Berlusconi: offensive or hilarious?
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A dispute has broken out in Italy after Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said the women there are "so beautiful" that the country doesn't have enough soldiers to prevent them from being raped. Offensive or funny? Our Observers in Italy comment on the most recent blunder from the king of gaffes. Read more and see the video...
A dispute has broken out in Italy after Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said the women there are "so beautiful" that the country doesn't have enough soldiers to prevent them from being raped. Offensive or funny? Our Observers in Italy comment on the most recent blunder from the king of gaffes.
The comment in question was made on Sunday, when Berlusconi announced that 30,000 troops would be deployed on the streets after a rise in sex crimes, including several brutal rapes in Rome. The idea has received mixed reactions: the 3,000 soldiers placed on the streets since August have failed to cut crime, and critics say Berlusconi is creating a police state. But what has really riled the public is the PM's joke, which opposition lawmaker Giovanna Melandri called "profoundly offensive". It's not the first time Berlusconi has been criticised for sexism. And it's not only he who's guilty. In response to his comments, granddaughter of fascist dictator Alessandra Mussolini said: "The fact is we need so many soldiers because there are so many ugly men".
Flickr users react
"Did you see that ugly girl? She's so lucky - she can walk in the street without an escort!"
Flickr user Livio Bonino drew this cartoon in response to Berlusconi's comment.
"His offensive statements hardly reflect the Italian population’s opinion"
Cynthia Martens is a public relations professional, freelance writer and translator living in Milan.
Berlusconi routinely makes statements that Italians find mortifying, and his offensive statements hardly reflect the Italian population's opinion. However, Berlusconi's most recent remark, even taken as a simple joke, is just not funny. It is in fact profoundly offensive because of its main assumptions: that women are raped because they are beautiful; that only (young) women are raped; that a rapist is pursuing sexual gratification; that when faced with a very pretty girl, men cannot help but rape her.
These assumptions are simply wrong: men, women and children of all ages, whether they are attractive or not, are raped. The purpose of rape is not sexual gratification, but the expression of power. Further, the assumption that men are incapable of restraining themselves, and controlling their desires, is offensive. Most men are not rapists.
I would add that Berlusconi demonstrates faulty logic when he asserts that there isn't much we can do, since there will always be rapists. There have always been rapists, just as there have always been murderers and thieves. This does not mean that they are free to act as they please, or that the law protects them."
"My reaction was one of laughter… I don’t give any importance to the occasional joke"
Caterina Carosi is a senate collaborator for the People of Liberty Party (Berlusconi's ruling party). She works on human rights issues.
This is a highly superficial event designed to discriminate against the government. Rather than comment on the joke itself, I would point to the demystification carried out by the media and opposition. The main problem is the way the media select the topics they wish to talk about. They insist on the playful character of certain statements, and end up ignoring all the talk about real policies. Berlusconi said a lot about what the government would do to tackle the problem, but journalists preferred to talk about the joke.
Other countries are probably more careful about political correctness. I don't wish to criticise their choice, but they should understand that our approach to politics is sometimes different. Hence when they talk about the joke, they shouldn't forget to discuss the policies put forward as well.
My reaction was one of laughter, though it is probably conditioned by the environment I work in. Here in parliament we work hard on serious issues, so I don't give any importance to the occasional joke. I don't believe Berlusconi is sexist. Nor is the government as a whole. We all have our general views of the opposite sex, but I wouldn't give undue importance to a joke."