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Who is in control of women's bodies?

Two news stories have got us thinking today about whos' in control of women's bodies ( or at least thinks they're in control of them! :-)

One is the news story from Castellammare di Stabia in Italy, where the mayor has ordered police officers to fine women who wear miniskirts or show too much cleavage. He's able to do this under public order legislation.

The other is news of SPARK (Sexualisation Protest: Action, Resistance, Knowledge), a new organisation opposing the media sexualisation of teenage girls.

Younger and younger women in the media are shown as sexualised figures, and SPARK aims to engage young women in questioning the way women's bodies are shown in the media. SPARK's launch was last Friday, and they've been joined by representatives of dozens of women's organisations.

So what do these stories have in common? They both raise the question 'Who controls women's bodies?'

Women's bodies in the media are processed, packaged, and photo-shopped to a male ideal of perfection, and the images projected give a single, fixed idea of women to young readers.

To women, the impossible ideal is held up as an achievable image, fuelling body insecurities of all sorts. For men, the message is that women are two dimensional creatures, not fully human, and interested in nothing but looking sexy and enticing.

Meanwhile, in Castelammare di Stabia, women's legs are discreetly covered up in the name of public decorum. A male mayor (and one elected on the ticket of the notoriously sexist Silvio Berlusconi) gets to decide what women can and cannot wear in public.

In another way, this legislation is removing power from women - the power to go out feeling confident and attractive in their own bodies, and the power to set their own limits on what they find comfortable and appropriate, without reference to male legislators.

The fine line between sexualisation and puritanism is a tricky one, but we think SPARK's mantra of 'own your sexuality' is a good one.

It's about making conscious decisions on the way we present our bodies to the world, such as wearing make-up or heels - or trainers and jeans - because that's what we feel good in, not because we feel pressurized to.

It's about being equipped to question the media images that can knock our self-esteem to rock bottom. It's about being able to make decisions about safe sex, health, what to wear and how to behave, based on our own decisions, not those of a patriarchy that is alternately puritanical and ruthlessly exploitative.

And, most importantly, it's about passing these things on, so the next generation of women feel they have the option to be safe, define their own notion of 'sexy,' and be fully in control of their own bodies.



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