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Party Time For Giorgia? We Don’t Need More Women Leaders Like These

Party Time For Giorgia? We Don’t Need More Women Leaders Like These

Published Sep 20, 2022 Updated Sep 20, 2022
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Party Time For Giorgia? We Don’t Need More Women Leaders Like These

This autumn’s electoral campaign in Italy is a disturbing trip down memory lane.

Silvio Berlusconi, who turns 86 at the end of the month, is now busy addressing his potential new voters on TikTok. Meanwhile, the Cadorna train station in Milan is full of video walls flashing his latest sloganScelta di campo (“choice of field”) — echoing the infamous soccer-inspired Scendere in campo (“take the field”) phrase that announced his political debut in 1994.

"Now I turn to those over 18. To ask you what? To introduce me to your girlfriend? Not at all! To ask you to vote for me,” says the octogenarian in one of his TikToks. With such off-putting stabs at humor, you wouldn’t think that his political career almost ended with a 2013 conviction for having sex with an underage prostitute while prime minister, though the sentence was eventually overturned.

His eternally sexist vision of women is far from limited to the realm of his personal life or inappropriate jokes. In a campaign ad, a politician from Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party stands in a tie and suit between two women doing housework, 1950s-style. "We will give a salary and a pension to our wives and our mothers,” says the politician.

Then there are the slogans that bring us all the way back to 1922, when Benito Mussolini became prime minister of Italy after a coup. To add to the whiplash and sense of disorientation, they are uttered by a woman.

Giorgia Meloni, whose  is the frontrunner in the Sept. 25 elections, has often referred to Dio, Patria, Famiglia (“God, Homeland, Family”), which turned into of the leading mottos during the Fascist regime. Meloni calls it "the most beautiful manifesto of love” and refuses to recognize it as a Fascist motto, even though her own party chose the tricolor flame as party emblem, a clear reference to the Fascist party.

If polls are right, Meloni is on her way to becoming Italy’s first female prime minister — something she has claimed would amount to “breaking a glass ceiling".

But while having a woman in power sounds like a great step forward for Italy’s misogynist, backward policies, it is unlikely that Meloni would do anything to empower women, beyond herself.

She has shown it over and over again, with her stance against abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, where she even called on the children’s cartoon Peppa Pig to be censored after an episode featured a character who had two mothers.

To be fair, Italy's right-wing parties have had a good representation of women. In 2008, Meloni became Italy's youngest ever cabinet minister, at age 31, when Berlusconi appointed her to the Youth and Sport portfolio.

But that should not fool us: Authoritarian leaders use the appointment of women to legitimize their delimitation of women’s rights, as Harvard researchers Erica Chenoweth and Zoe Marks explain in their article "Revenge of the Patriarchs — Why Autocrats Fear Women".

This was true for Berlusconi and his sexist attitude towards women, as it was true for Donald Trump, and for Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, a true misogynist who uses his wife to lie about his track record vis-a-vis women and try to smooth out things with women voters.

Do we need more women leaders? We surely do. Will any woman do? Surely not.

Liz Truss, the newly appointed British prime minister, is the third woman in charge of British politics after Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May. But their presence, as that of iconic Queen Elizabeth, has not turned the United Kingdom into a fairer country for women. On the contrary, a study by the New Education Union shows how British women are more likely than men to experience persistent poverty.

When Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin was attacked after a video of her partying with friends surfaced on social media, neither Truss nor Meloni showed any solidarity. Meloni’s party, it should be noted, is named “Brothers of Italy.” Berlusconi’s puts up campaign posters to celebrate our ironing skills. Sisters, I’m joining the party in Helsinki!

 Irene Caselli

[Photo: ANSA/ZUMA]

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