One Year Later

No Berlusconi Bump for Italian Women?

It’s been a year without sexist Silvio Berlusconi in office, but the situation for the nation’s women still isn’t better. Barbie Latza Nadeau reports.

It has been one year since media magnate and incurable womanizer Silvio Berlusconi resigned his job as Italian prime minister in a disgraceful display of collective national embarrassment. On November 12, 2011, Berlusconi tendered his resignation at a late night meeting with Italian president Giorgio Napolitano and, as his motorcade left the presidential palace, thousands of Italians who had gathered for the momentous occasion threw coins and spat on his car as an orchestral chorus sang “Hallelujah.” His departure marked the end of a T & A era in which salacious stories of his orgiastic parties were far more prevalent than press about policy.

Many believed that with Berlusconi’s departure, there would be a new dawn for the country—especially women. But one year later, Italian women are actually faring far worse than they were when il Cavaliere resigned—at least according to the 2012 World Economic Gender Gap report, which ranks women in 135 countries according to workforce equality, wage parity, health, and education. According to the report, Italian women slipped six slots from 74th to 80th on the overall scale, behind countries including Moldova, Ghana, and Peru. In some areas, Italian women did far worse—ranking 101st in employment and economic opportunity. In educational attainment, Italian women are 65th, but 20 countries including Botswana, Barbados and the Bahamas tied with the United States, France and Norway for the first place ranking.

To be fair, Berlusconi’s replacement Mario Monti, who was assigned the job as prime minister by Napolitano last November, has focused his attention on saving the economy from the abyss and has not made gender equality a priority. There is no question that Italy’s reputation has improved immensely since his mandate began, and there is an obvious difference in the way women are portrayed in the media, especially thanks to his appointment of Anna Maria Tarantola, as the head of state-run RAI television who has made it her mission to ‘de-vamp’ state programming. There are already far fewer sequins during prime time thanks to her promise to replace banal programming with options for the thinking class.

Also to his credit, Monti has put women in powerful positions in his government, even though the Global Gender Gap statistics slightly skew the reality on the ground. In the 2012 report, Italy plunged from 46th to 70th place in the category of government participation, which takes into account the number of women in decision making positions in government. The number of Italian women in ministerial positions in Italy may have dropped from 22 to 17 since Berlusconi left office, but it can be easily argued that though fewer, the women in government now are far more qualified for the job than during Berlusconi’s era. Berlusconi famously promoted women like former topless calendar model Mara Carfagna, who held the position of his equal opportunity minister, and who the playboy famously once said he’d marry if he wasn’t already betrothed. Those women have been replaced by women like Elsa Fornero, a Thatcher-esque leader who was an economics professor before taking the equal opportunity and gender equality portfolio under Monti. She has spoken openly about the over-sexualization of women on Italian television and how it “offends” her to the point that she no longer watches most Italian programming. She has called for reeducating the nation’s youth to help change stereotypes that continue to reflect Italian women as subordinates to their male counterparts.

Documentarian Lorella Zanardo, whose cult video and book Corpo della Donna, or A Woman’s Body, has made an enormous impact in exposing societal sexism in Italy agrees that improvement must come from the next generation. But she believes that the end of the Berlusconi political era will have little impact on the society as long as he still controls so much of the media. “Sexist television worsens the situation,” she told The Daily Beast. “Ourtelevision has never had an educational objective and therefore deeply sexist imagesthat still give to men the idea that women are objects continue to de humanize us.” And that will take more than a year without Berluconi in office to recover from.