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What Should We Tell Our Daughters?
by Melissa Benn
(Hodder & Stoughton, £20)
Don't be fooled by the title. This isn't another dry, prescriptive handbook on bringing up teenage daughters because Melissa Benn delivers one of the most comprehensive overviews of the challenges facing British girls and women today.
Benn dedicates chapters to schooling, work, sex, love, bodies, babies and families and although there is nothing new in feminist discussion - and sometimes fierce disagreement - about each of these areas, her contemporary analysis, firmly rooted in experience rather than theory, is one of the book's strengths.
She doesn't simplify the issues. It's not all doom and gloom and women have made some advances in society - girls are outperforming boys at secondary school and advances in maternity legislation and flexible working have made it easier for mothers at work.
But behind these headline statistics, there's something sinister going on.
Girls' new-found confidence at school is battered by capitalism's unhealthy obsession with women's bodies, driving some intelligent girls to develop eating disorders. Body image is considered to be as important in the workplace as intelligence or hard work. The idea prevails that fat is failure or, as one of the Benn's interviewees points out, in a world where women supposedly can be anything, they are expected to be everything.
The issue of violence against women is handled delicately and while politicians are quick to point the finger at the sexualisation of culture and easy access to porn, Benn questions whether deep-rooted sexism and inadequate sex education is to blame.
Our view is too Western-centric, she argues, citing the infamous Delhi rape case where attitudes towards women were at fault, not a sexualised society. Britain's low conviction rate for rape shows too how women are still reluctant to come forward due to widespread distrust of the Establishment taking their claims seriously.
Benn has previously written on British education and her extensive knowledge shines through. She describes how women's career prospects are formed at school, shutting off sciences and technology, how girls are pressured into believing a myth of perfection at a young age and how inadequate sex education can shape their sexual lives later on.
And there's an explicit concern that austerity and cuts to school budgets are only going to do more harm to girls' education.
What Should We Tell Our Daughters? is an excellent study for everyone interested in contemporary women's issues and in it Benn shows that the best feminist writing is no longer consigned to dull theoretical works.
Blogs, interviews and short stories hold equal weight and the debate is alive and more accessible than ever before.
But one of the main challenges is persuading younger generations that feminism is a cause worth fighting for and that's why this book is an essential read for girls, women, mothers and fathers.
And it shows what we should teach our sons too.
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