Linguistic Sexism: The Invisible Female Gender



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Negative effects of sexism manifest daily in different ways across the globe. Sexism and gender discrimination are forms of structural violence built into societal systems to keep male dominance alive and women “in their place.” The most dangerous type of inequality is that which is so deeply hidden by cultural normalities it functions almost invisibly. Concealed discrimination perpetuates cyclical oppression; unawareness to challenge structural inequality only promotes it further. Linguistic gender discrimination is a perfect example of culturally protected structural violence due to the normalization of grammatical gender. This thesis examines the connection between gender and power through a linguistic lens. Gender plays a defining role in the Italian grammar structure and in the ways people communicate and conceive concepts. In my thesis, I attempted to expose the linguistic limitations of the masculine and feminine grammatical structures in the Italian language. One of the questions I tried to answer is: how does the grammatical gender structure in modern Italian create gender inequality within the Italian culture? I believe the grammatical gender structure negatively affects women and young girls who learn to communicate by using stereotypical gendered categories. Language is power. If one does not fully comprehend this linguistic actuality, it will be difficult to grasp the full extent to which the Italian grammatical gender structure restricts women from certain positions of authority and control. “Struggles for the ‘power to name’ are continually played out in politics and the media; these struggles are taken very seriously by those in the know, and often trivialized by those who do not grasp their significance” (Smith et al. “Words Matter: The Language of Gender” in Handbook of Gender Research in Psychology, 361). Language choice matters, it affects the way people perceive concepts. However, the main danger with linguistic power is its invisibility. My research attempts to make visible the sexual bias within the Italian grammatical gender structure that typically goes unnoticed.



Gender, Italian, Sexism