The issue of sexism in language has been dealt extensively in English and in many other languages, yet very little has changed as far as Italian is concerned. Here is an interesting paper that talks about the linguistic sexism in the Italian language which builds on a previous study by Alma Sabatini entitled “Recommendations for a non sexist use of the Italian language“, submitted to the Italian Government and to the Commission for Equal Opportunities back in 1987.
A brief excerpt from the Recommendations follows:
(…) The choice of one word instead of another entails a modification in the thought and in the attitude of those who pronounce it and hear it. Words are a materialization, a full fledged action. Their semantic value is linked to the linguistic and extralinguistic context in a dynamic relationship, such that it becomes important to promote the use of alternative words or modify some aspects of language not as a simple lip service, but to give rise to more profound changes in the attitude taken in relation to women.
Despite the fact that language is an ever-changing dynamic structure, most people are conservative and wary – if not even afraid – of linguistic changes. They are offended because they feel such changes may impinge on their habits or because they view them as violent and “against nature”.
(from “Il sessismo nella lingua italiana” by Alma Sabatini, translated by Alessio Iacovoni)
Another interesting research paper by Giulio Lepschy, that discusses the Recommendations, was published just a couple of years after the study by Alma Sabatini with the title Lingua e sessismo (Language and Sexism).
For a less accademic approach to the study of the linguistic impact of language on sexism you may consider reading the very amusing book “The Daughters of Egalia” by Gerd Brantenberg that uses the instrument of satire to reverse the roles and the language of males and females.
Synopsis from the publisher: In the land of Egalia, the rules of society are different. Here, it is the wim who wield the power, control the government and the economy… while the menwim stay at home, minding the children and curling their beard bows. Everyone knows that menwim are inferior to wim–it’s the way of nature.
But something is stirring in Egalia. The menwim are organizing to challenge the social structure and are calling themselves masculinists. They are demanding some answers to outrageous questions: Why must menwim grow up to be housebounds? Why should wim be the ones who can run off to sea and hold jobs, while the menwim must stay at home with no say in things at all? Why must menwim wear pehoes when wim get to wear what they want? And why is it that menwim should wish for nothing more than fatherhood-protection with a strong wom? Who says that a manwom is nothing without his protective wom? Menwim have rights too!
The masculist movement has Egalia in an uproar. When will all this menwim’s lib nonsense stop? Where will all these ridiculous notions lead?