It's been a long time since Italian political commentators have been really surprised by anything in the world of current affairs, but this news will probably give them pause. This past May, the Lombardy region — led by Roberto Maroni, former secretary of Italy’s right-wing Northern League party — passed an act which introduces a new service intended for Lombard schools. Dubbed the "anti-gender hotline", the service is intended to offer support to parents and students anxious about the teaching of "gender theory" in schools. The contract was awarded a few days ago to the AGE (the Association of Italian Parents, Ed.), an organization that promotes "family values" according to "ethical" and "Christian" principles.
The initiative didn't come out of nowhere, however. It’s actually the result a sub-paragraph of the Buona Scuola (“good school”) law, a reform proposed by the Ministry of Education and approved by the Italian Parliament in July 2015. Among the multiple elements of the text, there's a measure with the intention of fighting against "discrimination based on sexual orientation" at school. According to Lombard politicians, however, the Buona Scuola law will allow "gender theory" to be subtly introduced into the school curriculum.
It's not so black and white
But what exactly do we mean by "gender theory"? That’s precisely the problem: it doesn't exist. Or at least, not in the generally defined sense of a theory, which involves a central principle, a thesis or a body of academic work. In practice, the so called “gender theory” is more like an ideology created by its own critics, who argue the existence of the alleged theory in order to "subvert" the natural order of things, the concept of family and the biological differences between women and men. In other words, it’s a conspiracy cooked up by the LGBT agenda. In reality, it’s a misunderstanding (or a misrepresentation) of over 60 years of gender studies which argue that concepts of masculinity and femininity are defined more by society than biology.
These gender studies identified two subjectivity spheres: that of sex (irrefutable physical and biological data) and that of gender (how we perceive the role which is assigned to the individual by society). The distinction between anatomical sexes and gender roles subsequently generated a whole series of reflections on the possibility that the two may not coincide. Progressively, gender studies have led to a reassessment of educational resources intended for the fight against phenomena such as sexism, homophobia and prejudice. It's certainly not a question of a battle against biological differences between man and woman, nor against the traditional concept of family.
The first references to the mysterious "gender theory" emerged in the 1990s, but it’s only in the past three years, particularly in France and Italy, that certain family organisations and conservatives in general have taken a stand. That’s how education projects on diversity, designed sexism and homophobia, were suddenly presented like underhanded attempts to indoctrinate our youth.
The impenetrable voice of God
It goes without saying that the subject gives rise to much confusion, even within the highest religious offices in the world; a year ago, Pope Francis mentioned "gender theory" during a general audience in St. Peter's Square. This confusion has now turned into a political tool that affects educational reform and gives rise to initiatives like that in Lombardy. Yet, the controversial Buona Scuola law does nothing but integrate the indications suggested by reports of UNESCO and UNICEF into the Italian legislative system.
Thus, the same day as the signing of the government's decree recognising civil unions, the Lombardy region announced that 30,000 euros would be allocated for the “anti-gender hotline,” which will run on a trial basis for the next 12 months, despite the fact that it's been set up to fight against something which doesn't exist. We look forward to the results of such hard work, just like we have been waiting for years for a serious discourse based on a dialogue between parties, without the need to resort to empty slogans, or the implementation of initiatives that aim to combat the xenophobia that national and international media report everyday.
Sexism, homophobia and racism are nothing more than the fear of what is different. Behind the calls defending the traditional family hides a tacit feeling of acceptance of the status quo. But it's only a feeling, not a theory.