In English the move toward gender-neutral language has brought such changes as “police officer” for “policeman”, “chairperson” for “chairman”, replacing a gendered noun with a neutral one.
Italian also is undergoing a change, with the same aim, but in a different direction: most such titles are now being used in the masculine even when referring to a woman. So “il Ministro delle pari opportunità, Mara Carfagna”, using a masculine article (il) and noun (ministro). Alternatives are to use the feminine article “la", treating the noun “ministro” as invariable (“La Ministro delle pari opportunità, Mara Carfagna”), and using the formerly masculine noun “ministro” with a feminine termination (“ministra” or “ministressa”): “La Ministra delle parti opportunità, Mara Carfagna” or “La Ministressa delle pari opportunità, Mara Carfagna”.
A short test with Phras.In gives me the following frequencies:
|Il Ministro Carfagna||23,300|
|La Ministra Carfagna||7,080|
|La Ministro Carfagna||194|
|La Ministressa Carfagna||7|
Of these forms, clearly “il Ministro” is currently dominant, “la Ministra” has a respectable usage, but is probably preferred by those who do not prefer a genderless language, “la ministro” is irrelevant in terms of frequency, and the few occurrences of “la ministressa” are ironic or disparaging (for example “la ministressa Carfagna ha riproposto la riapertura dei bordelli di Stato”).
I believe that in areas where there has been a long tradition of female professionals, the preferred usage remains for gender-separate nouns, for example "professore" and "professoressa" or "dottore" and "dottoressa", while professions, such as the law, that used to be exclusively or almost exclusively male-dominated, now tend to adopt the masculine version of the title for both men and women, so “L’avvocato Rossi” could be either a man or a woman.
See also this previous post (with several interesting comments): Signora Presidente and Ms Chairperson: different paths to gender-neutral language.