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. But the revitalisation of glamour modelling has become the symptom of a wider change? For every research finding claiming to produce evidence for hard-wired gender difference, Walter produces another showing the opposite. Alert though she is to doublethink in the arguments of those she disagrees with, Walter is not entirely innocent of it herself.
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Walter was famous for her book, The New Feminism, where she controversially argued that in the modern West, feminism should focus on clear demands for political equality rather than more prevalent concerns surrounding cultural change. Not so now. I am ready to admit that I was entirely wrong.
Walter develops an account of this resurgent sexism through chapters that explore pole dancing, prostitution, pornography, and the impact such phenomena have on the experiences of intimacy and the emotional lives of girls in contemporary society. She makes a convincing case that not only have such things grown in a narrowly-quantitative sense, but they have been normalised in an unprecedented way.
Once private sexual cultures that are structured, economically and socially, in relation to the sexual gratification of male consumers have reached the mainstream, pole dancing and pornography have become, at worst, socially acceptable and, at best, actively valorised as outlets for a liberated and ostentatious female sexuality.
Even prostitution has been subject to a profound normalisation through television and the media, reflected in surveys finding the number of men willing to admit using prostitutes has doubled between and It is difficult not to suspect that the rate will be far greater in By co-opting the language of choice and empowerment, this culture creates smoke and mirrors that prevent many people from seeing just how limiting such so-called choices can be. Many young women now seem to believe that sexual confidence is the only confidence worth having, and that sexual confidence can only be gained if a young women is ready to conform to the soft-porn images of a tanned, waxed young girl with large breast ready to strip and pole-dance.
Whether sexual confidence can be found in other ways, and whether other kinds of confidence are worth seeking, are themes that this hypersexual culture cannot address.
While prescriptive notions of male and female behaviour were once rightly repudiated as sexist impositions, it now seems that we are witnessing a radical resurgence of gendered stereotypes. She argues that this has taken place over the last decade and been driven by the worrying tendency of some biologists and psychologists, as well as their overly-enthusiastic media cheerleaders, to explain apparent gender norms in terms of evolution and genetics.
This biological and psychological research, itself deficient from the outset, is further simplified and selectively highlighted by an entertainment and news media preoccupied with the construction of easy and compelling narratives. For instance, the idea that respective sex hormones make men strong and logical and women kind and empathic provides a far easier basis on which to write an entertaining magazine feature than a methodologically rigorous discussion of the difficulties in unpicking interpenetrating biological, psychological, and sociological factors in the formation of apparent gender differences.
This can, at least in part, be explained by the operations of the market, as an increasingly pressed media class struggle to produce an ever greater amount of entertaining product with an ever smaller degree of time to research and consider. For instance, she cites the enormous success of the Disney Princess franchise which collects a range of female Disney characters—Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Jasmine, Pocahontas and Belle—under one product line. But that focus on independence and self-expression is now sold back to young women as the narrowest kind of consumerism and self-objectification.
The second wave of feminism was just one aspect, though an important one, of s radical politics. The cultural outgrowths of the new left in general play a key role in many of the processes of social change which Walter hints at. Far from undermining capitalism through a reclamation of authentic subjectivity, this cultural radicalism in fact helped fuel the emergence of contemporary consumer capitalism.
In essence, what Walter suggests is a reclamation of the emancipatory core of the sexual revolution. Perhaps the underlying point is true more widely. However, the problem was not the ideal of emotional authenticity and individual freedom itself, but rather the notion that such an ideal could ever be pursued privately.
Without a sufficient emphasis on vigilance and solidarity, moral ideals turned into debased consumer fantasies—yet there is no reason why this need be so.
Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter
Share via Email Natasha Walter. Is she ever in a rage before breakfast? Does she ever rant at sexist comments on TV? Which is great, of course, but her sensibility has always intrigued me. Most strong political arguments do, necessarily, arise from a wellspring of anger.
Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter: review
Interestingly, Walter herself does not specifically criticise capitalism as a system, or even the current UK manifestation thereof. Traditional gender roles, those feminism had hoped to rid women of, are now being sold back to us with advertising slogans of liberation and empowerment. Turning oneself into a sex object for male pleasure, for instance, is described in terms of power and success, largely as a ploy to sell products. Likewise, gender differences in children are played up as genetic inevitability in order to sell increasingly fancy toys and newspapers. However when women continue to earn less, experience discrimination, and suffer disproportionately from rape and violence, such tendencies merit consideration. Choice becomes meaningless within a constrained context of stereotyping, pervasive marketing, and peer pressure, all telling women they must behave in a certain way.
Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism
Share via Email A lap dancer in a club in Cork, Ireland. Photograph: Sean Smith In her book, The New Feminism, Natasha Walter argued that the feminist adage the "personal is political" needed to ditch the "personal" and focus on broader political goals. Walter now says that she was "entirely wrong". In Living Dolls, she paints a frightening picture of the personal, one where young women are told the best they can be is a pole-dancing glamour model, and where the embrace of biological determinism or the idea that gender differences are physically ingrained rather than socially constructed enforces a glittery pink world in which discrimination and inequality are dismissed as reflecting "natural" preferences. As Simone de Beauvoir wrote, and Walter quotes: "The little girl cuddles her doll and dresses her up as she dreams of being cuddled and dressed up herself; inversely, she thinks of herself as a marvellous doll. One woman who became a prostitute tells Walter: "I believed what everyone said, that all this promiscuous sex was so empowering.