Natasha Walter is a feminist writer who wrote “The New Feminism” in 1998. In that book she claimed that most of the great Feminist battles have been fought and won, she says herself: “I am ready to admit that I was entirely wrong. While many women relaxed and believed that most arguments around equality had been won” she goes onto say that this is not the case. The feminist battles have changed as has, the ways in which sexism operates in British society. Walter argues that the culture in which we live has become hyper-sexualised and forces women to be sexualized at an earlier age.
Walter looks at the a culture that is hyper-sexualised and encourages women to be mere dolls and sexual commodities. In one of the strongest sections of the book she attends a Nuts “Babes on the Bed” tour night in a club. She is suitably offended by the drunken men chanting “off, off, off” and the women being encouraged to strip and adopt sexual poses for a chance to “model” in the magazine. She also interviews the men who run the magazines and some of these interviews add a decent sense of balance. One section criticises an poster where women’s disembodied breasts are asked for readers comments and reviews. Granted, this is sexualises and disempowers the women – reducing them to mere meat. But a woman’s magazine had pictures of men’s backsides and asked for comments. Is this any different and any less offense?
Walter also examines the role of pornography in the relationships between men and women. She does, however, only really focus on people – men – who are addicted to porn. She does dismiss the “classic” feminist argument of pornography being degrading to women and she embraces the idea of couples watching Porn in a healthy and loving environment. She argues that this could beneficial for both partners. She also analyses the role of strippers and stripping in society. She argues that for most young women stripping is the only option that is available to them. Really? Women must get implants and remove her clothes in order to escape the mediocrity of life and to have a shot at fame. This fame, propagated through magazines such as Nuts and Zoo – however fleeting, is the end goal. In the review by Jessica Valenti (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jan/31/living-dolls-natasha-walter) this section is highlighted for both praise and for criticism. Something also mentioned in every other review I have found – is that when she has the perfect opportunity to delve into Class, she doesn’t. Obviously women from higher class backgrounds – however fame hungry will not take this route. An investigation into this simple idea would add greater depth to the first half of the book.
Another, small annoyance, is that sometimes the interviewees echo Walter rather closely and it seems, to me at least, a tad contrived.
The second part of the book focuses on what Walter calls the “New Determinism” – that is, the mass media and popular scientists focusing too closely on biological factors which determine behaviour in gender. This is a valid criticism I feel and one that could be explored at length. However, she focuses too much of her criticism on self-help books, a television and books by Simon Baron-Cohen. A wider study would, one feels, add a bit more depth and avoid this section being a tirade against a few select and esoteric authors.
The book is well written and deeply interesting – the “Changes” Walter’s mentions are not really that groundbreaking and take away from the main thread of thought.