Over the last few weeks, various packages have been arriving in my letterbox, packages I don’t mind my husband seeing because they are not clothes that feed my online shopping addiction; they are ‘research’ books. But then I opened a few of the packages and left the books lying around on the kitchen bench, having been waylaid en route to my study. My husband picked up one of the books and read out the title: ‘Princesses and Pornstars.’ He looked at me. ‘Research?’
He looked through the rest of the pile. The Lolita Effect. Female Chauvinist Pigs. So Sexy so Soon: The New Sexualised Childhood …. ‘Happy reading,’ he said.
And I am happily reading my way through a pile of provocatively titled books that all express different opinions about the extent to which girls are prematurely sexualised through popular culture and the media, or whether this idea is an overstatement, a kind of moral panic. I won’t fill you in on my opinions just yet; a third book is looming with some of this research at its core, and of course I want you to read the book.
But working my way through these books has made me realise just how many ‘movements’ and ‘ideas’ there are about childhood these days. There’s the Modesty Movement, there’s ‘Girl-power’ there’s ‘raunch culture’ and just about everything else from Ophelia to Cinderella has been used to critique the way children, but more particularly girls, are being brought up, sold to, sexed-up, overstuffed and used. Are there any positive stories out there about girls? I can’t find them.
So, in between all that, I’ve been reading a few other books that are no less thought-provoking, but a lot more subtle. One of these is Rachel Robertson’s memoir, Reaching One Thousand. I’ll insert a disclaimer in her – yes, I do know Rachel but I’m recommending her book because it’s great, not because I know her. The publishers have labelled it a memoir of motherhood, love and autism and it’s a lovely reflective work on the challenges of motherhood, which are made more stretching through having a child whose mind doesn’t work in ways that are considered ‘normal’.
What else? Helen Garner’s The Spare Room, Joan Didion’s Blue Nights and Brenda Walker’s Reading by Moonlight. All of these were worth reading, but none of them quite lived up to my expectations – perhaps my expectations were at fault thought, rather than the books. The pick of these, for me, was Garner’s book.
Next on my list: for research, Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism (no, not a positive story either I don’t think) and for relaxation: The Women in Black, By Madeleine St John. What are you reading? Any recommendations?