Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Living Dolls - Natasha Walter

Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter is excellent and terrifying reading. She presents a Stepford Wives culture which is somehow sold to young girls as empowerment. To become a prostitute is empowering because you're making money from men - you're in charge. The height of many teenagers' ambition is to become a glamour model or a footballer's WAG. Looks are everything and you have t conform to a particular type of beauty - by fair means or foul. Girls are getting boob jobs for their 18th birthday, young girls are having surgery to make their labia look like the ones they see in porn films. No one will go out with the intention of sleeping with a boy unless they are completely waxed and depilated.

Walter's interviews with teenagers and women in their 20s make tragic reading and show how girls are put in a straight jacket even more than they were prior to the 70s. What is even more tragic are the thoughts of the girls who don't want any part of this culture and who feel completely cut off and ostracized by their peers because of it. Prostitution is seen as empowering and liberating and as something girls choose freely.

The second half of the book demolishes stereotypes which are frequently deemed to be inbuilt and biologically determined. Walter points out that the studies which show little difference in mental functioning between the sexes get no publicity. She also demolishes the few well publicised studies which do show a difference as flawed. She suggests that such books as 'Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus' do more harm than good to the relationships between the sexes.

The media, as the book shows, seem bent on perpetuating old fashioned stereotypes with their emphasis on women's looks, catching a man, worshipping domesticity and turning it into an art form. Women in top jobs and positions of power are declining in numbers as pressure mounts on women to stay at home and be feminine. The section on how high powered political women are lambasted by the media is frightening reading. Appearance and behaviour are all. If women start behaving in a powerful way they very quickly get knocked back. Harriet Harman for instance who if you can actually get accurate details of what she says frequently does make eminent sense. But she is misrepresented in the media - probably because she has no problem with speaking out.

This is a really good, well written and frightening book and I would urge anyone - male or female to read it.

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