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Understanding Italy #2

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Italy is such a delightful place to live in if you happen to be a man.

- E. M. Forster, Where Angels Fear to Tread, 1905

In his fantastic book The Italians, author John Hooper considers that the public debate on gender and language that took place years ago in other societies has scarcely begun in Italy.

He notes that most Italian words for jobs of professions that carry with them power and authority still only exist in the masculine (Italian language distinguishes two genders: masculine and feminineItalian nouns - even animals and things -  always have a gender. Generally, but not always, nouns ending in "-o" are masculine and most of the nouns ending in "-a" are feminine).

A woman lawyer, who would be an abogada in Spain remains an avvocato in Italy. The same is true of several other professions: there are no widely used feminine equivalents for notaio (notary), ingegnere (engineer) or architetto (architect).

One of the few exceptions, he notes, is dottoressa, which is applied to female graduates and also used by women who became medical doctors. The term avvocatessa also exists, but most women lawyers choose not to use it, perhaps because they feel that the specifically female version has the same, arguably diminutive, connotations as the English word “actress”, he suggests.

Hooper observes “...turn on the television and you will sooner or later find yourself watching a variety or quiz show in which women are used in ways that have been considered unacceptable in many other countries since the 1970s. If there is a female presenter, she will almost certainly have big hair, glossy lipstick and an outfit that reveals more than it conceals. And in many cases the only women on the set will be so-called vallette or veline, whose role is almost entirely decorative. At most, they will be required to do a few dance steps or hold up a placard that shows, say, the answer to a quiz question or the amount won by a contestant. Often their job will be just to stand to one side looking pretty and smiling vacantly ...”.

Welcome the professoresse of Raiuno’s popular quiz show "L’Eredità", whose casting still makes the news.

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