I have been reading “Living Dolls” by Natasha Walter to build a critical framework for my essay, but in order to maintain a well informed and open minded view of the book i would like to see how it has been received by the public and other peoples views upon it, before i begin to write my essay and decide how much of an influence it will have on my practice: Below is a review from the Telegraph

Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter: review

In Living Dolls Natasha Walter suggests that modern feminism is in crisis, Jane Shilling is not convinced

Natasha Walter is worried about pink. ‘Our culture,’ she warns, ‘has entered a time in which, from the very start of girls’ lives, a pink frilly girliness is being seen as purely natural rather than at least partly constructed, and as they grow into adults women are often assumed to have very different talents and skills from the men around them.’

There are two separate, though related, issues here, and in her anatomy of the problem of pinkness Walter tackles them individually, dividing her book into two sections, subtitled ‘The New Sexism’, and ‘The New Determinism’.

In Part One she considers the hypersexualisation of the culture: the objectification of women from a tender age, not solely (or even primarily) by men, but by themselves, in a defiant re-imagining of the feminist terms of ’empowerment’ and ‘liberation’.

From the ‘nauseating’ spectacle of the third floor of Hamley’s toyshop, where ‘everything was pink’, to the ‘Babes on the Bed’ competition at Mayhem nightclub in Southend, Walter finds evidence that ‘the culture?…?values women primarily for their sexual attractiveness’.

Though she uncovers a groundswell of dismay among some of the young women she speaks to, others seem very much at ease with the culture she deplores. She quotes a survey in which more than one-third of the teenage girls interviewed said they saw Jordan as a role model, and half said that they would consider glamour modelling.

‘When I was at university in the late 1980s,’ Walter writes, ‘that sniggery British culture of Benny Hill and Page Three seemed to be on the way out. But the revitalisation of glamour modelling has become the symptom of a wider change?…?This objectified woman,’ she concludes, ‘is the living doll who has replaced the liberated woman who should be making her way into the 21st century.’

In the second part of her book Walter pursues her belief that the progress of 21st-century women towards true equality with men has been set back by a fashionable scientific emphasis – seized upon with enthusiasm by the media – on the idea that nature, not nurture, determines masculine and feminine behaviour.

Here Walter’s methodology changes from the anecdotal evidence of her first section to analysis of the scientific literature. For every research finding claiming to produce evidence for hard-wired gender difference, Walter produces another showing the opposite. The trouble with this is that, as she says, she is not herself a scientist, and therefore not really qualified to evaluate the various studies, so the reader ends up watching a kind of scientific ping-pong match, the outcome of which essentially depends on one’s sympathy, or lack of it, with Walter’s proposition.

Alert though she is to doublethink in the arguments of those she disagrees with, Walter is not entirely innocent of it herself. She cites with indignation, for example, the condemning of Hilary Clinton during her presidential candidacy campaign, for a ‘fake, frightening’ laugh, without mentioning a similar brouhaha over the cacchinatory oddity of the former Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith.

Repeatedly she declines to press her points to their conclusion. Among the topics she doesn’t explore, in detail or at all, are the effects of parenting, education, class and attitudes to alcohol in the UK on young women’s self-image. She doesn’t compare the behaviour or expectations of British young women with their peers elsewhere in the world. Nor does she, in the second part of her book, interview women who have made successful careers – or have tried to do so and been baulked – in such male-dominated environments as politics, business and the law.

Towards the end of her book she quotes Harriet Harman and the journalist Anne McElvoy, both of whom ask her why she is so pessimistic about the current situation of women, but she fails to pursue the point. She appears reluctant to acknowledge the possibility that the daughters of the Seventies feminists may have taken a chilly look at their mothers’ aspirations and achievements and concluded that they would like something different.

Living Dolls is, in short, not so much the ‘urgent report on the dangerous situation that our women face today’ that its publishers claim, more an impassioned, emotional polemic. As such, it is an interesting contribution to the literature of feminism.

Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism

By Natasha Walter


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