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Gender as catalyst for violence against Roma in contemporary Italy

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Silvio Berlusconi's use of ethnicity and immigration as national security issues in his successful campaign for election to the Italian presidency in 2008 was by no means unique in contemporary Europe. What was surprising was the speed of his right-wing government's legislative restriction of migrants in the form of the so-called 'security package', first introduced just five weeks after the election. Woodcock explores the striking fact that this 'security package', and the intense wave of racist violence by Italians against Roma that it legitimized and encouraged, was proposed and justified in response to media reports of Italian babies being stolen by 'Zingari' from the 'nomad camps' and of Italian women being raped and beaten by Romanian men of 'Zingari' ethnicity. Gender and ethnicity are the twin constitutive discourses of modern European society, and racialized subjects are necessarily gendered. The stereotype of 'dangerous black men sexually threatening white women' has been mobilized in a vast range of European and colonial nationalist projects in order to justify the policing of both racialized masculine subjects and women as objects of the patriarchy. Similarly, the depiction of women as hysterical, sexually vulnerable objects in need of (white) masculine protection is an old story that the Italian media recognize as a fairy tale even as they reproduce the discourse. Woodcock explores what has not been mentioned thus far, namely, that gender stereotypes are vital to the mobilization of violent racism against the Roma in contemporary Italy, and how conservative gender binaries are strengthened and policed in a time of social crisis through the stereotyping of Roma as racial threat.

Keywords: European migration; Gypsies; Italy; Roma; Zingari; ethnicity; gender; nomads; racism; rape; security package; violence

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2010-12-01

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