Natasha Walter - Living Dolls (3 stars)

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Natasha Walter - Living Dolls

(Virago)

When Natasha Walter published The New Feminism in 1998, it was with a triumphant air that she declared sexism to be in permanent decline. As New Labour women such as Harriet Harman, Mo Mowlam and Clare Short achieved high office, the signs seemed positive in the ongoing battle for gender equality. But more than a decade on and Walter returns to the terrain with a heavy heart, declaring that progress has halted and the tide has turned in the other direction.

The compelling first half of Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism details the ways in which the growth of lap clubs, mainstreaming of pornography, and sexualisation of girls have resulted in an illusion of empowerment which masks a narrowing of choice for women. The more stodgy second half returns to the all-too familiar debate of nature versus nurture: is the male preference for blue toy guns against the female predilection for pink Barbies simply a case of biology rather than society?

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