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Italian junior culture minister sparks outrage over sexist rant

MP Vittorio Sgarbi shouts as he argues with other lawmakers during a debate on Justice in the parliament in Rome. Thursday, 25 June 2020.
MP Vittorio Sgarbi shouts as he argues with other lawmakers during a debate on Justice in the parliament in Rome. Thursday, 25 June 2020. Copyright Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse
Copyright Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse
By Andrea Carlo
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During the outburst of junior culture minister and renowned art critic Vittorio Sgarbi he made crude references to his sex life and genital organs, which he has defended as "free speech".

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A storm has been brewing in the Italian capital after a junior culture minister was filmed going on an expletive-laden sexist rant, leading to calls for his resignation.

Speaking at the summer launch event of Rome's MAXXI museum, Vittorio Sgarbi - a well-known art critic currently serving as the Undersecretary to the Ministry of Culture in Giorgia Meloni's right-wing government - was recorded boasting about his sexual conquests while making crude references to his genitalia.

"[French author] Houllebecq says that, in life, there's a moment in which we know only one organ: the d*ck," he stated while conversing with fellow speaker, Italian rock singer Morgan, and the museum's president, Alessandro Giuli. "The d*ck is an organ of knowledge, that is of penetration, it serves to [make us] understand."

"He's quoting Moravia," quipped Giuli in response, in an attempt to come to Sgarbi's defence.

In a mid-speech phone call with an unidentified individual, whom Sgarbi called a "cuckold", the junior minister boasted that at one point in time, he had been getting with "nine [women] a month".

He further alleged that the recently deceased Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi - who had garnered a reputation for having a salacious private life - had slept with "fewer than 100 women" in his life, which Sgarbi described as a "tragedy".

While the 70-year-old politician's outburst dates back to 21 June, the video has only come to light in the past few days, and has been widely circulated online after having been published by national papers and media outlets.

It all started when La Repubblica reported on a letter that had been signed by 44 of the MAXXI’s 49 (mostly female) employees, in which they implored the museum president to defend its values.

Public condemnation of the junior minister's rant did not stop there, as a variety of public figures have come out to express their opprobrium.

Italy's centre-left opposition party denounced Sgarbi's comments as "serious and sexist", while centrist political leader Carlo Calenda called it a "disgrace".

One prominent film director and author, Cristina Comencini, rescinded her invitation to speak at MAXXI on 4 July, citing Sgarbi's comments and the "way he spoke about women".

Italy's Culture Minister himself, Gennaro Sangiuliano, distanced himself from Sgarbi's tirade, writing a letter to the MAXXI president stating that sexism and profanity are "inadmissible in all contexts", especially "in a cultural space and from someone who represents institutions."

Sgarbi has often made headlines in Italy over a string of unsavoury comments and gaffes throughout his career, leading to his reputation as a polemical media personality with a volcanic temperament.

The politician had already provoked a public outcry on Father’s Day earlier this year, when he joked on popular talk show Domenica In about "girls born in 2000 [being] whores", in front of his own daughter — herself born in the year 2000.

In response to the recent media storm, Sgarbi has refused to back down from his comments.

"It was a show between two actors... Morgan asked me how many women I'd had, and I answered," he stated. "It's freedom of speech."

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