Male or female title? Italy's new PM Meloni stirs gender debate

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni rings the bell to signify the start of her first cabinet meeting, at Chigi Palace, in Rome, Italy, October 23, 2022. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

MILAN, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Giorgia Meloni is Italy's first woman prime minister, but she is choosing to refer to herself using the masculine form of her new title - sparking a debate on the issues of female empowerment and political correctness.

In Italian, names can take a masculine or feminine form and Meloni's formal title of "Presidente del Consiglio" was preceded by the masculine article "il", rather than the feminine "la", in the first statement issued by her office on Sunday.

A letter from Meloni read out in parliament on Monday did likewise.

While a trailblazer for women in Italian politics, she heads a far-right party and is not known as a feminist: she opposes female quotas in boardrooms and parliament, arguing that women should rise to the top through merit, and appointed just six women to her 24-strong cabinet on Friday.

Her choice of definite article was criticised by Usigrai, the main trade union at state broadcaster RAI, as well as by Laura Boldrini, a feminist centre-left lawmaker and former speaker of the lower Chamber of Deputies who was always known as "la presidente" in that role.

Meloni's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Under RAI's corporate gender policy, the feminine form should be used whenever it exists, and "no colleague can therefore be obliged to use the masculine" to refer to Meloni, Usigrai said in a statement.

Boldrini linked the prime minister's linguistic choice to the name of her party, Brothers of Italy (FdI).

"The first female prime minister goes by the masculine name ... Is using the feminine form too much for the leader of FdI, a party that already omits Sisters from its name?" Boldrini tweeted.

The Accademia della Crusca, a guardian of the Italian language, has said using the feminine for positions held by women is the grammatically correct choice.

However, anyone who prefers to use the traditional masculine form, for ideological or generational reasons, has every right to do so, its president Claudio Marazzini told Italian news agency Adnkronos.

Reporting by Federico Maccioni, editing by Alvise Armellini and John Stonestreet

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