Italians are sometimes just too adorable for words.
Perhaps it will amuse you to know that what Italians are calling “la teoria del gender” or “la teoria gender” (in other words, “gender theory”) has become a focal point in the Italian culture wars.
It is a favorite topic among the country’s most right-wing politicians, media outlets, commentators and, yes, the Vatican, which essentially invented the “teoria del gender” as a very handy grassroots-organizing tool. All these worthies are dreadfully, dreadfully concerned about gender – but what really gets them alternately weepy and screamy is the terror that helpless public school children are being indoctrinated (by someone other than their parents)!
Now, why they’re concerned has much to do with the success of the urban legends that are running through Italy like chlamydia during Spring Break in Ft. Lauderdale.
And who are the chief architects of these harrowing tales of gender witchery? Why, the Italian Catholic Church (that’s right; the one run by that Pope you love) and the Lega Nord (the Italian Tea Party, only with better shoes). These juicy, terrifying, click-bait-friendly stories involve stuff like how your hairdresser’s brother’s girlfriend says that, in one school in Burago di Molgora, teachers are forcing children to cross-dress, adopt “other-gender” names, and use (gasp!) unisex bathrooms.
Well, of course none of that is happening but, if you’re looking to get your name in the paper, nothing is more boring than the truth.
Now, the “teoria del gender” sounds like it ought to be an upper-division PSY course at UC Berkeley or something, but no. Instead, it has become a handy slogan that stands in for any challenge to the “God-made-men-and-women,-and-man-equals-masculine-equals-straight-and-women-equals-feminine-equals-straight,-and-the-only-true-marriage-is-one-man-and-one-woman,-and-the-only-real-families-are-those-with-an-anatomically-correct-mother-and-an-anatomically-correct-father” paradigm (stop me if you’ve heard this before).
It would make a great bumper sticker, except that Italians don’t believe in bumper stickers (and that right there is almost reason enough to forgive them for everything else).
So anyway. According to this October 6, 2015 article from the
increasingly hysterical and scandalmongering staid and impartial La Repubblica, the Regional Council of the Lombardy Region has just approved a motion presented by the Lega Nord to “stop the spread of gender theory in the Lombardy school system,” which is considered “a threat to children.”
Gender theory, that is, not the Lombardy school system. At least I don’t think so.
Naturally, the document approved by the Lombardy Regional Council proposes the traditional burning of books and a moratorium on classroom discussions or materials that mention – as Italian PM Ignazio La Russa so charmingly bellowed at a 22-year-old student who was attempting, during a conference on the family held in Milan last August, to speak about the needs of queer children and young people – “butt fuckers.”
Just to give you an idea of the level of public discourse.
But what’s adorable is this conference, held a week or so ago on September 30th, on the theme “Il Gender Va Fermato” – Gender Must Be Stopped!
Yes. The nation of the Roman Empire, that gave birth to the Renaissance, that survived Fascism and was nearly destroyed in WWII but struggled back from the brink to remake itself – that country now lies helpless and quivering before the Juggernaut of Gender.
And, no, they’re not talking about Caitlyn Jenner.
Gender is coming! It’s the London Blitz of Gender! The Gender Sack of Rome! The War of the Gender Roses! The Siege of Fort Gender!
Si salvi chi può!
Late breaking news!
Now, for all of the above, there’s MangiaGender!
It’s a laundry detergent. It’s a digestive aid.
That’s Not Rain … That’s Liquid Sunshine: Luca “Il Tempo Che Fa” Zaia & the Veneto’s Pirate Weather Forecasters
So the President of Italy’s Veneto Region, Luca Zaia, is waging a war against Italian hotels that show local weather reports on their websites – because a lot of times the weather along the Adriatic Coast near Rimini (in the Emilia-Romagna Region) is better than the weather inland and more to the northwest – that is, in the Veneto, which Zaia represents.
And bad weather is bad news for the Veneto’s tourist industry. After all, Italy’s in full economic crisis. We can’t have people deciding not to vacation in the Veneto just because you need an anorak and fleece-lined gloves to go outside, can we?
“The sites that provide this service in the Veneto Region must block their weather forecasts or we will seek legal damages,” Zaia told the Corriere del Veneto (apparently with a straight face). “We’re launching this appeal to force [hoteliers] to shut down weather forecasts…. We need to go back to the days of [Edmondo] Bernacca (Italy’s first widely popular TV weatherman beginning in the late 1960s) and his macro-area forecasts.”
Now, Zaia has a small point: Italian hotel-owners will always tell you that the weather is fine, that the restaurant downstairs is excellent, and that the nearest bus stop is “cento metri” (100 meters) from their doorstep. None of that’s true, of course, just like the food isn’t really “organic” and that expensive olive-wood sculpture wasn’t really “Made in Italy.” The point is, no one with any sense believes it anyway.
But threatening to sue hotel owners for telling the public that the sun is shining on their hotels, even at a difficult moment in which it doesn’t happen to be shining on yours … well, that takes a special kind of crazy.
You may understand a bit better if you know that Zaia has been a member of the ultra-right-wing Lega Nord since at least 1993. Zaia also threatens to sue people when they call the Lega Nord racist, so you can just imagine how he feels about foggy days in Treviso. Reality is kind of a minor issue.
Speaking of which, and just for the record: At this very moment, it is raining and overcast in Zaia’s hometown of Godega di Sant’Urbano, and it’s going to stay that way for the next several days. The projected high is 11°C/52°F; the low, 6°C/43°F.
This information, by the way, comes from http://www.arpa.veneto.it/previsioni/it/html/mtg_05.html, the site of ARPA Veneto (the Regional Environmental Protection Agency for the Veneto). Zaia insists that ARPA is the only resource that provides “serious, efficient” weather forecasts and the only one people ought to consider reputable.
In other words, don’t forget to pack your sun screen, possums.
These are heady days for the spin doctors in Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing majority party, the Popolo della Libertà (PdL).
As always, it’s a complex story … but that’s Italy for you. If you bear with me through this, I promise there’ll be an entertaining video at the end. Two, actually.
The brief-as-I-can-make-it version is: Regional elections are coming up in Italy at the end of March. In each Region where elections are to take place, local party committees are responsible for formally presenting the names of their candidates in a timely and legal fashion in the courthouse designated to accept them. The lists are scrutinized and, if accepted, the names go on the ballot.
In two regions, Lazio (the Region of which Rome is the capital) and Lombardia (Milan), the
goons representatives of Berlusconi’s party failed to present their lists on time. This should have meant that, in those two regions, the PdL’ s candidates would not have appeared on the ballots at election time.
Faster than you can say “election fraud,” however (and where is Jimmy Carter when you need him?), Berlusconi’s cadre of lawyers (whose capobanda, Niccolò Ghedini, is doing all he can to live up to his sixteenth-century namesake) immediately came up with an “insignificant little decree” that “reinterpreted” existing election statutes in such a way to make it possible for the lists to be accepted after all. Decreto legge decrees, which are similar to executive orders, go first to the Council of Ministers for approval (think: fox/hen house), and then to the President of the Republic, who must sign if the decree is to go forward. They’re then published in the “Official Gazette” and take immediate effect.
And that’s exactly what happened: Ghedini waltzed Berlusca’s “Save the Election Lists” decree through the Council of Ministers like Hitler through Poland, and President Napolitano, for reasons known only to him, signed it.
A tiny procedural point: a decreto legge is automatically nullified after sixty days if parliament doesn’t convert it into a law, but in this case: Who cares? The decree was published March 6, regional elections will be held on March 28-29, and even if parliament doesn’t convert the “insignificant little decree” into a law, the issue is moot anyway.
Meanwhile, Ghedini has also been working overtime to save Berlusconi from criminal and civil prosecution in a series of pending trials whose number seems to vary like the temperature. You’ll recall the so-called “Lodo Alfano” (one of Ghedini’s triumphs), declared unconstitutional by Italy’s Constitutional Court last October. The legislation would have exempted Berlusconi and three other of Italy’s “più alte cariche” (highest-level government officials) from prosecution for any illegal activity they may ever have engaged in. (See Slings and Arrows: They Always Come from the Left.)
Since that didn’t fly, Ghedini’s second plan was a different law claiming a legittimo impedimento on Berlusconi’s behalf that would extend to all pending or future litigation. The Italian term is close enough to English that you can work it out: Basically, Berlusconi is much too busy being Prime Minister to do things like appear in court to be questioned by judges. He wasn’t too busy to do things like bribe witnesses (allegedly, okay?). But he’s too busy to come to court. For the moment at least, legittimo impedimento is going swimmingly.
Nonetheless, Berlusconi et cie. were seriously piqued by the attempt to exclude their electoral lists in what are, arguably, Italy’s two most influential Regions, and by the decisions of courts in those Regions to uphold that exclusion. I mean, when you’re the Maximum Leader, it’s annoying when pinko-commie judges try to throw a monkey wrench into your plans.
So, while they waited for the whole decreto legge thing to work itself out, they launched a major media campaign whose message is that “they” (i.e., the Left—and judges are now automatically considered Leftists in Berlusconistan) are trying to keep the people from voting.
(The placards read: “They don’t want to let you vote. Make your voice heard.” Alternatively, see the front page of the 11 March La Padania, the house organ of Umberto Bossi’s Lega Nord, which proclaims: “They’re Trying to Undermine Democracy!” [Download in .pdf form.])
I hope you were paying attention there, because it was easy to miss. We went, presto change-o from an only vaguely constitutional attempt to sidestep national election law to a propaganda campaign in which the effort to uphold election law is characterized as a Leftist plot to rob Italian citizens of their sacred right to vote.
Italy’s real Left, of course, quickly leaped into the fray, skillfully exposing the deceitfulness and chicanery of Berlusconi’s claims … oh, wait. Sorry. No. No, I only dreamed that. What they actually did was absolutely nothing. Meanwhile, Berlusconi has called for a national day of protest on March 20 to “defend the right to vote.”
I mean, really. Not even Karl Rove … Anyway, just a little more background and we’ll get to the audio-visuals.
Keep in mind that Berlusconi and his Retinue of Apparatchiks are simultaneously in a certain amount of hot water for having spent about three times more public money than was necessary to build housing for those left homeless by last April’s earthquake in the Abruzzo Region (housing that, to date, has nonetheless proved insufficient to accommodate thousands of people who were forced to spend the entire winter in tent cities or who are living in local hotels, which the public is also paying for).
At the same time, Berlusconi and Guido Bertolaso, the head of Italy’s Department of Civil Protection, are the subject of an tangentially related scandal following revelations not only that the government spent millions of euros to build highways, a tourist village, and a five-star hotel on a godforsaken stretch of coast on La Maddalena, an island off the coast of Sardinia, where they planned to host the 2009 G8 summit; and not only that Bertolaso awarded the subcontracts for said construction via a truly appalling circus of influence peddling, bribes, “favors,” and other graft; but also that the entire project came to a screeching halt because Berlusconi changed his mind after the earthquake, dumping La Maddalena like a one-night stand, so he could bring the G8 to L’Aquila (the capital of Abruzzo) instead. Presumably, the plus-valore of that
publicity stunt carefully considered decision was that Caesar Berlusconi could then demonstrate to G8 attendees that he was caring for Italian earthquake victims in admirable, not to say kingly, fashion.
The G8 was something of a flop, Italy was a laughing-stock for hosting a disorganized and slapdash summit, and the partially completed construction projects (including the enormous five-star hotel) stand abandoned on La Maddalena, the money spent on them wasted.
Okay, so all of that brings us to the 10 March 2010 press conference -– and here come the videos at last:
Video 1 (click to open in your pre-defined viewer or to download)
Video 2 (click to open in your pre-defined viewer or to download)
The press conference was called so Berlusconi could explain his “insignificant little decree” reinterpreting the Italian elections code and comment on the fiasco of the election lists. At a certain point, Berlusconi is talking (modestly) about the extremely high esteem in which he is held by foreign leaders around the world, not just because he’s a head of state but because he’s a “tycoon” (that’s the word he uses, in English) and, thus, is accorded an extra measure of respect for his business success. (He is Italy’s richest man, after all.)
Berlusconi is interrupted by a freelance journalist named Rocco Carlomagno, who begins to pepper the Prime Minister with questions about Bertolaso, the waste of public money, and the fact that, tycoon or no tycoon, a growing number of people in Italy don’t have enough to eat (Berlusconi and his government have, to date, refused to acknowledge the existence of an economic crisis in Italy).
Admittedly, it was a guerrilla move, and Carlomagno surely didn’t expect to be applauded in a room full of journalists whose outlets are, with only a few exceptions, owned by Berlusconi himself.
Turning to Video 1, above: First, Berlusconi tells Carlomagno it’s not his turn to speak, and then orders him to be escorted from the room (0:38). The man who marches into the audience toward the journalist is Minister of Defense, Ignazio Benito Maria La Russa (yes, he’s named for that Benito).
An aide comes over to Berlusconi (0:41) and says, “Don’t overdo it. They should be able to ask questions like that.” Berlusconi ignores him.
A journalist for the channel TG3 news is then recognized (0:48), but she prefaces her question with the observation that “it strikes me as odd to show a journalist the door just because he asked a question.” That gives Berlusconi the chance to explain how he’s doing all the other journalists a favor by ejecting someone who is interfering with the press conference. Carlomagno interrupts again (1:05) to say that the press conference is entirely “preconfezionato”—in other words, that it’s all a dog-and-pony show and the questions and answers are canned. La Russa once again charges into the audience.
After that, Berlusconi spends a little while insulting Carlomagno:
— “You’re a lout.” [1:11];
— After being told that Carlomagno “isn’t a real journalist” [he is, actually; like all freelancers, however, he can’t join the official press association], Berlusconi says, “Ah, then he’s nothing more than a provocateur” [1:25];
— When Carlomagno continues, raising questions about Bertolaso, Berlusconi responds [1:45], “Tell us your name, so Bertolaso can sue you in court for defamation”;
— And, finally (2:15), Berlusconi uses one of his favorite tactics, the personal insult (see, “Che la Tosa la Tasa: Turning the Corner on Sexism in Italy?“): “I understand why you’re so angry—every morning when you wake up and look in the mirror so you can comb your hair, you see yourself and for you the day’s already ruined.”
At that point, Berlusconi abruptly concludes the press conference (2:31), saying “This is a press conference for journalists and not for individuals like you.”
Carlomagno doesn’t give up, and Berlusconi makes “one final observation” (2:46): “It would never occur to a single one of us to go to a press conference held by a leader of the Left at a time like this and cause a disturbance. That demonstrates your utter lack of democracy and your opposition to the principles of liberty. And that’s why I felt I had the right to say you should be ashamed of yourself, and I’ll say it again now with even greater conviction.”
During the photo op, Carlomagno keeps talking and so does Berlusconi: “Here’s the Left! Here’s the Left we’re forced to deal with,” Berlusconi says (3:21) Note that Carlomagno never indicates that he’s from the Left, but the fact that he’s critical of Berlusconi makes him a Leftist. (The smiley woman next to Berlusconi, by the way, is Renata Polverini, whose candidacy for the presidency of the Lazio Region is in jeopardy because of the election-lists scandal.)
The video then moves on to the altercation between La Russa and Carlomagno (3:27), which continues for several seconds. The visual is blocked, though Video 2, as well as others widely distributed on the internet, shows La Russa grabbing Carlomagno by the coat and shoving him around, then smacking him on the back of the head. After that, Carlomagno yells at La Russa, “You’re a fascist bully” (4:04).
What you have to imagine here is a journalist asking President Obama a tough or embarrassing question at a press conference, and Robert Gates jumping up to grab the guy by the coat and hustle him toward the door. It’s hilarious—right up until you start thinking about it.
The video concludes (4:10) with the commentary that the confrontation broke out when Berlusconi was explaining to journalists that problems with the presentation of the lists were in no way attributable to his party, but were rather entirely the fault of radical judges because the Left was squalid and anti-democratic and was trying to win the game by having the referee lock the opposing team in the locker room. Or words to that effect. (I hate sports metaphors in politics.)
If you were wondering what the average Italian thought about all this, well, you’d have a hard time knowing. Though the incident was reported in the foreign press (see, e.g., “Silvio Berlusconi Loses Temper with Journalist”), most Italians aren’t even aware it happened.
And that’s because the event was largely ignored in the Italian media. By all those “real” journalists with press credentials and membership cards.Which only goes to show: When you provide the kind of exemplary model of democracy and commitment to the principles of liberty that Prime Minister Berlusconi has, the press is sure to follow.
The town of Coccaglio (Province of Brescia) is planning on celebrating a “White Christmas” this year. That’s the name given to a new initiative—promoted by the Northern League and launched in time for Christmas—against illegal immigration. Between now and December 25, police will go knocking on the doors of some 400 homes where immigrants live in order to make sure everyone has their documents in order. The local representative of the Northern League, Claudio Abiendi, said, “Christmas is a celebration of Christian tradition and identity, not of hospitality.” For the former mayor of Coccaglio, Luigi Lotto, the operation only exploits citizens’ fears. (From the magazine Internazionale, 20 November 2009.)
Silvio Berlusconi (linked via telephone on live television): Ah, is that the voice of Signora Rosy Bindi I hear?
Bruno Vespa: Yes, and she’s saying that your comments present a really serious problem….
Berlusconi: As usual, she’s prettier than she is intelligent.
Bindy: Mr. President, evidently I’m not one of those women who’s at your disposal.
October 7, 2009 exchange between Premier Berlusconi and Rosy Bindi, MP and Vice-President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, on the Italian political talk-show, Porta a Porta.
But you have to take a minute to get the full impact here. This is the leader of the entire country, the Italian Premiere, insulting the Vice President of the lower house of Parliament for (a) not being pretty and (b) not being smart. On national television. In front of literally millions of people. Roberto Castelli, Vice Minister for Infrastructure and Transportation, also present on the program, followed Berlusconi’s shrewish and dismissive comment with a jibe of his own–Bindi was a nagging old maid, he opined.
Berlusconi’s zingers and idiotic one-liners would fill a book (and I don’t know why they haven’t)–such as his comments about how he and Obama were so much alike because they were both “handsome and had a tan” or, in 2003, before the European Parliament in Strasbourg, when he “joked” to the socialist parliamentarian Martin Schulz, who had just finished (as they say) tearing Berlusconi a new one for Italy’s racist immigration policies and failure to pursue cross-border extraditions: “Mr. Schulz, I know a production company in Italy that’s in the process of filming a movie about the concentration camps. I’d like to recommend you for the role of kapo.”
You get the picture.
So here’s Saraceno’s OpEd in translation. I hope her article–which is reproducing on the internet faster than mold on cheese–marks the start of something.
Affront to Rosy Bindi Exposes the “Philosophy of the Exploiter.”
Silvio Berlusconi has always claimed to “adore women.” But he loses all sense of decency the minute one of them dares to contradict him.
by Chiara Saraceno
English translation by ProvenWrite
The Premier who “adores women,” as he so graciously told a Spanish journalist who asked him about his social life, loses not only his mind but all evidence of civility and decency the moment a woman, one of his colleagues in Parliament and the Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies, dares to criticize him. In the eternal locker room in which he seems to feel so at ease when it comes to talking about women or to women, it’s not enough to insult them in a general way—as baby-eating Communists, for example, the way he generally does with opponents of the same sex.
Instead [when he and Bindi locked horns on Porta a Porta], he couldn’t stop himself from basing his expression of scorn in an aesthetic judgment. In so doing, Berlusconi—who, by the way, is himself unattractive, dyed, and heavily lifted, in addition to being rather on the elderly side—confirmed that, as far as he’s concerned, women fall into two categories: the ones he finds pleasant to look at, who are potentially exploitable (if they haven’t already been exploited), and in whom intelligence is an optional accessory. (Or, if it’ isn’t optional, at least it doesn’t stand in the way of their duty to hold him in fawning high regard).
And then there are all the rest. Women who are older or not conventionally beautiful are acceptable only if they are adoring. If they are not, the axe of judgment falls and they’re cast into the land of nonexistence.
Senator Roberto Castelli, floor leader of the Lega Nord [the Northern League], contributed his variant on this same locker room mentality, choosing to characterize Bindi via the classic topos of the old maid. As if a woman without a man were automatically unloved and unwanted rather than simply being an individual who had chosen not to have a partner (wisely so, one might be tempted to say, if men like Castelli are examples of what is available on the market).
For members of the Lega Nord, evidently, women must be prohibited from covering their faces or their heads for religious reasons, but the old saw from the depths of the Veneto Region remains true: “Che la tosa la tasa, che la piasa, che la staga a casa” [roughly, “woman: keep your mouth shut, your man happy, and your self at home”].
That attitude isn’t very distant from the one held by the traditionalist Muslim men from whom the proud members of the Northern League consider themselves so different.
Rosy Bindi was quick-witted enough to respond to the insult by observing that she was obviously not one of the women who belonged to Berlusconi’s “available and exploitable” category. But she is the only one who has reacted to Berlusconi’s and Castelli’s boorishness. Though there were a few embarrassed faces, not one of the men who were present, including the host of the show, Bruno Vespa, felt it was his duty to distance himself from the sort of gravely sexist language and behavior that makes it difficult for the few women who are, rarely, given the opportunity to participate in public discourse (Bindi was the only woman present on Porta a Porta that evening, on a stage full of men).
Not one of the many more-or-less elderly, flabby, unattractive, nipped-and-tucked men who populate Italian politics need ever fear being insulted or robbed of his dignity on the basis of those physical factors by anyone he deals with, no matter how heated the interaction becomes.
The silence (the embarrassed, cowardly silence of collaborators) of the men who are Berlusconi’s allies (just as of those who are his political opponents), of men in political life (just as of those in the media) is a crucial political issue that must be faced because it indicates how deeply the roots of sexism have been planted in our country’s culture. We can hardly forget that, in Spain, President Zapatero was attacked in the press simply because he stood silently by during one of Berlusconi’s road shows (on that occasion, Berlusconi explained just how he would extend the concept of hospitality if he found himself in the company of a beautiful and potentially available woman).
But there is another disturbing silence: the silence of the women in Berlusconi’s own governing party, starting with his cabinet ministers. Their voices are raised solely when their boss calls them to order so they can defend him against one or another of the scandals in the ongoing parade: his promises to put showgirls in political office, eighteen-year-old Noemi’s birthday party, all those carefree goings-on at his Villa Certosa mansion in Sardinia. But not one of them has distanced herself from the image of women—and of themselves as politicians and as ministers—that emerges from their passionate defense of their boss.
The Minister of Equal Opportunities, Mara Carfagna, is the most notably silent, although it would presumably be her institutional duty to put in a word. Whatever the reasons that led her to be offered a position as Minister, she ought to make an effort to remember that equal opportunity is not a beauty pageant. And that we can’t permit a bunch of old letches, no matter how rich and powerful they may be, to pronounce judgment on what women are and what they’re capable of, age and beauty standards aside.
Allowing a colleague to be insulted, even if she’s a member of the opposition, for reasons that having nothing whatever to do with politics and everything to do with sexism is a serious mistake, and women are all paying the price for it.