Article 3

2022-12-05 Simona Cuomo

When a Woman is in Power

The debate that has followed the election of Giorgia Meloni as prime minister – the first woman to hold this position in the history of the Italian Republic – has shown that women’s access to power and public spaces is still marked by negative comments that do not regard a person’s actions but her identity. This dynamic is widespread in other countries as well: some studies have in fact stressed that women candidates in politics, more than men, are involved in discussions that regard their character and personality rather than their political programs, and are attacked more frequently than male candidates, especially on social media.


Giorgia Meloni is the first woman prime minister of the Italian Republic. The discourse that has developed through traditional and social media, starting with the election campaign and through these first weeks of her term, shows how women’s access to power and public spaces is still marked by negative comments that do not regard a person’s actions, but her identity.

Rather than wishing the first Italian woman elected to head the government well in her job and seeing this election as a sign of collective progress, judgments of Giorgia Meloni as a woman have prevailed. “She’s not a woman,”[1] was said during the election campaign, because she proved to be far from the themes of feminism, for example not agreeing with female quotas in Boards of Directors and in Parliament; “She doesn’t represent women,”[2] because in her first public statement she decided to have the formal title of “President of the Council of Ministers” preceded by the masculine article “il” rather than the feminine “la”; She doesn’t’ come from a respectable family[3] because her father was sentenced to nine years in prison for drug trafficking and because he abandoned her when she was just a child, leaving her to grow up with only her mother; She is not a good mother and not a good president,[4] because she brought her daughter Ginevra with her to the G7 summit in Bali (“she could have left her daughter with the father”; “how can she deal with her daughter if she’s at the G7”; and “how can she deal with the G7 if she has to take care of her daughter”).

It was a public debate with the aim of delegitimizing tout court a woman who like many women, seeks a sustainable balance between roles in her personal life, and with absent fathers. In reality, though, it is her political story that explains her public behavior, not her gender. Similar to the choices made by Meloni, a study[5] on female quotas on the boards of listed and public companies in Italy shows that many board members elected thanks to the Golfo-Mosca Law were against female quotas and distant from questions linked to parity between men and women and the gender discrimination that still exists. It is not permissible to think that all women follow the same feminist thinking and/or that they interpret the cause of women and their consequent emancipation from the domination of the patriarchy from the same perspective. So it is not the gender of the person in charge that counts, but the model of interpretation of power that guides their behavior, independent of gender. This critical and often disparaging view in public opinion has not regarded only Giorgia Meloni but is a constant that affects women who access power and expose themselves publicly. Some studies[6] stress that women candidates in politics are involved more than men in discussions that regard their character and personality rather than their political programs, and attacked more frequently than male candidates by media aggression, especially on social media. For a woman, taking on an election campaign and seeking a career in politics has a negative impact on her personal reputation, and in some cases on her physical safety. This is a critical aspect that highlights the persistence of differences linked to gender and that underscores the existence of a patriarchal culture that impedes parity and weakens and delegitimizes all women, independent of their political beliefs. We could expand our view and expect that if there are women in positions of power who do not express feminist thinking, there are men who could act as spokesmen for themes of equity and inclusion, that in today’s society regard parity, respect and non-discrimination, not only against men and women. In any event, perhaps many women would have preferred a first female prime minister who represented feminist thinking; as women, though, we cannot but see this historic step as a benefit for all of us, independent of Giorgia Meloni’s political beliefs, with respect to which everyone is free to distance herself and dissent.

[5] ““Diversità e inclusione”” non sono (ancora) un affare da CdA,” E&MPlus, July 15, 2021.

[6] “Female 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates Face a 'Gender Penalty' Online, Study Finds,” Time, November 5, 2019; L. Di Meco, “She persisted. Women, politics and power in the new media world”, The Wilson Center, 2019.