“Modern” Italia

Last week marked a groundbreaking event in particle physics, when scientists at CERN claimed to have found neutrinos traveling at a speed faster than light. This news caused shock worldwide, as the findings go against Einstein’s 1905 Theory of Special Relativity, which has provided the basis of much of modern physics.

Those of you who have long forgotten the equation E = mc2 may be wondering why particle physics has inspired a feminist blog post. The connection is Mariastella Gelmini, the Italian Minister of Education, who proudly announced Italy’s donation of 45 million euros towards the construction of a tunnel from CERN to Gran Sasso (a distance of 730km). What Gelmini seemed to overlook is that neutrinos traveled through rock, a mistake which caused the creation of a Facebook group entitled ‘Gelmini’s tunnel: 730km of ignorance’, with over 40,000 mocking members.

I find the ever too frequent blunders of Berlusconi’s government particularly entertaining, so I googled ‘Mariastella Gelmini’ in hope of distracting myself further from starting an essay. Half way through typing, Google kindly offered me the three most popular search suggestions. These were ‘Mariastella Gelmini wiki’, ‘Mariastella Gelmini biography’ or ‘Mariastella Gelmini hot’. These three options are followed by less popular searches, such as ‘Mariastella Gelmini BBC’ or ‘Mariastella Gelmini Italian minister.’ After all, if you have the option of seeing photos of Gelmini in a bikini, why would you be interested in her job description?

Another Italian politician who has had her fair share of international media coverage is Mara Carfagna. As a self-proclaimed antifeminist, a critic of gay marriage, and an admirer of Sarah Palin, she was the natural choice as Italy’s Minister for Equal opportunities.

Carfagna is most famous for her former career as a topless model and as a Miss Italia contestant. Her career in politics began very soon after she met Berlusconi while dancing for one of his TV channels. Around this time, telephone conversations between Carfagna and Berlusconi included talk of the two partaking in oral sex. These allegations have not been proven, which is a frequently used phrase when listing Il Cavaliere’s * scandals. It seems that while Berlusconi remains Italy’s longest serving post-war prime minister, their third richest man, and the owner of their largest broadcasting company, it is hard to convict him of anything, including the accusation that he paid for sex with 17 year old ‘Ruby’.

You may be wondering how Berlusconi reacts to people who are not ‘beautiful’ enough to win beauty pageants. Luckily, he has provided an alternative, using his own appearance as an example to encourage others to undergo cosmetic surgery, with the argument that we all ‘have a duty to present ourselves in the best possible way.’

So it seems that Berlusconi’s attitudes are not only about women but about physical appearance in general. Berlusconi has recently turned 75, and, politics aside, is not exactly my idea of a handsome man. Yet the famous ‘bunga- bunga’ parties continue, filling his mansion with 30 odd young women until the early hours… (it may or may not be a coincidence that, according to Reuters, Italy is the country responsible for the most Google searches of the term ‘Viagra’).

Nevertheless, in 2005, the economist’s Quality of Life Index ranked Italy eighth (the UK came 29th ). Hopefully, after reading this post, you will find this order strange. But when I inform you that the index considers Material Wellbeing four times as important as Gender Equality, things start to make much more sense.

Six years have passed, Berlusconi is still in power, and I am campaigning for Feminist issues in the UK. And, as an Italian myself, I can’t help but wonder how different my life would be if I had been a teenager living in Berlusconi’s Italy. And suddenly, the Scottish weather doesn’t seem like much to be putting up with.

*Il Cavaliere, Berlusconi’s nickname, can be literally translated into English as ‘The Knight.’

– Clara

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