faced Knox, just 21 when she was arrested for Kercher's murder, was assassinated for her looks and blatant confidence in the Italian press. She was a sexually confident woman who kept condoms in her beauty case, but rather than being applauded for safe sex (God knows no Italian man carries a condom), she was painted as a whore. She didn't wear make-up because she didn't need it, but her natural beauty was a source of resentment in a society where an over-abundance of beauty centers around every corner makes a quick root job or botox top-up as common as grabbing a takeout coffee.
Knox was, and is still, terribly out of context in Italy. Young Italian women are not allowed to be as confident as she was. Few 21-year-old Italian women would have the moxie to move abroad to study without the backing of a rich uncle or a trust fund. During closing arguments in all three of her criminal trials, one of the lawyers who supported the prosecution theory called her a "she-devil" and described her in a court of law as a woman with "impure thoughts" who was "dirty on the outside because she was dirty on the inside." Three different judicial panels heard this argument. None of them ever complained about the blatant sexism. Two of them convicted her of murder.
Understanding Italy means understanding that the society as a whole often seems to have missed the whole point of the feminist movement. Only 45 percent of Italian women work outside the home, and those who don't often don't by choice. The country continues to score miserably on the United Nation's Gender Gap annual report, often coming in behind developing nations in categories like the number of women managers and basic equal opportunities in wages and benefits.
Silvio Berlusconi was the first prime minister to promote women into top jobs, but he chose them for their charm, not their substance. Nothing says that more than the fact that his equal opportunity minister Mara Carfagna was a former topless model whose outdated autographed calendars hung in the men's' rooms in the halls of Italian parliament when she served. She was his shining example of a woman in a position of power. Never mind his not-so-subtle sexual harassment towards her - proposing to her in public and often cupping her cheek after parliamentary votes as if she were a toy doll. She did little for equality in the workplace or at home, or in the minds of everyday Italians.
Knox was the prime example of a woman who was criticized for the same uniqueness that would be seen as an attribute in her home country. There is it a sign of independence and power. Here it was a foreign threat. It would be too easy to say that Knox was found guilty on Thursday night for her looks. But her looks didn't help her.