Natasha Walter's book on the new feminism has been reviewed mainly by young women-not always kindly. Nicolas Walter is a man from an older generation and the author's fatherby Nicolas Walter / April 20, 1998 / Leave a comment
As Natasha Walter says, three quarters of book reviews are by men. But this is not true of books by or about women, and almost all the reviewers of her book have been women. Many have been not simply critical but abusive, recalling Oscar Wilde’s remark that women call each other sister only when they have called each other a lot of other things first. She had to send a letter to the Guardian to correct various false impressions: “Contrary to the way my views have been represented by both friends and enemies in the media… I argue that women today do not need any directions about how to live their personal lives. Instead, I argue that feminism now can become less personal and more political. I explore the reality of women’s continuing poverty and powerlessness, and sketch an agenda for achieving economic and political equality.” (3rd March 1998). Indeed, anyone who has read the book and its reviews may wonder whether Sydney Smith’s celebrated warning against reading books before reviewing them-“because it prejudices one so”-has become a set text in journalism courses.
Enough of the reviews. What about the book? The point is that it is not only for women, but for young women. (Perhaps literary editors should have excluded reviewers of the wrong age as well as the wrong sex.) The author is young, and she has written for even younger readers. The quality of her manner as well as the quantity of her material mark the whole book, and apart from the elegance and confidence of her style, the youthfulness and hopefulness of her approach make it especially attractive. I am young enough to be attracted by it, and I agree with most of it; but I am too old to agree with all of it, and I have three main disagreements.
My practical disagreement is about children. The biological differences between men and women and the psychological differences between parents and outsiders make it difficult to establish a formal system of caring for children outside the family. In the old days the children of richer women were looked after by poorer women, and this seems to be what would be involved by most new plans for “childcare” (a cant term). So, while I am sympathetic to attempts to enable young mothers (and fathers) to do other things, I am suspicious about most of them, and I…