"La Signora" is not amused

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is once again taking heat for outrageous sexism -- this time from his wife.

By Kate Harding
Published May 1, 2009 5:48PM (EDT)

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's sexist statements and actions frequently come under fire from esteemed feminist writers, but it's a somewhat rarer treat to see his own wife, Veronica Lario, let him have it. Two years ago, after Berlusconi stated that if he were single, he'd marry model-turned-politician Mara Carfagna, Lario placed a letter in an Italian newspaper demanding a public apology. (She got it.) This week, responding to what Time describes as "her husband's plans to put politically inexperienced, easy-on-the-eyes young women on the ballot for the European Parliament elections in June," Lario wrote a scathing e-mail to the ANSA news service. "Somebody has written that this is all for the entertainment of the emperor. I agree. [It] is shameless trash, all in the name of power," she wrote, adding that she and her grown children "are victims and not accomplices in this situation. We must bear it, and it causes us to suffer."

So far, Berlusconi not only hasn't apologized but has pretty much flipped Lario the bird in the press. "[H]e told reporters on Wednesday that 'La Signora' -- a distant and formal designation for his wife of 23 years -- had been manipulated by his enemies in the left-leaning media. Later in the day, he insisted that he would put the so-called showgirls, or young women, on his electoral list and personally accompany them on the campaign trail." By Thursday, though, all but one of the eye-candy candidates were off the list, leading Italian media to declare, "Veronica wins."

I'm not sure you can consider any outcome that involves still being married to Silvio Berlusconi a "win" -- and realistically, the whole kerfuffle only focuses more attention on the prime minister, which he clearly sees as a win. (ABC News quotes actor and director Roberto Benigni as saying of Berlusconi, "He wants to be the star. There is a meeting, he talks. He goes to a wedding, he wants to be the bridegroom. He goes to a funeral, he wants to be the deceased.") But still, living in a country that does not take kindly to independent-minded first ladies, I find it a bit thrilling to see Lario publicly condemn her husband's outrageous antics. "The impudence and shamelessness of power offends the credibility of all (women), damages women in general and especially those who have always struggled to defend their rights," she wrote in her statement to ANSA. If Berlusconi's going to be in the spotlight anyway, I like it better on her terms.

UPDATE: Veronica Lario has filed for a divorce from Silvio Berlusconi, "citing his reported flirtations with younger women."

Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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