Italian Uber boss slur reveals depths of Italy’s misogyny

February 13, 2015

Earlier this week, Benedetta Arese Lucini, the general manager of Uber’s operations in Italy, woke up to news that someone had hung a banner near her home in central Milan, calling her a “slut” and revealing her home address.

The latest incident in a smear campaign against the female executive, who has worked for the online taxi-hailing company for almost two years, was not only an attack against the car service, but also emblematic of Italy’s deeply-entrenched misogyny, commentators say.

“This attack … demonstrates this country’s cultural problem,” Arese Lucini said, explaining that she had been targeted because, as a woman, her seniority in the U.S.-headquartered firm had upset fellow Italians.

“Uber is a company that rewards women and this hasn’t been well received by society,” she told me in a phone interview. “I hope this episode will shine a light on this issue.”

Commentators quickly picked up on the sexist nature of the slur which belies growing resentment and opposition from Italy’s powerful taxi unions towards Uber, which allows users to summon a ride on their smartphones.

“That banner doesn’t just insult and abuse, it also symbolises a way of perceiving women,” wrote Italian columnist Beppe Severgnini in the online edition of Corriere della Sera on Wednesday.

“If Benedetta had been an American manager, a Ben or Stan with a moustache, the tone would have been different.”

Adding his support was editor-in-chief of the Italian edition of Wired magazine, Massimo Russo.

“If the target of an insult is a woman, then the logic conclusion is to call her a whore,” he wrote in an op-ed, calling it a “typically Italian tendency” that stemmed from “impotent machismo and sexism”.

Milan’s taxi unions say Uber violates a 1992 law which states that hired drivers can only be ordered from the garage where their business is based. Uber allows its taxi drivers to pick up passengers on the move.

In an earlier attack, Arese Lucini’s picture was pinned to the crotch of a mannequin representing a Milan council member with the inference that she provided him with sexual favours.

It’s not uncommon for Italian women who hold public posts to be at the receiving end of insults that don’t target their professional work but rather focus on their physical appearance or allege promiscuity.

Arese Lucini said she had personally received threats and insults on Twitter and that Uber had had to disable the comments feature on its Facebook page because of the volume of insults, many of them sexist remarks, being posted.

However, she is determined not to let the bullies bring her down. “I’ll keep on fighting so that the next generation of (Italian) women won’t even know that such discrimination existed,” she said.

Photo:¬†Taxis line up to protest against the government’s deregulation plans, in downtown Bologna,¬†January 23, 2012. REUTERS/ Stringer

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