Meeting 2. A common ground: gendered and inclusive language

In the second online meeting, we (Annalisa and I) presented some notions around the topic of inclusive and gendered language. While we are very enthusiastic about this topic, which for us is a scholarly interest but also a concern as activists, we were slightly worried that we would get resistance. Resistance on inclusive and gendered language is something we are used to. We anticipated some of this in a slide, listing the most common comments that we have heard over the years. Before we provide the list of what type of resistance inclusive and gendered language face, I will (on the behalf of Annalisa too) briefly introduce what we mean by inclusive and gendered. I start from this last, as it comes earlier in the history of the efforts devoted in replacing the masculine generic. For us, gendered language is the symmetric use of feminine forms for women, and masculine forms for men, in both singular and plural forms. Italian is a grammatical gender language, where language is visible in morphemes added at the end of the word (this is very simply put!), but not only! Its gendered system is a very complex one (as in many languages) as gender can be visible in lexical items (madre/mother, padre/father) and in satellite elements (as Sabatini would call them) for terms which have the same form for women and men (e.g. la cantante.fem, il cantante.masc, singer). We did start with an overview of this complexity, as a way to pre-empty resistance. We also explained why using feminine forms is important in terms of our history: women have been discriminated for centuries all over the world and, certainly, in Italian history. When I was writing my book, I did explore such history reading about our most problematic past, that of Fascism. One quote from Mussolini in an interview struck my attention and we decided it could string the same cords; in this interview, he explained that he couldn’t allow women to vote as the nation would laugh at him, suggesting women could never be architects because they are not able to think of a project. We were right! This is such a horrible way of describing women: teachers asked if they could have the slide with the quote to bring in their classes!! Sexist language is often commented on social media, but sometimes, because of the brevity of the message we forget to mention that history is at the core of language discrimination between women and men. It is only through this lens that we can really see what’s going on and how it can be fixed.  

For inclusive language, we aim to expand the discrimination and recognize that a binary language is excluding people who do not identify in this binary or prefer not to describe themselves through binary language. In Italian, the debate mainly happens on social media, there have been no academic publications to date that have contextualised the phenomenon in the wide field of queer linguistics (but both Anna Lisa and I are working on it!). This is not to say that the debate is not valid: on the contrary, we believe that the circulation of ideas around topics such this one is essential. Similarly, listening to voices who are constantly discriminated against is something very valuable.  Inclusive language means to replace gender morphological units with symbols, e.g., instead of saying ragazza (girl) or ragazzo (boy) one can replace the a or the o with the schwa symbol, or the asterisk, or the u, i.e. ragazz3, ragazz*, ragazzu.  One – gendered language – is not opposite to the other – inclusive language. They are complementary as they give speakers the chance to reflect on the context, the interlocutors, the purpose of the communication.  

In explaining this, we also offered some solutions (see meeting 1!) which were accepted by the audience. It was easier to talk about gendered language than inclusive language. One interesting comment concerned speakers not being ready to make the change between gendered language and inclusive language. They were on board with nominating women with the feminine form, but they also show resistance in replacing “traditional” gendered morphemes with the new ones. While both Anna Lisa and I are allied to the LGBTQIA+ community, we also recognized that personal timing is something to be taken into account. The exposition to some topics varies from person to person and from groups to groups.

We are confident that allowing that time to grow, knowing how to stop using language that contributes to institutionalised discrimination, can change the mindset. 

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