Tag Archives: Feminism

#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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The danger of labels by Meri Wills

I recently watched the French short film reversing men’s and women’s roles in “everyday sexism”.  When I got to the end, I have to say it got me thinking about the everyday things that I experience and that I don’t even really notice anymore let alone complain about: The woman often in front of me in the line at the coffee shop who will try and flirt her way out of paying if a man is serving, but will be downright rude if it’s a woman. The bus driver who, if he’s stopping for a cigarette while parked and I walk past him on my way into the office, will always make a comment along the lines of “Hello again, beautiful.” The van which beeps as it drives past. The women shaking their heads and tutting at the woman with her stockings slightly showing through the slit of her pencil skirt as she walks to work.

 

We’re coded to judge people when we first meet them, it’s an evolutionary trait which helped us not get eaten. But making that first mental judgement doesn’t mean you need to act on it, much less comment to a friend. With International Women’s Day recently passed for this year, I started thinking about why certain groups deserve special mention for their achievements, while it’s assumed that for the majorities, every day is special. I recently had a heated debate at work with a colleague about whether a white, Caucasian, heterosexual male could be ‘harmed’ by something someone said to him. I pointed out that offence can be caused for any number of reasons, and being in the majority doesn’t mean you don’t have feelings, or that you are inherently racist, sexist, homophobic or anything else. I also pointed out that while he is constantly preaching ‘don’t judge someone on how they look’, isn’t that exactly what he was doing? I suddenly realised that the difficulty I was having wasn’t with the judgements themselves, it was with the labels being slapped all over them.

 

There comes a point when frantically putting labels all over your social interactions and acquaintances just starts hampering your vision of the world. It’s probably an incredibly naive and idealistic notion but wouldn’t it be better to just talk to someone? Maybe find out a thing or two about them before you start shaming them for being a “Slut – in that skirt”, or a “Toff” or a “Hipster”. We all know that when you say you’re a feminist, it’s a dirty word for a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean you should judge them for being ignorant. Educate them, don’t preach, don’t talk down, just ask them if they think that people should be equal. If they answer yes, they’re on the same page as you.

 

Labels help us categorise the world around us and particularly the vast amount of information now available to us through the internet. It’s tempting and very easy to start labelling everything around us in a mental chart of our personal slice of the world. I know I do it, but the key is keeping those mental labels adaptable and ready to change. Discrimination happens for any number of reasons and in an intelligent species, there’s really no need for it.

 

NB: Just as an aside, while reading through the comments afterwards I couldn’t help but notice the number of people who jumped on the term everyday and were criticising the film because the really aggressive physical abuse doesn’t happen to most women on a daily basis. No, you’re right, it doesn’t. But that isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen every day in every city in every country, and that doesn’t make it any less horrific. It is everyday sexism in that these are acts committed in ‘civilised’ society to thousands of women each week, often at the hands of people close to them let alone from strangers. The message of the film was what was important not the title.

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Women of the World Festival- March 2014 by Olivia Atkins

Women Of the World (WOW) Festival took place over the International Women’s Day weekend (5-9th March).

It was a hub of creativity and inspiration, as everybody in attendance was committed and excited to celebrate the incredible achievements of women and girls around the world.

The weekend covered a vast range of topics and hosted an array of amazing guest speakers, with international voices travelling specially to participate.

Currently in their fourth year, WOW has increased in size and impact since every year that it has run. 

This year, key speakers included designer Vivienne Westwood, Australian feminist Anne Summers and influential young campaigner Malala Yousafzai.

Tickets to guest speakers sold out prior to the event, so it was worth booking in advance to guarantee a seat at these inspiring talks.

However, all was not lost for those who did not get tickets, the Marketplace was home to various stalls that raised awareness of other important gender issues and showcased new female talent.

Stall holders ranged in content from feminist magazines, female plumbing and various artworks. There were also political stallholders, with some campaigning for change, such as the Stop The Traffik campaign, and others that hoped to raise awareness and create a sense of community through promotion such as the One Billion Rising campaign.

Furthermore, the Marketplace was home to roamers – people were encouraged to interact with one another through various activities. There were stalls to make badges with inspirational messages on them (mine said ‘LOVE YOURSELF’); get your nails painted with iconic feminist prints; have your hair tied into an African wrap and many more.

Other events included various showings of gender-related films, such as Miss Representation, and my favourite was a Beyoncé Dance Class to empower women and encourage them to enjoy the act of dancing for themselves – with the class appropriately inspired by her new song ‘Run The World (Girls)’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBmMU_iwe6U

The event offered a great source of inspiration to many and acted as a common ground for many to communicate about the issues that they were impassioned by and share their ideas.

2013 saw many changes for women around the world, however, the festival was a reminder that there is still a long way to go to obtain complete gender equality.

The important thing is that people are gathering in a designated space and talking about change for women, and so long as this happens, there will always be an alternative to the gender stereotype that is frequently seen in mainstream media.   

For more info, visit: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/women-of-the-world

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Happy International Women’s Day!

How was your March the 8th? What did you do to celebrate the inspirational women in your life? How many people asked you:

1) Why is there not an International Men’s Day? (There is, 19th November by the by.) Isn’t it a bit sexist to have a women’s day?
2) Why do we even need one anyway?

Regardless, we spent the day watching this video on spoken word poetry by Sarah Kay. She’s incredible.

Let’s keep fighting until one day, every day is ours.

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Do you Love Yourself Enough? By Olivia Atkins

Valentine’s Day is typically a celebration of love. What better way to celebrate this national holiday than to attend an event that stresses the importance of loving yourself?

London’s One Billion Rising did just that. On Friday afternoon at London’s iconic Trafalgar Square, a stage was set up ready to host an array of inspirational speakers and powerful musicians.

Lynne Franks, coordinator of the London event, introduced herself and unveiled the day’s programme, adding that the event was “owned by no one and directed by everyone”. A crowd quickly gathered around the stage, keen to participate and listen to the empowering words being spoken.

1billion

Following on from the introduction, Leyla Hussein took to the microphone. Ms Hussein is a psychotherapist and a self-professed survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM). She used her personal and professional experiences to talk with the crowd. She claims that 66,000 British women have undergone FGM and that over 20,000 girls are currently at risk of being sent abroad for circumcision. Ms Hussein was born into a family where FGM was important and considered culturally significant. She too underwent the surgery but instead refuses to be acknowledged as a victim. She speaks on behalf of those who cannot or will not speak out, and for those who are ashamed of what has happened to their bodies. Ms Hussein now recognises the importance of education and works on campaigns to protect the female body. Although she did not originally think of the operation as violent, as it was accepted and encouraged within the family, now she realises it was child abuse. Responding to Ms Franks’ opening question asking participants why they were here, Ms Hussein says:

“I’m rising today for my grandmother who was married off at twelve; I’m rising for my mother, for myself, for my children and for my future grandchildren.”

Whitney Iles, aged only 26, was applauded onto the stage where she introduced herself and her job with Project 507. The project aims to dispel violence amongst youngsters aged between 8-18 by creating workshops and challenging the way they relate to one another through education. From her experience, she had encountered women as second class citizens. For, even if women are not subjected to physical violence, they can fall victim to self-judgement, psychological violence and social stereotypes, which contribute to damaging self-esteem. Ms Iles admitted: “we don’t see ourselves how we deserve to be seen” and urged the audience to improve their personal outlook. She demanded the audience to chant that they would not accept mistreatment of women any longer, and shout: “I will not be anything less than Brilliant!” Ms Iles asked the audience to look past their imperfections and to love themselves…arguing: “After all it is Valentine’s Day”.

She said, “I will rise for love because when we love ourselves we love each other” and “we become an unstoppable force.”

Wannabe Girl-band SHE17 consisted of TV personality June Sarpong, Baroness Patricia Scotland and local MP Stella Creasy. As a trio, they spoke about the importance of ending violence against women in society. They claimed that cooperative responsibility can eliminate violence, particularly in domestic violence cases where victims often seek an ally to support their decision. The audience was encouraged to do the thing they were most scared of, despite the difficulties that come with questioning patriarchy. She rallied that only through determination can gender-equality become a possibility. Ms Creasy said:  “Speak out and dance, regardless of the possibility that you might sink.”

Next up, Jude Kelly walked onto the stage and introduced herself as the artistic director of Southbank’s Women Of the World Festival (WOW). Since starting 4 years ago, she has acted as a pioneer for advocating feminism, believing that the only way to succeed is through re-educating the younger generation. WOW festival is a collection of workshops and talks spanning the International Women’s Day weekend in March, where people come together and exchange ideas about what feminism means. Ms Kelly claims that no society has achieved complete equality as of yet, but this should remain a goal to strive towards. She encourages men to become feminists too, reminding the audience that this is true equality and the reason for her rising: “Lets rise as women and men, and come together as humans.”

Human Rights Journalist and BBC Special Correspondent Sue Lloyd Roberts stressed the importance of bringing media attention to gender-related issues. She believes this would increase public awareness and improve female mistreatment through education. She claims often “we women are” treated as “another minority, when actually we make up 51% of the world population.” Ms Lloyd Roberts encouraged a greater demand for female coverage in the media, saying that if there is an interest, it would be possible to “get violence against women on the top of the news agenda” and talked about more openly.

Rahela Siddiqi, a human rights activist in Afghanistan spoke about her time working with incarcerated female asylum seekers. She claims that despite their sentencing, offenders are often not treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. Instead, women that have faced trauma in their home countries and sought asylum abroad are met with further problems. Ms Sidiqi said that they can be offered indefinite detention, half of all victims are subjected to rape and two thirds face prosecution. Furthermore, they can be detained during any stage of their prosecution process, and are often exploited as they lack legal assistance. Female asylum seekers are rarely given time or sensitivity towards their cases. Ms Sidiqi urged the audience to rise up for female solidarity in Afghanistan.

The last speaker of the day was Marrissa, who spontaneously spoke out about domestic workers. Although she was not scheduled in the programme, she spoke about exploitative employers, who submit their workers to atrocious conditions. Her friend Lanee read out a poem which challenged the rights of undocumented workers. She attended the event to rise against ongoing slavery in the UK workforce.

Ms Franks returned to the microphone and introduced the bands Skin and Black Voices who collaborated and provided a soulful backdrop for the audience to dance to. Despite the rainy weather, there was a lot of people smiling and beginning to love themselves!

One Billion Rising Official Website

Leyla Husein advocating an end to FGM

Whitney Iles & Project 507

Jude Kelly’s Women Of the World Festival

 

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The Secret Woman project

The Secret Woman has officially launched!
A new project revealing the hidden lives of remarkable women, it aims to give a voice to women who often feel invisible. 

It aims to allow older women to share their wisdom with a younger generation, and empower everyday women to share their stories. 

ACTIVELY SEEKING CONTRIBUTORS: email secretwomanstories@gmail.com if you know a brilliant woman with a story to tell.

The project kicked off with Doreen’s story – a fiercely funny 80 year old woman whose house was bombed in the Second World War.

 
 
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Oppressed Majority tackles everyday sexism

French actress, writer, and director Eleonoré Pourriat made a short satirical film, Majorité Opprimée (Oppressed Majority), in 2010 about everyday sexism experienced by women in modern-day France. By cleverly twisting around stereotypical gender roles, it follows the life of a normal man as he moves through his day and becomes tormented by violent and dismissive women. The video exploded and went viral this week on Youtube, striking a chord with its gritty portrayal of urban life. Pourriat told The Independent this week, “Obviously, I have touched a nerve. Women in France, but not just in France, feel that everyday sexism has been allowed to go on for too long.”

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The Two of Us by Isabel Marler

The Two of Us
How was it that you had two sets of eyes?

First eyes saw me.

Second eyes, shifting, saw someone else.  A shadow in someone else’s bed.

 

And didn’t you have two pairs of ears?

First ears listened while I talked.  Heard my feminism as stranger but accepted it as friend.

Second ears heard privilege.  Got poured with poison and heard lies.

 

What I could never understand was your two mouths.

First mouth brushed mine.  Crackedlipsroughstubblewarmtongue.  And beamed and screamed I love you! First mouth made me come.

Second mouth spat syllables.  Called me whore.

 

So now I have two hearts.

First heart beats strong wrapped in clichés: itsforthebestbetteroffwithouthimonwardsandupwards

Second heart shrivels and drains.  Chamber walls collapse and stick together.

Second heart croaks for the blood that your pumping blood pumped into it when it was just the two of us.

 

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This Beast by Isabel Marler

This Beast: An Ode to Patriarchy

 

Coldness marks the success of this beast

Calculation and swiftness

Efficacy

Coldness is mathematics and is also knowing how to make them hot for your fruit

But dry bran and gelid cuts will not feed this beast

Sustenance is alive and moving

Sustenance is full of hot blood shining waves bright as magnesium

(No need at night for this beast’s lidless eyes)

Sustenance isn’t small but substantial and squirming

It squeals to stay on the forest floor

To dodge the gaping jaw

Sustenance is swallowed

Acid and time turn bones muscle blood and hair into neat chains of aminos

Absorbed, protein renews this beast who, replenished

Stalks again in colourful cold new skin

[I wrote this poem as a response to the recurring image of systems of power having crises and replenishing themselves. The starting point was thinking about the adoption ‘feminism’ by entities that otherwise uphold existing power relations, such as the UN security council, which reflect the global imbalance of wealth and power.  Transformative political movements can be taken in, broken up and absorbed by existing power structures in order to re-consolidate the latter.  It is when power masks itself that it is most effective.  Stagnation in the guise of transformation.]

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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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