167 of 172 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is this empowerment?
Feminism and the sexual revolution was intended to give women choices about their lives so that they didn't have to be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. Natasha Walter's controversial book shows women have instead been placed in a straightjacket which dictates how they look, how they behave and what ambitions they have. The first half of the book is taken up with...
Published on 3 Feb 2010 by Damaskcat
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars living dolls us??
This book it great - it encompasses all I've been saying for years about how the male establishment subjugates women
by playing on their need to be needed and loved. the media tells us that if we don't shave everything, look very thin; (at tescos a size 14, the average woman size is now large!!), wear make-up 24/7, wear the latest fashions and killer 6 inch heels, be...
Published 20 months ago by Be Creative
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167 of 172 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is this empowerment?,
Feminism and the sexual revolution was intended to give women choices about their lives so that they didn't have to be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. Natasha Walter's controversial book shows women have instead been placed in a straightjacket which dictates how they look, how they behave and what ambitions they have. The first half of the book is taken up with extracts from interviews she had with teenagers, sex workers, people at the top of the glamour magazine and film industry and with a user of pornography. Was female empowerment meant to be about behaving like a man - and the worst type of man at that?
To me the thoughts of the teenagers she talks to make tragic reading. They are only interested in how many men they can sleep with and what they look like. The contrast between them and the few girls she talks to who don't want to win fame and fortune by posing nude in a lads' magazine is stark. Walter also recounts conversations with young women who earned money while at university as escorts and prostitutes. Some see nothing wrong with it and regard it as a simple and fun way to earn enough money to support themselves. Others had clearly thought deeply about the work and felt it was not the best way to deal with a financial crisis. Is becoming a prostitute or a pole dancer really how female empowerment looks today?
The second half of the book deals with the trend in the media to exaggerate sex differences and to point to studies showing men and women have different capabilities because of their gender. As Walter points out there are many studies which show there is very little difference in the capabilities of men and women but these are rarely reported. General interest books which highlight and exaggerate gender differences sell in their thousands but books citing scientific evidence that there is little difference usually sink without trace. Are the media bent on emphasising gender differences and promoting conventional stereotypes? This book shows they are.
`Living Dolls' is well written and the author's own reaction to the way our culture is changing for the worse as she sees it is clearly evident. This however does not prevent her from quoting research which is both for and against the theory that people are individuals and should not be stereotyped. I found it engrossing reading, with many references to follow up for more information. There is an index and comprehensive notes to each chapter - though no separate bibliography. There is also a list of women's organisations which are continuing the fight for equality.
Anyone who thinks our capabilities are biologically determined at birth needs to read this book as it shows clearly how gender stereotypes are promoted in a subtle and insidious way in everything we see, hear and read from an early age. If you don't want to be pigeon holed as a glamour model with a large chest or as a 1950s housewife in a Cath Kidston apron baking cupcakes then this is the book for you.
35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone in the Western World should read this book.,
This book amazed me. It totally challenged my idea that we finally live in an equal world.
I am a living doll - I diet, I bleach my hair, I wear makeup. And all this makes me feel more valid in society... why is it ok for me to feel like I have to do this to feel like I have achieved? I have two masters degrees, lots of friends and a great job...
Read this book if you have ever felt guilty about eating a cookie, or bought a new handbag to cheer yourself up. IT will change the way you wee the western world!
I am also enjoying 'the equality illusion' which takes these ideas further.
47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very important book,
I have never reviewed a book before, but I felt I had to with this. I feel this book encompasses everything I have been saying to people I know for years. It's both reassuring and worrying to know that you're not the only one, and other people notice these things too.
I wish the issues in this book were highlighted more, so girls know that it's not right to judge one's whole self worth on the way they look.
Thank you so much Natasha Walter!
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended: obligatory reading,
Outstanding book: excellent commentary on the state of society today regarding women/ girls, the pressures they face, the nature of 'choice' regarding those who enter the sex trade or glamour modelling and the regression to pre-feminist beliefs and patterns of behaviour. An easy read but no less detailed and incisive for it. I have been lending my copy to anyone who will read it.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A State of the Nation address on sexism,
This review is from: Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism (Paperback)
I found it interesting that the subtitle of this book is "The Return of Sexism" as I believe, and the book seems to demonstrate, that sexism has never gone away - it has just reared up again in a different form over the past decade due to the direction in which society has been moving. Push it down in one place and it just pops up somewhere else.
Living Dolls feels like the latest "state of the nation" despatch from the front line of the battle against sexism and joins earlier despatches such as "The Female Eunuch" and "The Beauty Myth" in pinpointing "how we live now". And wow, is it a depressing picture. The focus of the 1970s and 1980s on the fight for equality in life, in the workplace and in politics seems to have faded, and now we're battling a world in which women and men are thought (incorrectly) to be victims of their genetic destiny, and where conforming to porn-like standards of appearance and sexuality is seen to be the only road to success for many women. The political has very much become the personal, and you can't get much more personal that dictating to women how they should look, right down to very intimate personal grooming.
The book is divided into two parts. The first deals with how women are now pressured into being hyper-sexualised beings, living as pink and sparkly princesses who must measure up to a narrow range of physical standards in order to be seen as acceptable. The second looks at the way scientific and sociological research has been wrongly interpreted to come down on the nature side of the "nature v nurture" debate on the differences between men and women. On our journey through the book we hear about the impact of the internet (in particular readily-available pornography), reality TV, the Spice Girls, lads' mags and why everything you can buy for little girls is now pink and glittery.
I found the first half of the book, The New Sexism, more successful than the second as I felt it related more to real life. It is more anecdotal and demonstrates more obviously the result of the application of today's sexism to real women's lives. The second half is also interesting, but is more abstract and I found it harder to draw conclusions from the information it gave me.
In the main, I found that the book observes what is going on and does not attempt in any major way to account for the reasons for where we are or to tell its readers how to fight back. This felt a little disappointing to me, as at various points I would have liked more discussion on, for example, the class issues that may be contributing to the glorification of lap-dancing and overt sexuality in young women, or how the politics of the past twenty years may have contributed to the idea of female empowerment lying in sexualised behaviour.
These points apart, I found Living Dolls an interesting read and much more accessible than I thought it would be. I don't think it answers many of the questions it poses, but in truth there may not be very many ready answers to these huge issues. In the end, just bringing them to our attention may be enough.
54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a must for mothers of daughters,
I'm still reading, but I have to say that this one of the most important books on gender issues that have been published lately. I cannot praise Walter enough for raising these topics into public awareness, getting the discussion in the media going (e.g.Irish Times), so many points I have been thinking myself, wondering whether I am the only one to get upset, e.g. the ridiculous sexualised fashion for little girls in this country, the semi-pornographic music videos I would rather not let my kids watch, but feel I have to or I appear to be an oldfashioned spoilsport. Or the way british and irish teenage girls "dress" when going out, what is emancipated/liberated in tottering about in stilettos, boobs and bums barely covered in freezing temperatures...is that it? Is that the result of what generations of women struggled for, got verbally (and otherwise) abused for ....ah, don't get me going.
Jeez, am I glad that I'm not a teenie nowadays, but I am deeply worried about the future of my 10 year old daughter!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Depressing but important,
I borrowed this from the library, but am buying a copy to keep as I want to be able to lend it to people!
This is an extremely readable book, (I have read it in a day - in fact I found it un-put-down-able!) which left me really quite depressed at the state we are in, but equally with a glimmer of hope that the situation begins to be recognised. Everyone, especially anyone with children or responsible for children, should read this book.
As someone without regular contact with the younger generation, some of the shocking attitudes NW describes had to some extent passed me by. Of course I had noticed the prevalence of pink fluffy "girl's" toys & the way a lot of women going out for the night - whether celebs or not - seem to dress like porn stars. But I had no idea we had descended to Victorian levels of biological determinism about gender roles, on the flimsiest of "evidence", or the pressure young women are now under to have emotionless sex, (once they have removed all their body hair, in the approved "porn star" manner of course!)
I'm now off to join several of the organisations listed as trying to oppose this new sexism. I'm sure I won't be alone.
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mixed reaction,
I had a mixed reaction whilst reading this book. As an early 20-something female who was born and grew up in London I have both personally experienced and witnessed some of the changes over the past decade from when I was in secondary school (single sex) to the things my younger sister tells me goes on now (we went to the same school). For example first time sexual experiences brought down from age 15/16 to 12/13! The increasing number of young girls who aspire to be models and put the greatest emphasis on outward appearance (boob jobs and the like) and securing 'rich guys' - this is actually also something I witnessed in South Africa (5 year olds with highlights too!), rather than challenging themselves and using their brains to advance in careers they may otherwise be good at.
Now I'm not really one to criticise as I was indeed one of these girls out in tiny skirts clubbing in the middle of winter at 16 - a phase which lasted about a year. I took the higher education route, and even had a brief stint doing modelling test shoots, but at the same time I've always had an interest in politics and big ambitions to pursue a successful marketing career and one day own my own Tourism business (with Photography work on the side). I therefore find some of Natasha Walter's critique a little simplistic.
A topic which is most upsetting to me today is the belief (discussed by Natasha Walter) that women in authoritative positions are perceived in a certain, often negative way. Hillary Clinton for example. For those who followed the US presidential candidate/ presidential race, many were appalled by the sexual innuendos attached to Sarah Palin and the insults directed Mrs Clinton's way. In fact I think women in London are being particularly affected by this. You only have to experience rush hour to see that its most often the women who have the least manners and feel they have to act aggressively to get ahead.
I bought this book after seeing a review in Stylist magazine (in rush hour funnily enough). Although I agree with a lot of the argument put forth in the book - reporting good science as one example, it also occurred to me that women and the media are primarily responsible for this backward trend. What also occurred to me whilst reading Living Dolls was that having spoken friends and other women in their 30s, many have made the choice to forgo successful careers for 'more meaningful options' be it raising a family or pursuing low-paid passions - which they are often able to do because they have partners in well-paid jobs for support. Having also spoken to men, it surprised me that many would be only too happy to relinquish breadwinning pressures and in fact, be stay-at-home dads.
What seems to upset men with regards to feminism from personal observation is that they think women today get to 'have it all' if they want whereas they still feel society's pressure to conform to male stereotypes, i.e. apparently its much 'easier for women' crossing boundaries if they so wish. Therefore I don't feel that all the arguments put forth in this book are necessarily valid, which leads me to the topic of Biological Determinism.
The topic of biological determinism and the nature/nurture debate has been of great interest to me since studying A Level Psychology and I found this text particularly interesting with regard to this. Its definitely made me think twice about reinforcing certain sex behaviours if/when I eventually have children of my own.
The next decade should be an interesting one.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pink Stinks!,
This is very well-written, readable journalism and started a good discussion at my book club. A couple of members found it depressing, because the author concludes that despite decades of the Equal Pay Act and people believing feminism had won its battles, women are limiting themselves and their daughters with exaggerated stereotypes of roles and embracing the sex-object ideology of unreconstructed men.
Walter is good on debunking the "biological determinism" myth showing the dishonest selection and interpretation of research by journalists keen for headlines and articles showing that women are "hard-wired" for limited, passive, and domestic roles. The research, including research on brains, shows that people are individual and there are no significant biological sex differences at all.
A refreshing articulate voice in a culture that imagines pole dancing classes are empowering and lazily offers children nothing better than princess parties for girls and low expectations of the behaviour of boys, regardless of the reality in front of them.
My only reservation is that it repeats itself, so for an old-time feminist it could have trotted along a little more quickly. Maybe the repetition is good for newcomers.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars review of Living Dolls The Return of Sexism,
This important book has not been published a moment too soon in my view. It is part of a welcome backlash against the appalling new sexism in Britain today, and if the genre is stylised feminist, then feminism clearly has a lot to offer both women and men today.
Natasha Walter begins her study with a brief survey of the way the feminist revolution became stalled during the Blair years in Britain and notes that although women have made progress in some areas, it really has been a question of two steps forward three steps back. Women are still hugely underrepresented in most domains relative to men; they remain underpaid and undervalued in society. Most disturbingly, they have become increasingly objectified as sex objects by the consumer society in recent years, and this is where the author takes her cue.
Living dolls explores the position of women as a sex commodity in the new consumer society, and the way female sexuality has been defined by the sex industry. Walter makes the crucial point that women have been complicit in this new sexism, they have co-opted the language of choice and empowerment to claim that sex is liberation. Hence the casual attitude to sex and acceptance of prostitution as a career option like any other, and the appearance of best-selling books that valorise the prostitute. The problem here is that emotion has been dissociated from sex, as it is in pornography, and the violence experienced by sex workers ignored, or suppressed. Women have in fact been put in a new box, claims Walter, one that sees them in terms of a narrow physical ideal. Women's non-sexual attributes have been devalued.
But prostitution is not empowering. Rather it is disempowering, as Walter's research and interviewee's testimony, clearly shows. Is it really a choice if a woman feels so imperfect that she decides she has to have surgery on her clitoris to make it look more appealing? Men and women are both victims under the new sexism because we can't really look at each other as equals--it's a nasty trap.
Walter goes on to discuss how women are being gendered by language and social practices -- pink for girls, blue for boys etc. The notion that women and men are inherently different and therefore should be treated differently is fairly demolished by the author. Almost all the scientific evidence suggests exactly the opposite -- that male/female differences are the result of socialisation and expectations. All this was obvious a decade ago, but in recent times the media has picked up on any shred of biological determinism it can to say men and women are different. It's astonishing, and a sign of the times, that apparently highbrow newspapers like The Guardian take this biological determinist nonsense seriously. Whatever biological differences there are between men and women, women's day to day reality is largely determined by a male-dominated society.
This excellent book makes for compelling reading, and actually comes as a relief to all of us who have been upset by sexist trends in Britain. However, I doubt Walter has fully theorised the problem, since women's subjection is the result of a wider subjection of one social class by another. Women's issues cannot be separated from the wider struggle for equality and justice in society. In addition, the link between the crass commoditisation of women's bodies and the capitalist consumer society, whilst touched upon, has not been comprehensively dealt with here. Nonetheless, this book is recommended reading for everyone, especially young people.
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Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter (Paperback - 5 May 2011)