We’re proud to reissue Natasha Walter’s landmark book, Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism – a highly acclaimed, controversial and much-needed look at our airbrushed, sexualised culture. It certainly is ‘a must-read’ (Viv Groskop, Guardian), ‘an important book’ (Sarah Vine, The Times), ‘a call to revolution’ (Bidisha, New Statesman) – and should be ‘required reading for everyone who cares about our humanity, and that means all of us’ (Kathy Sheridan, Irish Times).
Natasha Walter has written a brand new introduction to the book, bringing its take on sexism and femininity bang up to date. Read a short extract below from the brilliant new intro, which covers everything from No More Page 3 to Taylor Swift, Emma Watson to Let Toys Be Toys.
To see the positive impact that the internet has on feminism now, you can look at two very different campaigns against Page 3. When Clare Short stood up against the Sun’s Page 3 in 1986, telling Parliament that she was introducing a Private Member’s Bill to make it illegal, she faced public opprobrium. She was attacked by male MPs, she was attacked – naturally – by the Sun, and at the time she seemed an isolated figure, making a doomed and lonely stand. A couple of years later a collection of the letters of support she had received was published in a little book called Dear Clare: This is what women really think about Page 3. But by the time of the book’s publication the attempt to pass legislation had failed and the mainstream media had moved on. In contrast, the No More Page 3 campaign was constantly able to republish support on social media and continually gather more signatures on its online petition. Its impact relied on being able to demonstrate such positive and humorous solidarity online.
This rise of solidarity is expressing itself most straight-forwardly in a basic willingness to listen to and respect one another’s experiences. At the end of Living Dolls I discuss how important it is that we connect the dots, that we resist the pressure to see every sexist incident as an isolated one. ‘Even if you feel irritated by the sale of irons labelled “Mummy and Me” in a high street store, or angered by the opening of a lap-dancing club in your town centre, you may feel that it would be a little extreme to complain. You may feel that the joke on a late-night comedy show is degrading to female participants, but then again you might wonder if you are overreacting. Even when you hear about or experience an example of outrageous sexism, from discrimination to violence, you may wonder if it is just one isolated incident.’ I wrote then.
I was delighted when Laura Bates contacted me on Twitter in 2012 to tell me about an initiative that she was starting up to collect instances of ‘isolated incidents’: those examples of sexism that stud through our lives. It seemed such a brilliant idea, to use the internet to transform personal anger into collective understanding. The reality has been more brilliant than one could have imagined; Bates has curated the Everyday Sexism Project (www.everydaysexism.com) with a marvellous eye for detail to ensure it is constantly responsive to those who post in it, and has written sharp polemics to show how the instances of sexism that individuals report are connected. The evidence provided by the project has been a wake-up call for the thousands of people who have read and contributed to it.
Solidarity is always the first step to creating change, and the process of creating change is currently at the forefront of what it is to be a feminist. Now, it doesn’t feel enough to talk about these problems or worry about these problems: it’s essential to take action on them. I began to feel this shift when Living Dolls was first published. On publication I thought that readers and critics would ask me, ‘Why do you think this?’ or ‘How do you know that?’ Instead, when I spoke about the book at festivals and conferences, universities and schools, the response was pretty much universal: ‘How do we change this?’
The history of feminism tells us that change is always possible; over and over again women have overcome what may seem like insurmountable obstacles to create progress. Feminists have already won so many rights for women in the West – from the vote to equal education, from contraception to abortion. It can seem like a straightforward path. But if you look at the history of creating change, you realise that the actual process is always a bit of a wager, and the result of any action is almost always uncertain at the time the action is taken. There are many detours and confusions along the way, many disappointing enemies and many surprising allies. My own feeling about getting involved in actions that aim for greater equality is that is never easy to see the wood for the trees, but when you stand and look back, you can be shocked into optimism by seeing how far you have come.
Natasha Walter, March 2015