Berlusconi: Women Are Raped Because They’re Just So Good Looking

by Cara on January 26, 2009

in assholes, beauty myths, Europe, International, misogyny, objectification, paternalism, patriarchy, politics, rape and sexual assault, sexism, sexual exploitation and harassment, violence against women and girls

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, known for putting his foot in his mouth in really offensive ways, has done it yet again. This time, it’s one hot mess of rape myths and rape apologism, and a revival of the “women are raped because they’re pretty (and therefore rape is a compliment)” meme, once more with feeling:

THE Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has dropped yet another clanger, infuriating women with the suggestion that a recent spate of rapes will not stop until there “are as many soldiers on the streets as there are pretty girls”.

The comment, made after a decision to deploy more military to combat an epidemic of violent sex crimes, was described immediately by the Opposition Democratic Party leader, Walter Veltroni,as the umpteenth gaffe “by a leader lacking in responsibility and sensitivity for the human beings who have suffered such a crime”.

Mr Berlusconi, who has pledged to mobilise 30,000 soldiers to combat sex crimes after a series of rapes in the capital, Rome, described Mr Veltroni’s comments as obscene and said he believed rape to be “a crime of incivility, execrable and shameful, full stop”.

You know, on second thought, I’m really not sure whether I feel more offended that Berlusconi thinks us women are raped because there are “pretty girls” (not women) who don’t have the sense to stay home, or that his highest condemnation of rape amounts to stating that it’s uncivil.

Berlusconi, as per usual, doesn’t seem to have any clue why his comments are so offensive.  So I’ll tell him.

First of all, they suggest that there’s room for compliments towards women in a discussion about rape.  No, we don’t want compliments.  We want justice.

Secondly, they suggest that women are raped because they’re pretty — which is one of the oldest rape myths in the book, and backs up a whole host of dangerous and false assumptions, such as the ideas that rape is a compliment in itself, that if women would stop prettying themselves up they’d be left alone, that “ugly” women aren’t raped, that it’s dangerous for women to exist in a public space, and that men can’t control themselves when there are attractive women out on the street.

Lastly, contrary to his later comments quoted in the article that “on every occasion it is always useful to use a light approach and a sense of humour,” rape is not a fucking joke.  And no, it is not a time where it is useful to have a light approach.

Thankfully, he is getting plenty of criticism.  Not knowing much of anything about Italian politics, I can’t say whether it’s due to a system where everything that Berlusconi says gets heavily criticized, or if people are actually upset about his remarks.  But still, I’m happy that others are speaking out on behalf of women.

And though, judging from his party’s name, I can’t see myself ever voting for him (again, knowing nothing about Italian politics), I do particularly appreciate Luca Volonte’s decision to bring the discussion back around to men and the question of whether or not they are capable of controlling their own actions:

The Opposition argues that three particularly brutal rapes in Rome this month proved that using the military did little to reduce crime.

The leader of the Christian Democrats in the lower house, Luca Volonte, said: “A soldier for every beautiful woman? Maybe Berlusconi thinks that all Italian men are irresponsible and unable to contain themselves – or maybe it is an admission of his incapacity to govern and guarantee public security.

“Like me, most Italians are able to brake their bestial urges … he should avoid such comments and confront real problems of resources for police and public order.”

The Opposition spokeswoman on equality, Vittoria Franco, said Mr Berlusconi ought to refrain from saying offensive things about women.

“Basically what he is saying is that if women leave home alone, they run the risk of being raped or attacked because it is not possible to make the country safe.”

Unfortunately, in their method of focusing on the current spree of stranger rapes, all of the commenters seem to entirely erase the fact that rape happens in high numbers every day, and is usually committed by someone the victim knows.  Even more unfortunately, others use their apparent criticism of Berlusconi’s remarks as a way to promote different but equally dangerous rape myths:

Alessandra Mussolini, the right-winger who is the granddaughter of the fascist dictator and who campaigns for tougher penalties for rapists, said: “The fact is we need so many soldiers because there are so many ugly men.”

Yup.  Women aren’t raped because they’re pretty; it’s just that men commit rape because they’re ugly.  Har-har!  Yet again, I feel conflicted over what to be most offended about.  This time, it’s between the comment, and the fact that the Mussolinis are still considered politically relevant in Italy.

Actually, Mussolini, no.  Not only are women not raped because they’re pretty, men also don’t commit it because they’re ugly.  Men don’t rape because women won’t give them the time of day; they rape because of a lack of respect for women’s bodies, their lives and their autonomy.  Plenty of good-looking men commit rape, and I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of “ugly” men don’t.

Until Mussonli gets that through her head, her desire for stricter penalties for rapists doesn’t mean a whole lot.  And until Berlusconi also gets through his head that rape is not about physical attractiveness or a compliment to one’s good looks, he’s going to keep up with police-state efforts rather than real prevention efforts.

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{ 18 comments }

1 Anna January 26, 2009 at 11:50 am

There was an excellent quote from this feminist filmmaker that said ‘women are made to feel like they’re to blame for being raped; even if they are not dressed in a certain way, drunk or flirting, they are still taught to blame themselves for just being too conspicuously female’.
This article reminded me of that; ‘well, girls, you wouldn’t get raped if you weren’t so obviously women’.

I hate Berlusconi.

2 AshKW January 26, 2009 at 1:01 pm

*Headdesk* I agree Cara, I’m not sure which part of this to feel offended about most, but I’d also suggest that the fact this arrogant, insensitive POS is still in office is in the running…

3 Kristen January 26, 2009 at 2:44 pm

Lovely.

4 Chris January 26, 2009 at 3:16 pm

I wholeheartedly agree on Berlusconi’s quote, but I got the impression that Alessandra Mussolini was being clever. I’d consider a man who sexually assaults women as “ugly,” even if he was physically handsome.

5 Anna January 26, 2009 at 5:31 pm

How the hell can you agree with that shithead? Women aren’t raped because they’re too pretty, or there’s not enough male protection around – women are raped because men go out with the intent to rape them. How dare you suggest that because I don’t go out without a male chaperone I could be raped – that is incredibly threatening and close to victim-blaming.

6 Cara January 26, 2009 at 5:42 pm

Anna, I think that Chris meant s/he agrees with my analysis of the Bersculoni quote, not that s/he agreed with the quote itself. Though Chris can feel free to correct me if I’m wrong (and likely get promptly banned!).

7 Chris January 26, 2009 at 5:54 pm

What Cara said. :) Sorry, should have checked my wording. And I’m a she – Christine is too long to type.

8 Rebecca_J January 26, 2009 at 6:21 pm

I too wanted to believe that A. Mussolini meant “ugly” men as in “ugly in their actions,” as the word was used back in the days of yore.
But I think she really meant it as it was interpreted here, as sort of the opposite of Berlusconi’s remarks but equally unhelpful and offensive.

9 Anna January 26, 2009 at 6:48 pm

Ah. Sorry – shall not go so far off the rails next time! (yeah, right). Sorry, Chris, I’m an idiot.

10 Renee January 26, 2009 at 7:02 pm

My first thought was maybe that she meant that men that rape are simply ugly human beings and not a reference to their physical appearance. I leaned that way simply because often see men as people outside of their physical bodies. Obviously Caras interpretation is the more likely of the two. Knowing that she has the last name of Mussolini makes it difficult to be subjective on any commentary because of the terrible history. That said I cannot speculate any further on what she may or may not have meant but at least she called out bullshit even if she did not do it in the most feminist way.

11 KJK::Hyperion January 26, 2009 at 7:37 pm

I apologize on behalf of Italy for our premier’s latest wallbanger. He is a disgusting populist exploiting the Italians’ ignorance, bigotry and deafness on social progress. What he is trying to imply here is that he, the nation’s big daddy, will protect the family, especially the beautiful daughters, against the (possibly foreign) deviants and freaks who have no place in our beautiful society elevated above all by Christian piety

In Italy, extremist lefties alone speak on themes of social progress, everyone else either speaks of “morality” or attacks Berlusconi. The political influence of the Catholic church on one side has prevented Italy from slipping into totalitarianism again, but on the other side it poisoned the well so much true progressists are still demonized as the “red menace”. I wish I was kidding or exaggerating

Rent and watch “Il Divo”, if you can find it, to see just how much power and influence catholics have in Italy, and how they destroyed the Italian Communist party’s reputation during the Cold War

12 KJK::Hyperion January 26, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Chris: no. Very no. Think of our Alessandra Mussolini as a politically active Ann Coulter: a moderately attractive, fundamentally anti-feminist right-wing woman. She said “ugly”, she meant “ugly”. She doesn’t do nuance

If she wasn’t such an extremist, you can bet she’d be in this administration’s Cabinet, in the good company of Mariastella Gelmini, Stefania Prestigiacomo and Giorgia Meloni (respectively Education, Environment and Youth, i.e. among the least relevant positions)

13 Cara January 26, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Thanks for sharing, KJK . . . and for clearing up the Mussolini question!

14 JDP January 27, 2009 at 7:44 pm

Sure, I agree what he said was stupid. I’m not sure he really thinks girls are raped because they are beautiful, I just think he made a stupid joke in the wrong situation.

But from what I understand the guy wants to put 30 000 soldiers on duty to fight sex crimes on the streets. Regardless what he said, in the end actions do speak louder than words.

15 Cara January 27, 2009 at 8:18 pm

Sure, I agree what he said was stupid. I’m not sure he really thinks girls are raped because they are beautiful, I just think he made a stupid joke in the wrong situation.

Even if it was a “joke,” not only is rape never funny, he also made a joke that furthers rape myths. Period. I couldn’t care less what he actually believes, really, I care what messages are getting disseminated and what beliefs held by other people are getting reinforced.

But from what I understand the guy wants to put 30 000 soldiers on duty to fight sex crimes on the streets. Regardless what he said, in the end actions do speak louder than words.

But that’s not the way to fight sex crimes. And from my understanding, this is something that Berlusconi has been up to anyway, which indicates to me that he’s really just using this current horror to further an agenda he already head.

16 Claudia January 28, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Reading the original italian article, I think Mussolini was making a joke on the double meaning of the word “brutti” that means both “ugly” and “horrible”.
She, despite her grandfather, is an (unsuccesful) promoter of civil rights and signed a law proposal for civil unions (that did’nt pass)

17 Betty Boondoggle January 29, 2009 at 11:47 am

“But from what I understand the guy wants to put 30 000 soldiers on duty to fight sex crimes on the streets. ”

Because soliders never rape. Nosiree.

18 marj aka thriver February 2, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Oh yes! As I was being raped (by my “friend” in college and by my “father” as a child) I felt so “pretty!”

“The solution to sexual violence in America
is not more laws, more guns, more police, or more prisons. The solution to sexual violence is the acceptance of reality.”

~ Gavin De Becker

This quote applies to EVERY country on the planet!

Thanks for raising awareness through The Blog Carnival Against Sexual Violence.

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