In the review, titled ‘The tyranny of self-perfection’, the long-time Australian feminist campaigner for women’s equality admits she had “no idea” about how bad things were for girls in a hypersexualised culture:
…This reviewer has to confess a comparable ignorance….I had no idea.
For feminists such as me who have been preoccupied with statistics and watching public indicators of progress such as women breaking barriers in politics, in business and other public domains, the cultural revolution that has enveloped girls and young women during the past decade or so was completely off my radar.
I kept fobbing off questions about whether I thought raunch culture was incompatible with feminism: how relevant was that, I thought, compared with the important stuff….?
So Walter’s book was quite an eye-opener.
She documents a culture in which sexual allure is equated with empowerment and girls are driven to strive for an air-brushed perfection that is as artificial as it is unattainable. Every aspect of the culture seems to reinforce this message, from the normalisation of the sex industry via the explosion of lap-dancing clubs throughout Britain to magazines directed at girls that “relentlessly encourage their readers to measure up to a raft of celebrities whose doll-like looks are seen as iconic and whose punishing physical regimes are seen as aspirational.”
Girls today, says Walter, think sexual confidence is the only confidence worth having and will do anything to achieve the mandated appearance… the information I found most distressing was how young women feel obliged to shape themselves according to the expectations of the idealised female their boyfriends have acquired from pornography…
All this is especially germane because 10 years ago Walter wrote a book The New Feminism that argued that feminists should not be concerned about the growing sexual objectification of women…Walter has now changed her mind. Big time.
Summers goes on to say that she finds the material in Walter’s book “sobering” and “challenging”.
While I find it somewhat difficult to understand how so many prominent women actively working to raise the status of women failed to notice the wrecking ball impacts of a pornified culture which constricts the freedom of women and girls by reducing them to sexy dolls while dressing it all up as ‘choice’, I am glad they see it now.
But while Summers started so well, her conclusion is unfortunate – and wrong.
She writes: “No one — not Walter, not me — wants to be thought a prude, so no one is going to actually take on the hypersexualised culture that is supposedly spoiling the life chances of girls today…”
Summers had “no idea”, as she says, about what was happening. But is seems she also has “no idea” about the global movement against it.
No one is going to take on the hypersexualised culture? That’s a big call and contradicted by the facts.
There are many of us who have taken it on. Some key players appear in my book Getting Real: Challenging the sexualisation of girls (one of a number of books on the subject in recent years, including Living Dolls, The Sexualisation of Childhood, The Lolita Effect, So Sexy So Soon, Pornified, What’s Happening to Our Girls?, Female Chauvinist Pigs, Bodies, etc). Then there’s Kids free 2B Kids, the Australian Council on Children and Media, The Australian Childhood Foundation, Choices for Children, and the dynamic new counter cultural agitator movement Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation (www.collectiveshout.org).
Then there are individuals who have come together to lobby for change, including Julie Gale, Maggie Hamilton, The Hon Alistair Nicholson, Steve Biddulph, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Noni Hazlehurst, Professor Clive Hamilton, Dr Emma Rush, Professor Louise Newman, Dr Cordelia Fine, Dr Renate Klein and others. We are all part of a global movement against sexualisation/objectification, led overseas by activists, advocates and academics such as Dr. Jean Kilbourne, Dr Diane Levin, Professor Gail Dines, Professor Ros Gill, Professor Catharine A. MacKinnon, Dr Melissa Farley, the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood in the US, Object and Pink Stinks in the UK, and many others. The American Psychological Association’s Taskforce on the sexualisation of girls took the issue on, with a major report, and more recently, the UK Home Office, with a compelling examination of the problem.
Propelled by evidence of harm, all have acted together to bring about change. They haven’t given a stuff about being labelled “prudes” or anything else, recognising the vested interests at play that would try to shut them down.
Given the major battles Summers has engaged in over decades, I would have thought she was made of sterner stuff.