Tag Archives: female body

#UseYourAnd What? by Aimee Bea

I know I sound like a broken record but I’m going to have to talk about body hair again. Unlike gainful employment, steady cash flow and a room of one’s own, body hair has remained a niggling constant in my life. This afternoon whilst trying to waste my life on a YouTube binge I was confronted with the most outrageous body hair themed interruption to date: NOT catching a reflection of the spring sun bouncing off my milky moustache, but the new Venus #UseYourAnd campaign.

The advert itself is so outstandingly patronizing, inherently sexist and above all ridiculous that it caused me to completely forget about being able to skip it five seconds in, and I watched the whole thing. I’ve included a link to the offending video – but in case you haven’t seen it yet I’m going to break it down for you, starting with the imagery.

The advert opens with a shot of a little girl’s legs. Whether or not you chose to shave, it is impossible to deny a lost-at-sea-worthy undercurrent of infantilisation embedded in the pressure on women to remove their pubescent body hair the second it starts to show. Women are expected to carry their childhood hairlessness into adulthood, which leads the more skeptical among us to question whether woman are allowed to progress fully into adulthood at all. Presumably Venus are showcasing the bare-legged little girl in all of her pure, hairless abandon as an aspirational figure for all of those many women who strive to regress back into childhood.

Not content with a healthy eyeful of pre-adolescent girl thigh, the advert then dissolves into a montage of close up leg shots, each one lingering slightly longer than its predecessor until the whole thing starts to feel a lot like watching someone spy on a high school changing room. This unnerving and unrelenting focus on the body is reminiscent of Foucault’s interpretation of the panopticon, in which the presence of an anonymous power is able to individualize a subject, in this case women, and place them in a state of perceived constant visibility, thus keeping them on edge and more willing to conform. What Venus is doing with their all too conspicuous leg ogling is reinforcing a culturally ingrained paranoia that the female body is under constant scrutiny. It is impossible to know who’s clocking your armpits as you wave down the bus in a moment of reckless abandon, or whom the next hand to graze your thigh will belong to, but Venus is here to remind you that they could strike at any time and you MUST be prepared.

The second disturbing aspect is Venus’ snappy new slogan #UseYourAnd. Oh wait – did I say snappy? I meant completely inane. It makes no fucking sense. The unconvincing slam poet that Venus have propped up to represent women nowhere spends a lot of time spouting about how ‘They told you you could be anything’. She goes on to accuse the presumably very same They of trying to put you in a box and whack a label on you. I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m having a little trouble discerning who They actually are. When They said ‘here’s what you really are,’ did they then follow up with ‘so take this, lock the door and try not to make too much of a mess on the bathmat when you’re done’?

I might be mistaken, but wasn’t that You, Venus, the commercial faculty of unrealistic and barbarous beauty standards? Aren’t Venus and their contemporaries the very representatives of the box that they’ve just told you to step out of? Besides, it’s more than a little patronizing for the #UseYourAnd campaign to assume that women and girls need to be told that they are in fact multifaceted humanoids.

‘Someone says your smart,’ chimes the slam-ish poet. ‘Say yes, AND…’ And what, exactly? “I’m smart AND I shaved my legs earlier, would you like to have a feel?” I could go on about how utterly puerile this is but I think we’ve had more than enough stating the fucking obvious.

Something that is not made explicit however is what exactly Venus is trying to sell. This commercial vagueness is not uncommon in the marketing of supposedly intimate female products, and is a subject I have approached in a previous post. As female hairlessness has become standard within our beauty dictatorship and voyeurism so commonplace, advertisers no longer need to explicitly refer to the functionality or purpose of their products. We – and by we, I mean women – are expected to inherently understand and dutifully comply.

While to some it might seem admirable that Venus are taking a stab at re-branding themselves with a membrane-thin coat of pseudo-feminist gloss, it doesn’t take a lot of squinting to see the real roots of their makeover. The last few years have seen a rise in feminist activists and thinkers breaking into mainstream media, the most recent example being the No More Page Three campaign. As feminism is no longer confined to the academic realm, it has become something of a bandwagon to jump on and be exploited by corporations, who take a fundamental interest in the policing of women and their bodies. In their #UseYourAnd campaign, Venus are making a tragically desperate attempt to remain relevant by appropriating language and imagery associated with the new feminist movement, but driven only by a fear of dropping sales.

I don’t have a problem with women, or anyone for that matter, choosing to shave their legs, underarms, face, cunt, butt-crack or otherwise. Though I think that this decision should come with an AND. Say for example: ‘I choose to shave AND I don’t wish to be patronized by an international company with a vested interest in keeping women conforming to a rapidly ageing beauty standard by using bullshitty, empowering-sounding hashtags while I’m doing it.’ It might be a bit long for Twitter, but I urge you to #UseYourAnd.

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Il Corpo delle Donne- ‘Women’s Bodies’ but where are women’s voices? By Joanna Brown

The representation of women in Italian television has been widely discussed over the past thirty years; notably as part of the larger debate over women’s position within the media. The controversial power division within the Italian media, especially TV channels, forms the backdrop to the recent light shed on this subject.  Lorella Zanardo’s 2009 documentary “Il Corpo delle Donne” is said to confront the representation of women in the Italian media.  Zanardo stated that her motivation behind the project was to educate and change the younger generation.  To offer a different insight into perceiving women beyond the television screen.  However, could it be that as much as Zanardo’s documentary is true and eye-opening, it lacks room for exceptions and tends to generalize and make martyrs of women who may be very conscious, of what they are doing and actually enjoy their position and role within the media?

In Italy,  women’s presence in TV and how they are represented creates a great diversity of opinions. Sergio Rodrigez, group creative director at the advertising agency Leo Burnett Italy, referring to the excessive presence of women in advertisements, confirms that “in Italy when you don’t have to use women, you use women.”

Women have a tendency to be placed at the centre of media discourses. Yet, the representation of women has historically been noted as contradictory and double-standardised, emulated through virgin/whore binaries. Where have these perceptions stemmed from and why have they come about?  How have these factors influenced today’s representation of women and does Zanardo’s documentary take these into account whilst criticising Italian TV?

Through her documentary, Zanardo creates a montage of various Italian TV programmes which she analyses and critiques with the help of her own voice-over. One of the main issues that comes through her documentary are the talentless women who are used in television as decoration, simply to accompany men. By showing scenes of women sat at the feet of a table, and splashing around under a shower in a white dress, Zanardo wishes to highlight the objectification of women in such programmes.  It is essential to break this trend and re-educate the population through TV.

Another imposing issue which emerges from the documentary is the increase in plastic surgery which she claims replaces real women by masks.  Zanardo focuses on the need to constantly look younger, calling it a humiliation only imposed on women, not men.  A further concern of Zanardo’s which stimulated once more her wanting to create the project was the absence, if not the pollution, of female role models for younger women.

Zanardo stresses the impact of these images may have on girls who may “aspire to the role as a way to get rich quickly.” In reality, this fear of lack of role models can be reflected beyond the television screen. In an interview with Adrian Michaels (2007), 19-year-old student Caterina Preti compares young girls in Italy who “link beauty with success” and “still have the example of their mothers who don’t work” with their counterparts in the UK who are “much more determined, they are career-minded.” The idea of linking success with beauty which she very much disagrees with is at the centre of Zanardo’s argument.

As much as Zanardo’s documentary was a necessary cry for attention and has served many purposes, I wish to argue that it is insufficient in presenting the situation of women in TV in Italy, rather generalised and in somewhat one sided and suffering from ‘tunnel vision’. Zanardo passes over essential representations present in Italian TV and seems to ignore the fact that the roles women tend to be placed in may be a consequence of deeper meaning rooted within their culture. Furthermore, it could even be suggested that these women may enjoy their positions and representations, embracing their identity through their physical appearance and attributes.

Luciana Litizetto is a famous Italian comedian who does not fit into the categories of women Zanardo denounces. Her latest monologue at the San Remo Festival (14th February 2013) saw her giving an alternative vision into Italian women’s media discourse rather than objectified women under glass tables. Litizetto’s monologo sull’amore proclaimed her support for homosexual rights (SR 06’01), sarcastically listed reasons why women love men (SR 02’40) (thus confirming her position as a female comedienne), and demanded respect for all women (SR 06’45) as an act of support against violence against women: “un uomo che ci mena, non ci ama” (SR 07’22). Litizetto represents a free-spirited woman who is not afraid to publicly speak her mind “un uomo che ti picchia è uno stronzo” (SR 08’17). At the end of her speech, in which she is informally seated on the stage, Litizetto, wrinkles and all, stands up and joins a group of women who start dancing as part of a flashmob “contro la violenza contro le donne” (SR 08’30). In contrast to other comparable instances, for example in L’Eredità where women interrupt the show to dance around wearing barely any clothes, these women are dressed and are dancing for a cause.

In addition, some women enjoy their position of femininity. The patriarchal sexist media hierarchy that Zanardo depicts in her documentary, is not as one sided as she suggests. Zanardo seems to make a generalisation about how women are represented. Danielle Hipkins claims that “the argument that these young women do not know their own minds and need re-education is more than redolent of paternalistic, puritanical attitudes towards female sexuality”  Furthemore, the writer Lazar has explored and defined this phenomena as “’power femininity’” in which self-objectification is not an indicator of the power of cultural expectations about how women should look, but in fact a strategy of “empowerment.” In fact, Zanardo’s portrayal of women in TV, conforming to such aesthetical standards, could be seen as an attack.

Continuing with the causes of such representation, Adrian Michaels explores deeper cultural effects which may influence women’s positions within society. In his  2007 article, Michaels calls up upon many different powerful women’s opinions, notably Laura Frati Gucci, head of Aidda the Italian association of top women managers and entrepreneurs, “Women in Italy are held back not by chauvinism but by rules and customs that inhabit their participation in work.”” Gucci explains how mothers complain about the lack of nurseries. Mario Draghi, the governor of the bank of Italy, confirms that “better designed policies to support families would have raising female employment rates. ” Michaels even demonstrates how “one female criminal lawyer (who prefers not to be named) argues that the lack of recognition of a modern woman’s needs is even visible in hospital obstetrics units.” This same anonymous lawyer estimates “that 10 per cent of women in her profession dress sexily because it is a weapon and because they like it.” Graziella Parati, head of comparative literature at Dartmouth College, claims that “television is still in the hands of men” but also that “women have bought into male paradigms of what femininity is, so they pay particular attention to their appearance; but they have also grown up in a country full of art and beauty and their attention to aesthetics in general can come from that.” From the wide range of opinions expressed by these women, we can see that women’s position in society is ambiguously controlled by social structures and services. In this respect, it could be suggested that before TV representation can be changed, more structural work needs to be done in order to better encourage women to `fight back’.

It is indisputable that Zanardo’s work has been essential in drawing Italian media discourse to the attention of its viewers regarding women’s role and representation. However, Zanardo, lacking crucial feminist critical knowledge and neglecting other sociological aspects of Italian culture, generalises the effects and the causes of such images of Italy’s population.

Women do have a choice, and if they do not voice their discontent it is not a simple question of whether or not they are willing to do so.

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Reclaiming the Abject Female Body and Writing Against Mainstream Perceptions of Hygiene, Medicine and Sexuality; PART ONE by Aimee Bea

The flows of the female body have long been burdened with connotations and associations of disorder, impurity, defilement and danger, their disregard for social and cultural policing of bodily boundaries causes them to be loaded with significations of castration and entrapment. ‘It’s stickiness is a trap, it clings like a leech; it attacks the boundary between myself and it.[1]

The fear of being dragged unwillingly beyond the boundaries of the self by the contaminating viscosity and unrivalled stickiness of the female bodily flows stems from an inherent fear of abjection.  In Powers of Horror, Julia Kristeva’s 1941 essay on abjection, she describes the seemingly uncontrollable reaction of horror of that which flows from the body female or otherwise as a fear of the abject. According to Kristeva boundaries are put in place around the body and the self in order to protect from the indefinable, or that which exists outside of recognizable realms of signification. Fear of abjection shields the human conscious from facing the ultimate unknown, death and the cadaver, causing us to distance ourselves and our bodies from their natural flows, constructing social and cultural boundaries in order to discourage a decline into abjection or abject behavior.

The notion of the abject and its associations with danger are markedly more applicable to women. The biological flows of the female body are closely conflated with her social conduct. Perhaps the most obvious example of this are the behavioral connotations affiliated with a woman’s pre-menstrual state. In modern day western- society, it is not exclusively bodily flows that women are socially and culturally obliged to both conceal and remain in full control of at all times. Mainstream ideologies that inform ever-evolving standards for personal hygiene and beautification mean that the female body is caught in a constant flux over which they have little control. The continuous pressure for women to comply to such standards enforced and supported by mainstream media and the medical institution eludes to the attempted construction of an easily controllable female body that benefits phallocentric society. As the pressure of the restraints and conformities around the female body begin to infringe further onto the self, incorporating new standards for sexuality, internal and external bodily control, self-preservation and presentation, it is of little surprise that texts begin to surface from within feminist sub-cultures.

Charlotte Roche’s controversial novel Wetlands provides a shocking and excessive approach to the female body and sexuality. From the outset protagonist sixteen year-old Helen Memel challenges exactly what defines a socially clean and proper woman, ‘as far back as I can remember, I’ve had hemorrhoids. For many, many years I thought I couldn’t tell anyone. After all, only grandfathers get hemorrhoids. I always thought they were very unladylike.’[2] Wetlands draws attention to the similarly excessive and unnecessary modern day standards of hygiene, beauty and sexuality

According to Elizabeth Grosz’s study, Volatile Bodies, the role of female flows in heterosexual sexual activity are ‘merely preparatory, the media or conduits for male sexual flow[3]’. Suggesting that complex attributes of female sexuality are overlooked by consideration of their functionality in regards to accommodating the male. Within masculine ideology the finalizing act of male ejaculation and the seminal fluid that it produces is representative of both male and female orgasm; Grosz comments on the performativity of male ejaculation, ‘his sexual specificity is not the object of the gaze but remains a mirror or rather a displacement of her pleasure (or at least his fantasy of her pleasure)[4]’. The routine and order that is imposed by male ejaculation suggests that men are able to exercise a degree of control over their bodily flows, unlike that of the female, whose inherent representation of the self and social behaviors causes these flows to appear disorderly and contaminating. This element of overriding control that the transmission of seminal fluids is dependent on, causes women’s bodies to be conceived as simply ‘receptacles of men’s body fluids and the nesting place of their product- the fetus.[5]’ Within Wetlands Roche rejects the reduction of female sexuality to it’s purely functional, reproductive means as Helen embraces the possession and release of seminal fluids,

The same can be done, of course, with cum that ends up in the pussy. Just don’t wash it away with a bidet! Instead, carry it proudly. To school for instance. Hours after sex it’ll ooze nice and warm out of your pussy- a little treat.[6]

By retaining and re-releasing semen from her vagina away from a sexualized male presence, Helen physically rejects the idea that female sexuality is purely reproductive. Helen’s release signified her re-claiming the finality of the male orgasm. The private control that Helen exercises over the ultimate release of the semen acts as a reminder of the ability within the female sexual organ for multiple orgasms.

… PART TWO COMING SOON!

By Aimee Bea Ballinger. 


[1] Purity and Danger (douglas 1980:38) look up reference.

[2] Charlotte Roche, Wetlands (London: Fourth Estate, 2009) p. 1

[3] Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies Toward a Corporeal Feminism (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1994) p.196

[4] Volatile Bodies, p.199

[5] Volatile Bodies, p.202

[6] Wetlands, p.21

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