Italian Press Mix Up Gender Equality with Pornography

Published: 13 March 2015

Country: Italy

By Giulia Dessi

mommy_daddyA school programme targeting gender stereotypes among kids has provoked national uproar in Italy where some newspapers intentionally misinformed readers implying that there were pornographic classes taught and dangerous ideas installed.

The Game of Respect, an initiative of the council of the city of Trieste, addresses the issue of gender equality at a very young age.  It is a playful and recreational project for pupils between 3 and 6 years old, based on activities aiming to teach that men and women are equal and deserve the same rights and the same opportunities.

To show that there is not a fixed set of jobs or duties that boys and girls have to adhere to because of their gender, one of the activities asks kids to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. For example, boys can wear princesses and witches costumes, while girls can use firemen and knights gears. Another activity sees teachers display some drawings of an elephant doing different actions: cooking, skating, and holding a briefcase. Then, after asking pupils to say whether they think it is male or female, teachers would challenge their views and show that an alternative is possible.


Not only had the families been informed about the content of the programme, but the participation was completely discretionary – meaning that dissenting parents could opt for an alternative activity for their children. Still, an outraged dad objected to the project and contacted the local Catholic weekly, Vita Nuova. The magazine published his letter affirming that: “children should not be touched nor emotionally or physically: this proposed initiative is proper violence”.

Italy_-_the_Game_of_RespectMore viciously, Silvio Brachetta, a reporter of the same Catholic weekly published an article headlined “How to subvert reality” which evoked the threat of the “gender ideology”. “There is the – concealed but evident – attempt not to teach the respect between people, but to inculcate the well-known ‘gender ideology’ that entails the absolute freedom to choose their own gender on a whim,” wrote Brachetta.

He then continued with the statements that, if taken out of context, could easily be mistaken for a parody:  “Where the ideology dangerously bursts out is in the playful aspect of the activity: summing up, it is an exchange of roles where males and females carry out actions and jobs that belong to the opposite sex.” But what he much more irresponsibly did was to accuse the Game of Respect “to sanction the playing doctor game among kids.” He sparked off a furious storm which was based on false statements and serious misinformation.

What the Game of Respect instructions say was that teachers should highlight that boys and girls have the same perceptions and feelings, and that their bodies function in the same way. Kids are encouraged to listen to each other heartbeat, and feel how lungs contract and expand when breathing. Physical differences, the guideline continues, should be mentioned without fear, making sure that children understand that those differences do not entail different perceptions.

From the Catholic Vita Nuova, the story bounced around websites, blogs, social media, and newspapers, completely blowing out of proportion: it ended up being distorted with falsifications, and strategically used for political scopes.

Trieste Prima, a local news website, used the headline “hot experiments in kindergartens: touching and exchange of clothes for children”. Right wing national newspapers used to Il Secolo d’Italia wrote that the “programme entails ambiguous practices of sexual approaches”. Il Giornale, right-wing newspaper owned by Berlusconi family evoked the “insanity of gender games, little boys dressed as girls”. Libero Quotidiano, another right-wing newspaper well-known for its aggressive style, openly used the story for attacking the left-wing council that approved the Game of Respect. After talking about “pornographic lessons at school” where “children are invited to touch each other’s genitals”, the reporter invited the president of the Region, the Democratic Party (PD) member Debora Serracchiani, to quit politics. Once lies were out in the press, right-wing politicians did not hesitate to seize the moment and wind up infuriated parents.

A few days after the storm, the teachers and the creators of the initiative organised a conference for parents to explain them the real activities behind the pile of slanders. When schools decided to start with two activities of the project instead of 11, the same Italian papers used that as a proof of the Game of Respect being morally wrong.

Gender gap in Italy might have still a long way to go before closing, but what it was clear from this accident is that journalism in the country does not enjoy good health either.