Hugh Edwards (Solidarity 3-194) criticises Silvio Berlusconi’s appointment of “prostitutes” to public office. It is not a term that I favour: many feminists now prefer to say “sex workers”, reflecting that the women in question are workers, and we should relate to them as such.
More broadly, in deciding an attitude towards Berlusconi’s current travails, two comparisons are instructive. First, yes, Berlusconi has been thoroughly sexist in his approach to ministerial selections. But for many years the British Conservative Party, albeit in a different way, was also notoriously sexist in its selection of MPs (it has better window-dressing now, but I doubt this has changed things very much).
This was never a major point on which to attack the Tories: by comparison to the impact of their government on working-class women it was rather marginal. Berlusconi’s behaviour is more outrageous, but I do not think the difference is fundamental: in both cases, not surprisingly, right-wing parties are sexist in their parliamentary selections. Second, in relation to Berlusconi’s personal life, we might consider the sorry case of Tommy Sheridan.
When Sheridan was attacked by the right-wing press for going to sex clubs, he might have said “no comment”. Or he might — better, in my view — have said “yes, and why not?” in a refreshing rejection of sexual convention. But if we reject criticisms of Sheridan on the basis of his private life, we must reject similar criticisms of Berlusconi. One might argue that Berlusconi is alleged to have paid for sex, Sheridan was not, and therein lies the difference. But that argument stands only if one has a particular objection to sex for money, an objection that in a money-driven capitalist society cannot be other than moralistic.
I agree with Hugh that Italian society is deeply sexist, but to tackle that sexism we need to disentangle the distinct issues of sexual morality and gender equality.