Italian MPs chided for macho language

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Laura Boldrini - file picImage source, AP
Image caption,
Laura Boldrini (centre): Time for the Italian language to catch up with modernity

One of the top positions in the Italian state has been occupied by a champion of women's rights since 2013 - Laura Boldrini, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies (lower house).

She has campaigned against online harassment of women, for equal pay, and spoken out against beauty pageants. But now she is in a tussle over grammar.

To be precise, she is against the use of the masculine form in Italian articles and noun endings when describing women who hold positions of power.

It starts with her own role. Ms Boldrini is often referred to as "il Presidente" (Speaker). But she'd like to be addressed - by her colleagues and in the official transcripts of parliamentary sessions - as "la Presidente", changing the article to the feminine form.

Her fellow female deputies, she argues, should not be referred to as "il deputato", as is current practice, but as "la deputata"- changing both article and declension. And so on, with "la ministra" instead of "il ministro", for cabinet ministers, or "la sindaca" to replace "il sindaco" when referring to the female mayor of a city.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Laura Boldrini previously worked as a journalist and UN official

Language evolves

"Some may say that this is superfluous," she said this week. "But language is important, since it is the way that we perceive reality." As Italian society evolves and women reach new positions of power, Ms Boldrini claims, language must adapt.

She has now sent a letter to MPs urging them immediately to start using the feminine words during debates and in official documents.

Her point is supported by the Accademia della Crusca - a non-governmental institution founded in 1583 that oversees use of the Italian language. It says that to avoid using the feminine forms in these cases is simply incorrect.

However, her push for linguistic gender equality in the Italian parliament has prompted criticism from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo. The party has accused her of a "hypocritical" attitude, complaining that, while calling for linguistic respect for women, she hasn't taken action against a ruling party MP who, they claim, hurled a sexist insult at one of their women MPs.

Even if Ms Boldrini succeeds in her language drive, the harsh reality is that - despite certain inroads in the last few years - the upper echelons of power in Italy continue to be very masculine.

None of the 27 prime ministers Italy has had since World War Two was a woman.

And Ms Boldrini's very public suggestion that the time was ripe for Italy to elect its first female head of state last January was ignored.

The new president is Sergio Mattarella, who is invariably and unquestionably referred to as "il Presidente".