97,000 women in Italy have signed a petition expressing anger at PM Silvio Berlusconi after an offensive comment directed at opposition MP Rosy Bindy.

The comment came during a late-night TV talk show. Berlusconi phoned in after Bindy, 58, openly criticized the Prime Minister following a recent court decision to remove his immunity from prosecution. When the matronly Bindy interrupted Berlusconi, he sarcastically replied, “I recognise you are increasingly more beautiful than you are intelligent.”

Bindy replied, “I am not a woman at your disposal.”

As it became apparent that he had offended many women, he tried to laugh off his comment, saying that it was intended to be a “light-hearted joke for the public.”

The backlash stemming from the televised remark has some excited that a “new feminism is taking root in a traditionally conservative country,” according to BBC News. The online petition, an open letter to La Repubblica, has been rapidly collecting signatures from Italian women, including a signature from the Italian Association of Partisans, the national veteran's group.

According to AKI news, Bindi received calls of support from thousands, including Italy's ex-prime minister Romano Prodi and the ex-mayor of Rome. An online campaign on the Italian daily La Repubblica's website, titled 'We are all Rosy Bindi', gained support via social networking websites.

Facebook groups promoting 'Solidarity with Rosy Bindi' abound. Opposition leader Dario Franceschini demanded an apology from Berlusconi for his “rude and vulgar insults.” Senator Patrizia Bugnano told reporters, “Someone tell Berlusconi he is no George Clooney.”

This is not the first time Berlusconi has come off as chauvinist. In the past, he has described women over 50 as “the menopause section”, and has complained the Spanish cabinet was “too pink” because it has several female ministers.

The biggest scandal for Berlusconi this year was the infamous batch of photographs taken at his villa of naked women mingling with, among others, the ex-Prime Minister of the Czech Republic.