Silvio Berlusconi has proved himself a master of putting beautiful women at the center of everything: human relationships, politics, television. While a professed lover of women (many hundreds–thousands?–of times over), he accepts quite a bit of glory for “manly exploits” without taking responsibility for questionably legal actions inappropriate to a head of state.
While denouncing his illegal and/or distasteful acts, many media outlets choose to continue publishing racy pictures of the women he has been involved with: provocatively posed, scantily clad, etc. Berlusconi does get the verbal abuse for being a scoundrel, the general opinion being that he should have known better as the prime minister of a Western European country. But the women are blamed viciously for their participation, apparently not expected to have known better; they are accused of having sex with power, driven by greed for money, jewelry, and a luxurious lifestyle.
The women Berlusconi elected to office in the Italian government are subject to the worst treatment. In their recent article for Vanity Fair, “La Dolce Viagra,” Evgenia Peretz and Federico Rampini exemplify this vilification of topless-models-turned-government-ministers:
If anyone knows a thing or two about what’s good for women it’s she. Like [Nicole] Minetti, [Mara Carfagna] was a velina on one of Berlusconi’s T.V. programs, as well as a topless model, before he decided she had just what it took to help run the country. All she needed was a shorter haircut and a smart pantsuit.
Women like Mara Carfagna, the former Minister for Equal Opportunity in the Berlusconi IV Cabinet, are reduced to breasts, hairstyles, and clothes in this article.
Peretz and Rampini chose not to include the law degree Carfagna earned from the University of Salerno in 2001. I don’t know Italian academic culture well enough to know if this is a respected school (whatever that’s worth), and the authors may not consider her degree to be relevant to the ministerial position, but that they chose to leave out any education and focus on the more exploitable parts of her career is tabloid journalism.
However, the observation of her shorter haircut and change of dress is interesting. The distilled jab at her appearance was intended to expose the superficial nature of these aesthetic “signs” of political culture, that a woman who is willing to show her breasts will always–and only–be a woman who is willing to show her breasts. They use this trope of a very sexy wolf in sheep’s clothing as evidence of Berlusconi’s continued abuses of power, and to indict his inept attempts at putting one over on the Italian public: slap a pantsuit on anyone, and she can be the next Minister of Second Chances.
Peretz and Rampini are equally biting about Nicole Minetti, who they refer to snarkily as, “a 26-year-old super-babe currently charged with procuring prostitutes for the prime minister.” Her work as a dental hygienist (in training) is mentioned in passing, but her role as a velina on one of Berlusconi’s TV shows is emphasized:
…a job that required her to wear a micro-mini Catholic-schoolgirl outfit and flash her butt in front of the camera. She had civil servant written all over her [sic].
What would the blowback be like if she were “only” a dental hygienist (in training) who became a civil servant? Would we have known what she wore? Would it have been at issue?
Now, I’m certain that not all of the women Berlusconi appointed to well-paid and ostensibly powerful positions–sometimes insultingly referred to as “girls”–are qualified for those jobs. And even those with law degrees almost definitely got there because of unseemly connections with the prime minister, probably at the expense of a more qualified potential applicants. But when we reduce these women to their alluring body parts, condemning their more provocative clothing choices and ridiculing their conservative occupational outfits, we perpetuate an insidious, acute sexism that hurts all women. Who says a topless model can’t become a Minister? In America, we’ve elected bodybuilders, pro wrestlers, actors…but maybe the key word there is “elected.”
I don’t mean to pick on Peretz and Rampini, but I think this article is a study in how sloppy writing on the internet can be–even associated with a well-respected magazine like Vanity Fair. These women are easy targets, and the authors’ snide remarks sound like childish high-school gossip attempting to cut down the pretty, popular girls. While the comparison is far too generous to Berlusconi’s Cabinet, this kind of petty snark echoes the “discussion” about Hillary Clinton’s choice of clothing as a politician.
All kinds of so-called “opinions” have been voiced for years about her sexuality, her attractiveness, the role of sexiness in politics, the role of women in politics–all because of “a shorter haircut and a smart pantsuit.” These markers of masculine power, when used by a female, are seen by some as aggressive, scary, ugly, false. The issue is complicated, and has been “debated” to death (we can only hope), and I won’t rehash the arguments further. But what politicians (elected or no) wear has proven to be of great interest and import to commentators, journalists, and their readers.
What is the importance of clothing in judicial matters? Is it evidence of a lifestyle, a class, morality (or lack of it) that could affect the popular opinion of a case? Why do we get so worked up about strangers wearing clothing we deem inappropriate, whether in a social sense or in how it fits with their perceived personalities? Why do we feel entitled to an opinion about others’ choices? Consider the “who wore it best?” and “10 worst–and best!–beach bodies” in gossip magazines with readership in the millions. Is it important, or even relevant, to be interested in what our politicians wear, especially those who happen to be female?
I don’t read Italian, and I’d love to hear from those of you who do: where does clothing fit in to Italian reporting about this case? How does what these women wear compare to female Italian politicians with more “traditional” backgrounds and training?
Let us know what you think below!