Thousands of Italian Women Protest Silvio Berlusconi

The Italian prime minister is charged with paying an underage girl for sex

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Women across Italy rallied against the sex scandals of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi Sunday, saying his alleged affairs had brought shame on the country. Recently leaked wiretaps have revealed Berlusconi likes bondage, sex parties, and having a fleet of 14 hotties who sit around in a Milan compound waiting for him. Last week, prosecutors filed a request to try Berlusconi for buying the sexual services of 17-year-old dancer named Ruby; the billionaire politician says he's the victim of an attempted "coup by moralists."

The women protesting in more than 200 Italian cities say they have felt disrespected as a result of the embarrassing sexism on Italian TV (Berlusconi owns 90 percent of channels). But aside from the cleavage close-ups, The Daily Beast's Barbie Latza Nadeau reports, there are also other, less cosmetic cconcerns. Italy woman are far behind their peers in much of Europe in terms of equality--Italy ranks 74th in its treatment of women, according to The World Economic Forum, behind Peru and Vietnam. And it's 121st in pay equity. Latza Nadeau continues:

Just 45 percent of Italian women work outside the home, compared with 80 percent of women in Norway and 72 percent in the United Kingdom. When they do work, they earn on average 20 percent less than men in the same positions, and only seven percent of the top corporate managers in Italy are women. A recent survey showed that 90 percent of Italian men have never run a washing machine and 70 percent have never used a stove. Private day care is virtually nonexistent, and state-subsidized nursery schools only begin at the age of 3. Grandparents are considered the primary caregivers, meaning women with adult children can't work because they need to babysit the grandchildren.

Despite the scandals, the angry women, and the splitting of his political coalition, Berlusconi has managed to hold onto power. Why? The Guardian's Alexander Chancellor says it's because he's a master salesman. "When he was building his media empire," Chancellor says, he demanded his sales team have "the sun in their pockets"--they had to be sunny, smiling, non-smoking, mustache-free. The rules made Berlusconi billions. And now, despite the bad headlines, "Berlusconi still has the sun in his pocket. Addressing political rallies, he always looks hopeful, confident, and in charge. ... He may have fallen from grace among many women and Catholics, but most men, apart from those of the left, seem still to like him well enough. In Britain he would probably be resented for his wealth alone, but in Italy it works in his favour."

That tracks with the reporting of Rachel Donadio and Elisabetta Povodelo at The New York Times. They talked to Ginevra Coppotelli, a homemaker from Rome, who said she was angry Berlusconi had insulted women and given his mistresses political jobs. But her husband, Benedetto Bruno, admitted, "People vote for him because he personifies defects that Italians have in their DNA ... When you hear about what he does, 80 percent of men think, 'I wish I were in his place.'"

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