“My dignity as a woman”

Have any of you been following the Berlusconi saga? It’s a great illustration of the power of a woman’s voice, and the inherent respect self-dignity demands.

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been forced to publicly apologize to his wife after two suggestive remarks about other women. He was quoted as saying, “I’d go with you anywhere,” to a dancer, and on a separate occasion about a parliamentary colleague, “Take a look at her! I’d marry her if I weren’t married already.”

To counter this humiliation, his wife, Vernoica Lavio, approached a national newspaper to print a letter, excerpted below:

“I have faced the inevitable contrasts and the more painful moments that a long conjugal relationship entails with respect and discretion. Now I write to state my reaction.

“This line of conduct has a sole limit, my dignity as a woman. Today for my female children, already adults, the example of a woman capable of defending her own dignity in her relationships with men takes on a particularly significant importance. . . . [For my son, it will serve as a lesson] to never forget to keep among his fundamental values respect for women. . . .

“I ask if, like the Catherine Dunne character, I have to regard myself as ‘half of nothing?’ . . . To my husband and to the public man I therefore ask for a public apology, having not received one privately. . . .Cordially, Veronica Berlusconi”

I’m not sure if I would feel comfortable airing out such dirty laundry in public, but I applaud and respect her decision to do so. Silvio’s response, on the other hand, reads somewhat trite, and seems much too light-hearted in tone to be genuine:

“Here I am, saying I’m sorry. I was recalcitrant in private, because I am playful but proud too. Challenged in public, the temptation to give in to you is strong. I can’t resist. . . .

“You know that my days are crazy: Work, politics, problems, moving around constantly and always being under public scrutiny . . . all of this opens up the possibility of a bit of irresponsibility that can be playful, ironic toward myself, and often irreverent. But your dignity has nothing to do with this — I cherish it as something precious in my heart even when my mouth emits the thoughtless quip, the gallant remark, the trifling comment of the moment.

“But, believe me, I have never made a marriage proposal to anyone. So, I beg you, forgive me and accept this public display of a private pride that gives in to your rage as an act of love — just one of many. A big kiss. Silvio”

The natural comparison for this situation is Hilary Clinton’s own decision to stand by her philandering husband after much more than oral comments. I can’t think that HRC would have even considered such a move (and if not only to allow for her own future political ambitions). I can only imagine the backlash she would have received from traditionalist and conservative women’s and family groups who would have criticized her for such a public demand. Moreover, though my knowledge of the female Italian mindset is slim, the tone of the article seems to suggest a pre-existing bias against Berlusconi. Perhaps Bill’s charisma and charm would have encouraged the retention of some female supporters?

In any case, I will be following this story now!

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