“We have to walk through the rest of our day knowing that our discomfort gave someone a hard-on.”
Sex Object (2016) by Jessica Valenti was another book I found on NPR’s list of Best Books from 2016. The list has led me to quite a few good books, and I am usually a fan of a good feminist memoir, so I picked it up. In it, Valenti discusses details of her childhood and adult life, showing what it’s like to live when men use you first as an object of desire, only perhaps seeing you as human second.
Valenti does not pull any punches when she describes her life dealing with men, starting with being constantly accosted on the subway as a young teenager. I could relate most to these stories of her as a young girl. I look back on my childhood and see how vulnerable I was. I had no understanding of what bad men and boys would and could do to me or how to fend them off. One boy in sixth grade moved his hands down my chest and said I was a prude if I didn’t like it. I didn’t even know what to make of it, but was left with a vague impression of violation and that there was something wrong with me. Fortunately, these stories of my coming-of-age are few and I count myself lucky because I have known many more good men than bad. But I ache for the vulnerability of young girls today as they are accosted before they can even figure out who they are, what they like, and how to say ‘no’.
“No one wants to listen to our sad stories unless they are smoothed over with a joke or nice melody…No one wants to hear a woman talking or writing about pain in a way that suggests that it doesn’t end. Without a pat solution, silver lining or happy ending, we’re just complainers–downers who don’t realize how good we actually have it.” Valenti has it right. It was often difficult or downright depressing to read negative story after negative story with no improvement or suggestions for changes.
Sex Object made me think and moved me at times. However, I sometimes had a hard time seeing the bigger picture or understanding what point Valenti was trying to make. She told one story of a bad boyfriend, but I didn’t see how he related to the sexism of the rest of society. He just seemed like a bad boyfriend. There are always assholes in the world, both men and women. I also think I might have been more invested if I knew more about the rest of Valenti’s life. Something kept me from engaging fully.
Looking up reviews on this book, I found that Jessica Valenti was the author who received the highest number of negative and harassing comments on The Guardian’s website since 1999. She has dealt with a lot of that shit in her life and is understandably tired and tired of dealing with it.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.