What Should We Tell Our Daughters?: The Pleasures and Pressures of Growing Up Female by Melissa Benn

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What Should We Tell Our Daughters?: The Pleasures and Pressures of Growing Up Female by Melissa Benn

Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 2/5
Reviewer: Ceri Padley
Reviewed by Ceri Padley
Summary: Melissa Benn's probe into the exploitation and sexualisation young women face in today's world poses fantastic questions that are unfortunately left unanswered. A disappointing read for what could have been a terrific manifesto.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 343 Date: September 2013
Publisher: John Murray
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1-84854-627-1

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I am shocked when I read young feminists today blithely admitting that they don't know what second-wave feminists wrote.

As a twenty-something year old feminist, it pains me to admit how much this quote applied to me. Having grown up knowing that college and university were paths I could definitely take, never being told that settling down and finding a husband was an important goal to have, and always getting the same opportunities as my male peers in the workplace, I'd never seen – or, at least, thought I'd seen – the inequalities, misogyny and chauvinism that were still apparently abundant in today's society. The feminist movement had always seemed like an amazing wave of new ideas that had happened forty or fifty years ago. It was the reason my mother and I were now able to work and find a role outside of the home.

It wasn't until a few years ago that I realised how different the world had been only a short time ago. Even in the year I was born, women still couldn't open a bank account or sign a rental contract without a male figure acting as a guarantor. I'd been naïve in thinking that the feminist movement was a thing of the past and had taken my opportunities for granted, not realising that the fight for feminism is still an ongoing battle.

In What Should We Tell Our Daughters?, Melissa Benn attempts to explore some of the more prominent challenges facing young women today including pornography and sexualisation, self-image, and the balance between life and work. Its cover claims it's a read for anyone interested in the world we are making for the next generation though it reads more like a group of mothers discussing the concerns they have about the world their daughters are growing up in.

I wanted to love this book. I really did. When I cracked it open, I'd just finished reading The Feminist Mystique and was looking forward to diving into an up-to-date examination of women's role in the world.

For the most part, Benn's done her homework. Each topic is carefully laid out and presented with clear facts about those issues that only get worse – and ignored – every day. More books that tackle these subjects are needed as young women these days become inundated with choice, assuming they can 'have it all', while not realising how much of a victim they still are to their patriarchal society. They need books like this to open their eyes and see the reality they're living in, and with Benn's cold, hard facts striking a chord in my generation and younger, this is how discussions build and change eventually occurs.

However, as informative as it is, this book didn't grip me. Each page carries an abundance of material from other sources which all blur together after a while. While Benn has set out with a great idea for a book, she hasn't followed through enough. In spite of all the questions she poses throughout each chapter, she never comes forward with new, original ideas or answers. She leaves the facts and figures on the pages and then simply asks, 'What should we do?'

The question 'What should we tell our daughters?' is a genuine question to the readers because Benn has no clear answer for you. This is not a book written by a writer who has something to say, who has solutions, ideas, new ways of looking at how we can change things. It's made up of statements by other middle-aged women who also see and express concern over the pressures their daughters are facing.

Benn briefly touches on the fact that she has two young daughters but doesn't think to quote them or any other young woman to find out their personal insights into the world they've been raised in. I hate to say it but this means that, at times, the book gives off a very old-fashioned, condescending tone, as if to say, We know better. These poor girls will never be able to see the world the way we can.

While I would certainly recommend anyone wanting a clear and concise report on the difficulties young women face today to read this, anyone looking for new ideas, new ways of making small changes in society, should stay clear. Perhaps anyone with a young daughter would find comfort in the pages knowing that they aren't alone with their worries.

As for the daughters expressed in the book's title – young women and teenage girls who are heading out into this modern world – it's worth waiting for a book that speaks to you rather than patronises you the way this one might.

Perhaps those looking for a less passive voice might find comfort in Germaine Greer's The Whole Woman.

Buy What Should We Tell Our Daughters?: The Pleasures and Pressures of Growing Up Female by Melissa Benn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy What Should We Tell Our Daughters?: The Pleasures and Pressures of Growing Up Female by Melissa Benn at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy What Should We Tell Our Daughters?: The Pleasures and Pressures of Growing Up Female by Melissa Benn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy What Should We Tell Our Daughters?: The Pleasures and Pressures of Growing Up Female by Melissa Benn at Amazon.com.


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