Saturday, February 28, 2009

For paperwork-phobic married women (but not men)

Because, you know, we hate anything that remotely resembles a hassle, a Canadian company called "I'm a Mrs." has solved the problem of changing your last name after marriage...for women. So husbands who want to hyphenate or change their name are still lost in the disturbing realms of government forms and new gym cards. The service, advertised as the "perfect bridal shower gift" (at last!) costs $29.95 (Canadian dollars) and includes copies of government forms needed to change your name. But we all know that if you are really dedicated to marital bliss, you'll shell out for the $49.95 package, which gives access to everything in the "I'm a Mrs." database, including fitness centers and medical forms.

The site says in its description:

"we appreciate that when you've tied the knot and become someone's missus you want to move forward and get on with this exciting new chapter in your life. No one likes spending hours sourcing forms, addresses and instructions. you're proud of your new name and you want it on that gym card, on your subsciptions and store cards, as well as on all the official necessaries. we've done all the searching and sourcing for you, so all you have to do is click on the forms and letters you need and send them off."

I really don't know what I think of this. But I know I don't like that there isn't a package for men. Thoughts?

No Octomom porn


The Boston Herald reports that Nadya Suleman (the 'Octomom') has turned down the porn offer she received last week. Vivid Entertainment offered Suleman $1 million, plus health and dental insurance for her family for a year, to appear in "a handful" of pornographic films this year. Suleman explained: “I believe in love and romance. Not cheap thrills that belittle women."

Without dwelling further on the decisions that this particular woman has made, I wonder if this kind of offer is acceptable. Can we allow female bodies to be put on the free market? This is an issue not only in the form of sex work, but also in the practice of paying large sums for egg donations from college students who need money. It's encouraging that Suleman could turn down the offer. But should we accept these kinds of exchanges as fair?

Sita sings the blues

by Angie D.

How would a recently-dumped comic strip artist rewrite an ancient Hindu epic in which a chaste and devoted wife must kill herself to prove her loyalty (after being kidnapped by a ten-headed demon king)? Through a multimedia, jazz-inspired, feature-length cartoon rife with sarcasm and full of female empowerment of course.

Sita Sings the Blues is the masterpiece of Nina Paley, an American seeking catharsis after her husband (whom she followed to India for his career) ended their marriage via email. Paley incurred $20,000 worth of debt and transformed her home and life into a one-person production studio to bring her retelling of the Goddess Sita’s (and the artist Nina’s) story to life.

While I probably won’t make it to any of the film festivals where the cartoon is winning hearts and critical acclaim, I plan to watch the movie on my laptop, from the comfort of my dorm room. That’s right; Paley has made her film freely available online here. According to a New York Times article, Paley’s priority is just allowing people to see the film. Presumably, getting justice for Sita (and possibly for herself) is more important than profit.

Friday, February 27, 2009

"Am I the only one who felt time stop?"

It's Friday, and you know what that means: Target Women!

This week: the epic showdown between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston and John Meyer. Sarah untangles the aftermath, when "we looked to the Hollywood news shows to help us understand how three professional actors could all end up the same annual award show!" Classic.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Because those 100-calorie packs drive us WILD!

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

This is really charming. There was an article in Tuesday's New York Times about the dilemma over at Frito-Lay, where they've discovered that women are snacking more than men, but not eating as many Frito-Lay snacks. What's wrong with those crazy ladies? To find out, Frito-Lay "researched women’s feelings about snacking and guilt to produce new packaging, new flavors and a new ad campaign, all in an effort to get women to eat Frito-Lay snacks."

Snacking and guilt? The good people at Frito-Lay quickly abandoned the idea that they should perhaps try to alleviate women's guilt. Instead, they have taken drastic steps not to "trip" it (because women's guilt is like a bomb...and when it explodes, you'd best not be nearby!). The accompanying ad campaign is called "Only in a Woman's World" and features four women who are “fab, funny, fearlessly female" (oh my God! Just like me!).

But just in case you're worried, Frito-Lay hasn't made the products too "girly." Because they're very aware that some of their customers are men, who aren't going to buy this crap. Just the guilty women.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bad blood

by Franki Butler

The other night, several of my friends and I were talking about the most recent campus blood drive – specifically, some of the more interesting rules about who can and cannot give blood. Allow me to share with you my personal favorites from the Can Not list :

• You are a man and have had sex with another man, even once
• You have engaged in sex for drugs or money since 1977
• You are, or have been in sexual contact with someone in the above list

It was several years ago when I first heard these rules, and I was fairly confused. The anti-prostitute rule I could almost understand, though given that volunteer blood is tested for disease, I would think that the rule would have a shorter time frame than “since 1977.” Someone who was a hooker 20-30 years ago but is currently clean shouldn’t constantly be coming up against the wall of his/her past. It’s discrimination based on conception, rather than fact.

The other practice that continues to baffle and outrage me is that of banning gay men – and not just gay men, but all males who have had homosexual intercourse and all women who have had sex with men who’ve had homosexual intercourse – from giving blood. And this isn’t simply some archaic law someone forgot to take off the books; the Federal Drug Administration re-stated the policy in 2007. The stated reason for this is that such donors are at a higher risk for HIV, but aside from the fact that “have you tested HIV positive?” is on the blood donor questionnaire, donor blood is tested for HIV. So basically the policy boils down to “Everyone knows The Gays carry HIV, so even though we test donor blood for that specific virus, we’re still going to dismiss all possible gay male donors, and anyone who might have caught their gay cooties, just in case.” Real classy, FDA, real classy.

High-risk behavior by some men should not exclude all gay, bisexual, sexually-open heterosexual men, or women who have been with any of the above from giving blood. It doesn’t make sense. The incidence of HIV transmission from male-to-male intercourse is high, yes, but there are other factors at work. Banning people who have had unprotected sex with a partner whose health status was unknown would make far more sense. Slightly clunkier wording, perhaps, but when trying to end discrimination and allow more people to participate in a practice that could save lives, I think the extra linguistic effort is worth it.

The gray area of "got consent?"

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

Most of the women on college campuses have seen the signs taped to the back of bathroom stalls, with their ominous statistic: 1 in 4. It’s the number of women who, according to the signs, will be victims of rape or attempted rape by the time they graduate. At Princeton, the signs take the form of a helpful “study guide for going out” with tips like “Take a cell phone” and “Check in with your friends.” The signs reflect a much larger part of college culture: the fear surrounding sex and alcohol. And, indeed, one of the first facts that the “1 in 4” signs anxiously let us know is that 70% of sexual assaults on college campuses are committed under the influence of alcohol.

In 1993, a doctoral student at Princeton named Katie Roiphe published an article about these signs (they’ve been around for longer than you thought!) in the New York Times Magazine, called “Date Rape’s Other Victim.” In it, she recalls her puzzlement over the idea that 25% of the women she saw walking around campus every day had been sexually assault, one which I think is shared by many people. “It didn't seem right,” Roiphe wrote. “If I was really standing in the middle of an "epidemic," a "crisis" -- if 25 percent of my women friends were really being raped -- wouldn't I know it?”

Roiphe’s article, which I read for my Politics of Gender and Sexuality class earlier this week, is a controversial, incisive, and still very relevant discussion of whether our preoccupation with sexual assault on campus, particularly assault in conjunction with alcohol, is healthy—or whether we are having the right conversation. She opens the article with a provocative statistic: in a 1985 survey undertaken by Ms. magazine and financed by the National Institute of Mental Health, 73 percent of the women categorized as rape victims did not initially define their experience as rape. It was the psychologist conducting the study who did. Roiphe goes on to pose the question: how responsible can a woman be held for her intake of alcohol and drugs? And are we stripping her of crucial agency by not holding her responsible? If a woman has sex and her judgment is “impaired,” whose “fault” is the sex? And should we even be talking about blame?

I was extremely intrigued by Roiphe’s article, which addresses the utter liminality of sex under the influence of alcohol—which, let’s face it, is the sex that most college students are having. When we’re warning the incoming freshmen about the dangers of date rape, are we also redefining sexual desire? Are we being forced into a damaging stereotype where men pressure women into sex and women resist? Roiphe points out that much of the language used to warn women about the dangers of sexual assault dates straight from the 1950s, when young women were still perceived as wide-eyed children, and their innocence was the most important component of their sexuality. I don’t think of myself as particularly fragile, but according to the “1 in 4” signs, every time I decide to drink and go out, I am in serious danger of becoming a victim.

But in the context of drunken sex, what does consent even mean? This is when the line becomes muddied, and when we need be having a different conversation. If a man and a woman get drunk, have sex, and wake up regretting it, the man will always be blamed for the night’s events, even if at the time he perceived them as mutual, and even if he regrets the decision equally. The assumption that men always want sex and women never do, and that women are not always equally or partially responsible for intoxicated sex, is old-fashioned and just not true. This is not to say that there are not instances of date rape and sexual assault while under the influence of alcohol. But here again, Roiphe makes an interesting assertion: “if we are going to maintain an idea of rape, then we need to reserve it for the instances of physical violence, or the threat of physical violence.”

In my politics class today, someone brought up a Charles Blow editorial from last December. In it, Blow bemoaned the “demise of dating”, saying, with apparent anguish, “Under the old model, you dated a few times and, if you really liked the person, you might consider having sex. Under the new model, you hook up a few times and, if you really like the person, you might consider going on a date.”

Or, in other words, those young people are doing what now?!?

If you ask me, there is no reason to go back to the days of “going steady.” College students have been having a lot of sex for a long time, and just because it’s only now entering the public eye does not mean that it’s a new phenomenon. And I agree with Roiphe that there is something disturbing and potentially damaging about the “1 in 4” culture—one which reinforces the idea of a fundamental communication barrier between men and women. If he was speaking "boyspeak" and she was speaking "girlspeak", then how are they supposed to know what means "no" and what means "yes"?

Do I think that the drunken hook-up is something that we should maintain, or encourage? Not really. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily empowering about this exercise of sexuality—but it does seem to be something that’s unique to college, a time when people are still figuring themselves out, making mistakes, and forming their sexual identity. I don’t think the drunken hookup is necessarily traumatic, and in many cases, both parties are too drunk to consent. And the way to lessen the culture of sexual pressure which permeates college campuses isn’t to turn women into victims and men into predators, and which basically denies women sexual agency. Consent is a lot more complicated than we’re making it. And at the bottom of all of this, isn’t there a lingering taste of the old days, when women knew they shouldn’t be having sex at all?

Relieved... I guess?

by Laura Smith-Gary

Good news, folks: Dating A Banker Anonymous -- at least, the "support group" DABA -- is not as bad as it originally portrayed itself to The New York Times. In fact, it seems like it was something of a hoax.

I simultaneously feel relieved and a little sheepish -- I definitely rose to the "no feminists here" bait, flying into a tizzy of self-righteousness and feeding the DABA women the attention they so desperately wanted. Obviously, the point of this operation was to create a stir (and probably a book deal), and I'm embarrassed to have played into their hands.

However, at the risk of sounding perpetually self-righteous, I'm not ready to let these women off the hook. First of all, I'm not entirely convinced that their "tongue-in-cheek" blog wasn't still reflective of their thoughts and feelings. While it does seem exaggerated, the blog seems satirical in the mildest sense, tongue-in-cheek in a "I'm cute and clever and can wink at my own shallowness!" kind of way, not a "Colbert Platinum" kind of way.

Second of all, it makes me queasy to think that the best way to rocket to instant fame, as a woman, is to play into the worst and most base stereotypes about women: shallow, mercenary, sexual only for material gain, vain, and thoughtless. (Or, of course, to have a litter of babies.) Why do we rush to bestow book deals on people who write drivel like this (possibility of long-lasting social experiment and/or satire excepted) and He's Just Not That Into You?

It's possible, of course, that these women are actually feminists attempting to draw attention to all our silly stereotypes about and simmering resentment toward rich white women. On the other hand, C.S. Lewis pointed out in The Screwtape Letters that our society will excuse and even applaud any number of sins and bad behaviors if the perpetrator portrays them as jokes and decries anyone objecting as lacking a sense of humor. If the DABA women are engaging in real satire, I wish them well. If they're merely trying to excuse appalling attitudes with a teasing tone, I wish they would grow up.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Accomodation, anyone?

by Jordan Bubin

On a lighter note, for anyone out there who has trouble multitasking during oral sex, check out the Accommodator. On an abstract level, I can see the utility in this thing, but I feel like it would require serious dedication to make this anything other than a gag gift. I've spent more than one Saturday night in my hometown stopping by the local sex shop after the bars with my friends--it's a really small town, and it wasn't to purchase, but to browse and laugh at the things that Adam & Eve concoct, I swear--so I've seen plenty of strange things, the funniest of which tend to be aimed at those men who must be dedicated to having a solo sex life (I wouldn't want to put my penis in a $90 French press, but I think they sell such things for pleasure). But this is near the top of my weird things list, so it's worth an informal commenter poll--ladies? Seriously--would you want someone chasing you around the bedroom with this strapped to their chin?

When wedding bells ring too soon

by Franki Butler

While I’m generally a woman of strong opinions, I simply don’t know what to think about this story:


On one hand, I’m not going to begrudge a nine year-old leukemia patient anything she wants. If the girl wants a wedding, by gosh let her have a wedding. On the other, I’ve got to question the adult involvement. I’m going to assume that Jayla just wanted the pretty dress and the party and the opportunity to be closer to her best friend because, frankly, she’s nine and I doubt she’s really embraced the full concept of marriage. We even hear the minister say “Do you take José to be your friend forever,” as opposed to the traditional vows (good gracious, I hope they weren’t using traditional vows). But what about the grown-ups? What about this big production they’ve created? The ratio of adults to children in many of these shots was the opposite of what I would expect for what is, essentially, a children’s party. How much of this is a child’s dream to have a big fancy wedding, and how much of this is her parents’ desire to see their little girl walk down the aisle?

And my biggest question, what about the groom? We see him only briefly in the video and we don’t get to hear him speak at all. How does the little boy feel about this? Is he as on board as Jayla, or is this marriage strictly a female-motivated endeavor?

As I stated previously, I’m certainly not going to begrudge a dying girl her last wish. I am, however, slightly uncomfortable with the fact that such highly gendered ideas of commitment have been programmed so young – or that’s the way it seems from the video at least. There is little in the idea of marriage to attract a nine year-old girl, other than the idea hammered into us by society that every girl should want to be bride and start planning her wedding while still in the cradle. The story doesn’t bother me nearly as much as what the story represents. While I understand a child’s instinct to play house, I can’t help but feel a bit wrong about elementary-aged children’s involvement in such an adult enterprise.

That said, my hopes and prayers are with the Cooper family. My fingers are crossed that both children will beat the odds and find the opportunity for a real wedding, much further in the future.

The global gag rule and its aftermath: the long road ahead

Check out this video from Planned Parenthood about the direct impact of the global gag rule on women in Ethiopia, and about why, even though the rule was overturned last month, we need to keep fighting for worldwide reproductive health.

The whitewashed tombs of California

by Laura Smith-Gary

"...Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself... Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself." 1 Samuel 18:1,3 NIV

In 2005, a private Lutheran high school in California expelled two female students for having a "bond of intimacy" that was "characteristic of a lesbian relationship." (According to the article I linked to, evidence of this intimate bond was an online picture of the girls hugging, a reported verbal expressions of affection, and a MySpace listing of "not sure" as a sexual orientation). When the girls filed an anti-discrimination lawsuit, the school argued that having a legal right to expel students based on the appearance of a possible homosexual relationship was critical in instilling Christian values in their students.

On January 28th, California's 4th District Court of Appeal unanimously sided with the administration. Again according to the article above, after the trial the school's lawyer said that the ruling was important because it would allow private schools to "teach Christian values in a Christian setting pursuant to a Christian code of conduct."

There are so many things wrong with this it makes my head spin. I'll spare you the bulk of my constitutional, legal, religious, moral, practical, and political dissection of this fiasco, but the summarized version is this: in the past, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed private schools to do pretty much whatever they want, especially if they cite religion as a factor -- with a few key, relevant exceptions like Bob Jones v. The United States. (In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that because the country had a critical interest in ending racial discrimination, as long as the school had an interracial dating ban the United States government had every legal right to withdraw all support.)

And other than some dubious constitutional-precedent support, California Lutheran High School don’t have a leg to stand on in expelling these girls -- not ethically, not religiously, not practically. A male principal has the right to interrogate two female sixteen-year-olds about their sexual orientation and possible inappropriate touching, the school has the right to expel two best friends because someone overheard them say "I love you" to each other, the administration has the right to inform their parents about their appearance of possible "sin", and all these adults charged with educating and nurturing teenagers have the right to humiliate and condemn two young women in every circle where they could possibly hope for support, because otherwise they won't be able to teach Christian values in a Christian setting? Are you kidding me?

If anyone wants to discuss Boy Scouts v. Dale, Leviticus, the federal and state regulation of private schools, or anything else relevant, by all means comment and we will discuss. For now, though, instead of dissecting of the case piece by piece for you, I will end as I began, with a quotation from the book supposedly shaping the lives and guiding the actions of the staff, students and administration of California Lutheran High School:

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead man's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." Matthew 23:27, NIV

Monday, February 23, 2009

And the Oscar goes to...

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

Last month, when the Golden Globes rolled around, I wrote a post about the gendering of awards shows...namely, why we have a "best actress" and "best actor" but not a "best male cinematographer" and "best female cinematographer". Some have argued that it's because of star power (everyone wants more acting categories, but nobody wants to prolong the agony that is best sound editing), while others protest that this is the only way that women are ever going to win anything (think back to last night and try to remember how many of those sound editors and mixers and short filmmakers were women), but it's certainly interesting, and something that we tend to take pretty much for granted. Monica Hesse had an editorial about this very subject in the Washington Post yesterday, and she points out that the gender disparity isn't just in the awards, but in the films themselves. She cites a 2008 study by the University of Southern California which evaluated nearly 7,000 speaking roles in recent Oscar-nominated movies, and found that only 27 percent of those roles belonged to women. In films with female directors, however, the percentage skyrocketed to 44 percent. But then again, no female director has ever won the Best Director Oscar, and only three have ever been nominated.

So what's a female actress to do? I certainly don't want to think what would have happened if Kate Winslet had been up against Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke for the "Best Performer" Oscar last night. But in a year where Penelope Cruz won for her role as a unstable ex-lover in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and the only female character in the "Best Picture", Slumdog Millionaire, is pretty much there to be beautiful and the object of the main character's desire, and women were otherwise very much absent from the Oscars stage, I think we can all agree that some change is in order. And even though blaming the awards shows may not be the most productive solution, it's certainly a symptom of a larger problem.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fashion Week food drop

by Chloe Angyal

Eating disorders are not about food. That's counterintuitive, I know, but it's crucial to understanding why people binge, purge and starve themselves. It's never about food - it's about anxiety and self-loathing and insecurity, and food or overexercise are just the media in which those emotions are expressed. As we say in the Eating Concerns Advisers, an eating disorder is a food answer to a non-food problem. So these guys got it really wrong.

But, because last week was New York Fashion Week, and because this week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, because my fellow Australian Hugh Jackman is hosting the Oscars tonight and because my thesis is leaving me in serious need of a giggle... I'm posting this video.

Academic badassery: Claire Max

by Molly Borowitz

Congratulations to Professor Claire Max '72, the first woman to receive Princeton's James Madison Medal—awarded annually to a Graduate School alumnus or alumna "who has had a distinguished career, advanced the cause of graduate education or achieved an outstanding record of public service."

I happened to be at the Alumni Day luncheon yesterday when Professor Max received her award, and I found her speech to be entertaining, a bit poignant, and thoroughly relevant to our purposes here. For starters, President Tilghman seemed uniquely pleased to be able to present the Madison Medal to its first female recipient (although it was hard to tell because she is just so poised and professional at all times)—yeah, women! Represent! No, but really. Professor Max, who received her undergrad degree from Radcliffe College in 1968 (when the ratio of women to men was about one to five, she said), told her audience that coming to Princeton in the late 1960s was "a little weird." There weren't any girls on campus, she pointed out. To be one of the only women studying at Princeton was flattering but also isolating. But she was there in the fall of 1969 when the first female freshmen walked through Fitzrandolph Gate, and she expressed honor and pride at getting to have that experience.

She was also proud of Princeton and its Board of Trustees; she mentioned an educational study released in the late '60s that indicated that co-ed classrooms with equal numbers of girls and boys ("just how we wanted it," she said, "fifty-fifty") were the most effective learning environment for college students of both sexes, and said she thought it was "pretty neat" that Princeton had responded so quickly to that evidence. (Now, that's not to say that all problems were resolved once women were allowed on Princeton's campus, but it should be remembered that some eating clubs went co-ed right away!)

The presenters briefly listed Professor Max's academic achievements—or perhaps I should say "as briefly as possible," because this lady is an academic badass. Although her Ph.D from Princeton is in astrophysical sciences, she has also worked in plasma physics, laser fusion, astronomy, and adaptive optics (a technique that keeps the Earth's atmosphere from blurring the images produced by ground-based telescopes, so that they're just as clear as images taken by telescopes in space). She is a professor at UC Santa Cruz and the astronomer for the UC observatories, and she was just recently elected to the National Academy of Sciences, which is one of science and engineering's top honors (Shirley T is also a member). David Spergel, chair of Princeton's astrophysical sciences department, says that Professor Max "has developed the techniques that let us see planets, quasars, and galaxies with remarkable clarity…Claire's work is essential not only for the current generation of great telescopes but is a key element in the next generation."

I think my favorite part of the experience was sharing it with my friend Adam, a senior in the physics department. As Professor Max's credentials were being read, he turned to me and said, "Who says there can't be great women physicists?" Charmed, I laughed. "No, but really," he said, very earnest, "I would say that some of the most important discoveries in all of physics have been made by women." So congratulations again to Professor Max for breaking down barriers in the academic world, in the atmosphere, and in the minds of Princeton's men. 40 years later, we can't tell you how much we appreciate all you've done.

February 22-28 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

To find out more about the week and upcoming events, go to the National Eating Disorders Awareness Association website.

To find out more about eating disorders, go to the National Institute of Mental Health Website.

To find out more about why you deserve happiness and love, put away the scales and the mirror, and go hug your friends and family.

If you're worried about yourself or a friend and want to talk to someone, make an appointment at McCosh's third floor, or email the Eating Concerns Advisers (ECAs) at ecadvise@princeton.edu. You can also email any of them personally:

Amanda Smith: acsmith@princeton.edu
Grace Kim: hgkim@princeton.edu
Julia Kearney: jkearney@princeton.edu
Maddie Endicott: mendicot@princeton.edu
Matthew Edwards: mledward@princeton.edu
Ros Kellen: rkellen@princeton.edu
Abigail Weiss: awtwo@princeton.edu
Sophia LeMaire: slemaire@princeton.edu
Elizabeth Winkler: zwinkler@princeton.edu
Ada Amobi: aamobi@princeton.edu
Euphemia Mu: emu@princeton.edu
Stephanie Ng: svng@princeton.edu
Elizabet Sucuyan: esucuyan@princeton.edu
Kaitlin Sennatt: ksennatt@princeton.edu

Italy cracks down: race, rape and really questionable policy

by Christina DiGasbarro

Just a few days ago, Italy enacted a new law toughening up punishments and procedures for rape cases; though it has yet to be approved by the parliament, the law has already gone into effect. The interesting things is that sexual violence in Italy is on the decline; what, then, was the impetus for this emergency legislation? Recent rapes that have garnered media attention and made for widespread outrage.

There are some heartening and worthwhile provisions in the new law. Now, those who rape children or kill the victims of their rape, if convicted, will face lifetime prison sentences. Hopefully the severity of the sentence will discourage future rapists; even if it doesn’t, at least these most violent of rapists will be off the streets. The law also will expedite trials for rapists who are caught in the midst of their crime, which will prevent money being wasted on drawn-out legal proceedings, should the rapist in such a case have the audacity to plea ‘not guilty.’ Most positively, the law provides legal aid to the victims of rape free of charge. These measures all indicate that women’s safety is being taken seriously, and that sexual offenders will not be able to get off easily.

At the same time, there are some troubling provisions. Italy has been having trouble with illegal immigration and foreigners for quite a while now, and the most recent rapes to receive large amounts of attention were allegedly committed by foreigners. As such, the new law includes some measures that specifically target immigrants. Immigrants now may be detained for a full six months (it used to be only two) while they are identified, processed, etc. Vigilante groups have recently appeared, targeting foreigners; the new law almost legalizes these groups in an attempt to regulate them. Unarmed volunteers, in constant contact with the police, will now patrol the streets of Italy’s cities to watch for and thus attempt to prevent crimes.

I’m not sure that having such volunteer patrols when the atmosphere is so highly emotionally charged is a good idea even in theory; one can hope that, in practice, it will work out without increasing violence or discrimination against foreigners, but that does seem like a bit too much to hope for. And the tripling of the period for detaining immigrants is simply the latest attempt to patch up what Italians regard as a broken immigration system; but this measure seems more likely to cause more administrative troubles and make immigration more contentious, as opposed to making the system work better.

While I applaud the Italian government for taking sexual assault seriously, the volunteer patrols and restrictions on immigration have serious potential to, at the least, make life more difficult for immigrants and encourage discrimination and profiling, or, in the extreme, actually endanger immigrants by seeming to encourage vigilante behavior. In seeking to protect the rights and safety of some—a truly worthy goal—we must not sacrifice the rights and safety of others; a trade-off cannot be acceptable when everyone involved is equally a human being.