Book Summary: Walter, N. (2010). Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism.

This book summary is part 3/3 and focuses on a contemporary feminist text written by Natasha Walter a British journalist, author and feminist.

Walter, N. (2010). Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism. Virago Press, London.

Natasha_Walter_-_CR_Bohdan_CapNatasha Walter is a well known feminist and the author of The New Feminism (1998). In this text, Walter focused on what she believed to be the most worthy cause for contemporary feminism: economic and political equality. Walter (1998) claimed that women should not worry about objectification or sexism because these kinds of issues will fix themselves when women achieve equality in other areas. However, in Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism (2010), Walter admits to having a massive change of heart and executes a successful U-turn arguing that sexual objectification of women is something to worry about and that if anything, it is becoming more, not less of a problem.

6a00d83451bcff69e201310f267332970c-300wiWalter’s (2010) main stance throughout Living Dolls is that there is a hyper-sexualisation of mass culture occurring across Western society. Accompanied by the proliferation of sexually objectifying images found in mass media, women now face an added pressure in order to fit the mould of femininity which is offered. Not only is beauty and slimness a must but increasingly so, sexiness is falling into the definition of what it means to be a woman.

Walter (2010) claims that female sexuality is often celebrated throughout the media but it is narrowly defined and fails to represent reality. Adopting the ethos of the sex and glamour industries, sex is framed as something a woman should perform; therefore women should continuously strive to improve in terms of sexual allure and their ability to please.

“The image of female perfection to which women are encouraged to aspire, has become more and more defined by sexual allure” p3.

In the first few chapters of the book Walter (2010) addresses the gender stereotyping of products and toys marketed at young people discussing the usual in regards to pink for girls and blue for boys. Then Walter (2010) moves on to argue that women are encouraged to look like dolls. Referring to the Girls Aloud dolls, the author argues that they are eerily identical to the real thing; both are perfectly airbrushed with big hair, smooth skin and trim bodies. For Walter (2010), they are interchangeable consumer objects and act as models for the next generation.

girls-aloud-pic-pa-841252739The book moves on to glamour modelling and lads magazines with the author able to offer an insight into the working of the glamour industry. Walter’s (2010) recall of the ‘Babes on a Bed’ contest she attended (where the girls compete to win a Nuts photoshoot) and her interviews with glamour girls are what make this book interesting and different. Walter (2010) successfully combines her evaluation of the hyper-sexualised culture she sees around her with the insider knowledge and words of women who work within the sex and glamour industries. In a non-judgemental manner she gives them a voice in her book. However, a critique of Walter (2010) is that whilst she does not neglect the agency and autonomy of the girls, she does not draw too much attention to it either. Some of the girls are happy doing what they do and some of them are not which is probably a fair analysis, but I do feel that this approach leaves the question open as to whether or not their work is truly empowering for women and this is something I would like to have read more about within the text.

Nuts UK September 11In reference to the book’s subtitle ‘the Return of Sexism’ Walter (2010) argues that the current feminist discourse surrounding female sexuality is more damaging than it is liberating as it merely encourages women to accept a sexist and sexual cultural landscape which largely caters to the fulfilment of male fantasies, ignoring genuine expressions of female sexuality and pleasure. Almost hijacking the rhetoric of choice and freedom, third wave feminism has taken the original feminist message and distorted it so that it fits the mould offered to women by the patriarchal system we live in. For Walter (2010) it is problematic to the point where women are almost taking part in their continual subordination.

Walter (2010) believes that the feminist rhetoric of choice and empowerment is now so deeply submerged within our hyper-sexualised culture that it can no longer represent true choice or real sexual liberation. The representations of female sexuality which we see most often are too tightly confined within the limited model of femininity continuously thrust upon us.

Walter (2010) really reminds me of Ariel Levy’s (2005) Female Chauvinist Pigs: The Rise of Raunch Culture, which is a good thing. In fact, I think it goes a step further than Levy (2005) as Walter’s interview data makes her observations stronger than Levy’s (2005) which lack any real, empirical evidence.

The main criticism I have of the book is that it fails to address aspects of race or class in any great detail. Walter (2010) does briefly touch on class in relation to the career aspirations of young women. Referencing an interview with Dave Read, the Director of Neon Management, she claims that middle class parents do not have the same concerns regarding their daughters and the possibility that they might want to work in the sex or glamour industry. This is an interesting topic in its own right and it would have been beneficial to Walter’s work if she had expanded on some of the points made.

Despite some criticisms, I thoroughly enjoyed this text, from beginning to end. I felt like it said everything I want to include in my own work. Walter (2010) explores different aspects of society and focusing on how sexual images are becoming increasingly dominant in mass culture, argues that sexism still exists and calls for feminists to recognise the new ways in which it works. This book builds on Levy’s (2005) Female Chauvinist Pigs: The Rise of Raunch Culture and adds to the current debate surrounding sexualisation and women.

IMG_0268If you are interested in reading more of my book summaries please visit my previous posts in which I have written about feminist texts by Betty Friedan (1963) and Ariel Levy (2005).

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