Gender Biases and Linguistic Sexism in Political Communication: A Comparison of Press News About Men and Women Italian Ministers


  • Gilda Sensales
  • Alessandra Areni


This research on press communication uses a synchronic perspective concerning eighteen ministers, balanced by gender, in the Renzi government (in 2014), as well as a diachronic perspective concerning women ministers from five governments (from 2006-2014). The governments in 2014 and of 2013 were predominantly center-left, with the participation of center and center-right parties, whereas the previous governments had technical-professional rather than political ministers (in 2011), center-right (in 2008), and center-left (in 2006) ministers. In the synchronic analysis we explored the different ways in which the ministers are named, the relative presence of sexist/non-sexist, agentive/non-agentive, and abstract/concrete language in which they were presented. The first analysis comprised 332 headlines and the second comprised 1,356 headlines; we conducted a numerical and lexicographical analysis on the headlines. The results showed: more coverage for men than for women; gender biases in naming ministers involving a greater number of citations of women with both first and last name, whereas there were a greater number of citations of men with their first name only; the prevalence of sexist language that uses the generic masculine rather than the specific feminine (that is, the grammatical feminization of a typically masculine form) in representing women; an increment of the specific feminine in representing women in the last three governments over the previous two; no gender differences in the use of “I” and “We” as markers of agency; more quotations of direct discourse for women than for men; language slightly more abstract than concrete, for both men and women; more positive adjectives for women, and more negative adjectives for men. The results are discussed in relation to the international literature and to the Italian cultural-political context.