Ariel Levy writes: Francesca Comencini — the director of fourteen films, a mother of three children, and a political organizer — woke up in her apartment in Rome to the news that Donald J. Trump would be the next President of the United States. “We all felt this American loss as a personal loss, as women,” Comencini said the day after the election. “But this is wrong! We must not allow this feeling to grow inside us. It’s in the strength of women that this kind of leader can find resistance.” Comencini was speaking from experience. In 2011, with her sister, Cristina, she masterminded a massive feminist manifestazione protesting the former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a series of impassioned demonstrations that stretched through cities and villages all across Italy.
Comencini pointed out that Trump and Berlusconi have a lot in common. They both amassed fortunes in real estate through questionable business practices. They share a taste for marble, extreme tans, and strongmen: Trump is impressed by Vladimir Putin and Saddam Hussein; Berlusconi was chummy with Muammar Qaddafi. Both have a murky grasp on the concept of consent. (“We don’t have enough soldiers to stop rape, because our women are so beautiful!” Berlusconi said in 2009, commenting on new statistics concerning sexual violence. Trump defended himself against one of the many women who have accused him of sexual assault by sneering, “She would not be my first choice.”) Much as Trump complained that he “wasn’t impressed” with the view of Hillary Clinton from behind, Berlusconi once dismissed Angela Merkel as “unfuckable.”
Comencini hopes that Berlusconi and Trump may end up having something else in common: a downfall catalyzed by women. Berlusconi resigned nine months after her group, Se Non Ora, Quando (If Not Now, When), held its demonstrations, which attracted more than a million people. “We want a country in which it’s possible for women to live in dignity!” Susanna Camusso, the first female leader of Italy’s largest labor union, shouted in the Piazza del Popolo, where hundreds of thousands of protesters held a “group scream.”
“The rally was friendly, cool — like a rock concert,” Cristina, a novelist and director, said. Like Trump, Berlusconi was a skilled manipulator of the media, with a keen sense of what messages resonate with his countrymen. The Comencinis strove to battle him with imagery as much as with ideology. They enlisted the Italian actress Angela Finocchiaro to make a video appeal to the nation’s men, asking them to “tell the world you don’t want to live in a bad fifties movie.” They framed sexism and misogyny as not just wrong but lame.
“We were attractive and modern,” Francesca said. The sisters have a suggestion for their American counterparts as they prepare for the Million Women’s March on Washington, the day after Trump’s inauguration. “Do not make something against him, but communicate the idea that women are the nation,” Cristina said. “This is strength—it’s there, it’s something that he has to face.” [Continue reading…]