by Marina Orio
This essay describes the ongoing struggle of the author to change the culture of “tolerance” of women scientists in the academy and the “acceptance of a few exceptional women” into a culture of inclusion and diversity at the National Institute of Astrophysics of Italy (INAF), an endeavor advanced through the adoption of gender-fair language. Language usage in the Italian scientific and academic environments offers a particularly interesting case, given its unusual and complex development. Over the course of the last 20 years, a new “gender-role-conservative” language that previously did not exist has become the norm. Notwithstanding commonly accepted grammatical rules, some scientists and organs of the Italian media have recently adopted the masculine for professions that had conventionally been declined in the feminine when referring to women. This is quite the opposite of what has happened in other European countries, including among Italian-speaking Swiss colleagues, for example. Despite the fact that the Italian government has issued guidelines for the use of more gender neutral language in public institutions like universities and research institutes, these guidelines are blatantly disregarded. The author suggests that this owes to, and at the same time is a consequence of, Italian women scientists feeling insecure in the workplace.
Picture of the Specola Tower of Padua, where the INAF Osservatorio Astronomico is located. Photo credit: Narges Jamialahmadi.