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.