“…although I was drawn to someone who treated me as his equal, I did not know what to do with that gift. That I thought it was a gift rather than a given was probably the problem,” Jessica Valenti in Sex Object
By Michelle Gaudet
What we are reading: Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti
About the author: Jessica Valenti’s name probably rings a bell for you, even if you don’t keep up with feminist writers. She’s a columnist for the Guardian and the author of four previous books on feminism, politics, and culture. She is the founder of Feministing.com and is a frequent media commentator on feminist and women’s issues. She received her Masters degree in Women’s and Gender Studies from Rutgers University. She made news this past summer when she announced she was taking a break from social media after receiving rape and death threats aimed at both herself and her 5-year-old daughter.
The main idea: Jessica Valenti’s memoir reads as a dark biography on girlhood and womanhood. Each chapter discusses different moments from her memories of growing up as an adolescent and a young adult in New York. Short stories about body insecurities while growing up, subway gropings, and promiscuity as a teenager are told as casual portrayals of the hurt and burden of being a young woman facing today’s society.
It is only when all these moments were strung together and seen from a distance that I began to glimpse the themes of sexual pressure, body image, emotionally abusive relationships, and economic inequality. Valenti’s stories of the men she encountered, the mistakes she made, interspersed with memories of growing up, painted how interconnected these parts of her life were and how impactful these men have been on her growth as a woman.
Take aways: I first learned of Jessica Valenti when I picked up her book Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters (2007) off a bookstore’s gender studies shelf in my first year of university. For a newly-awakened feminist and Facebook ranter, Valenti’s book provided me the perfect introduction to an education in feminism and an arsenal of facts for arguments about sexism.
She writes her frightening and frank stories with a factual and clinical distance, allowing readers to fill the gaps with their own anger, sadness, and disdain. The memoir is so disturbingly unemotional that I was waiting for the moment when she let out her fury and passion. And she did. In a chapter titled “Anon,” Valenti expels all the emotions that had been held back in the first two parts of the book, giving a satisfying kick to the frustration I felt on her behalf. “[Women are] being independent and bad bitches while wearing fucking lipstick and heels so as not to offend your delicate aesthetic sensibility, yet even just the word “feminist” pisses you off. How dare we.”
Of the feminist memoirs out there, Valenti’s is accessible, infuriating, and brave; her desperation for a better future for her daughter left me thinking about the book days after I finished it.
Michelle Gaudet is an SFU communication grad, a bibliophile running out of shelf space, and a wizard. She is happiest when reading outdoors, listening to country music, and exploring new neighbourhoods.