Do Italian Sex Scandals Lower Women’s Legitimate Job Chances?

When Teresa “Terry” De Nicolò, a 39-year-old escort and regular visitor of Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, was interviewed by a public television program last June, she defended a woman’s right to see her body as a marketable asset:

Beauty is an economic value and must be sold like any other skill. If you are a beautiful woman you must be able to sell your body in order to achieve your goal. If you are ugly you need to stay at home and live a mean life with only 2,000 euro (around $2,700) a month.

De Nicolo went on to say that every Italian woman would jump at an invitation to one of Berlusconi’s parties and the chance of making connections to become rich and powerful:

If you want to be rich and powerful, you must be a lion and not a sheep. You must be ready to sell even your mother to get what you desire.

Some aspects of De Nicolo’s attitudes were echoed a few months later in an online survey of university students by Universinet, an Italian social network. The survey posed this question: In your opinion, is it more important to study or get a recommendation to become enrolled at your university?

A small portion–16,218 out the 450,000 students who replied–expressed shock at the premise. But the vast majority, 86 percent, said the second option of getting a good recommendation–and essentially using your connections–was more important.

The percentage of female students who said they would not mind having sex with a professor in order to gain university entrance was 57 percent, sharply higher than the already strong response of 45 percent in 2010.

During investigations spanning from 2007 to 2011, the Italian Public Prosecutor Office found escorts who frequented Berlusconi’s parties received expensive gifts and employment offers, even if they weren’t qualified for them, in return for their “performances.” In 2007 Berlusconi–currently facing charges including corruption, tax fraud and paying for sex with a minor-became embroiled in scandal when he was discovered using his influence with Agostino Saccà, the director of Rai Movie (a cinema section of Italian Public Television) to get acting parts for his female friends. Two years later, the daily La Repubblica reported that former showgirls and actresses who socialized with Berlusconi were on the list of European parliament candidates for Berlusconi’s right-wing People of Freedom (PDL) party.

Some members of the left-opposition, Italy of Value party (IDV), contend that Berlusconi’s behavior is influencing the attitudes and workplace conditions of young Italian women. Said Giulia Rodano, a member of parliament responsible for equal opportunity for IDV:

When meritocracy really works, Italian women get high-level positions and do their jobs remarkably. They are a minority now but we are protesting in all Italian squares to obtain equal opportunity.

In February the women’s rights group Se non ora quando? (“If not now, when?”) staged protests in 60 Italian towns and cities. “Italy is not a brothel” was a popular sign in the Rome protest, and many demonstrators said Berlusconi’s sex scandals were degrading to Italian women. Berlusconi pushed back in a televised press conference, denying that he ever attended sex parties or consorted with prostitutes, calling the claims politically motivated.

Vincenzo Maruccio, another member of the IDV, has proposed creating job-evaluation criteria based only on skills and job experience and not connections. He emphasized that Berlusconi’s sex-scandal-plagued leadership has done a disservice to women’s employment opportunities:

A country that allows escorts to overtake skilled women who studied and get work experiences is an immoral country.

Cross-posted from Women’s eNews

 Photo of Italian woman protesting as part of women’s rights group Se non ora quando’s protest against Silvio Berlusconi from Flickr user SignorDeFazio under Creative Commons 2.0. The translation is “Ruby? No work!!!!!” refers to Ruby Rubacuori, the stage name of a woman who Berlusconi is accused of paying for sexual services when she was under 18.