Reviewed by Laura Bates.Who would I be if I didn’t live in a world that hated women?” asks Valenti, founder of the website Feministing, in the introduction to her new memoir. In a confident and compelling volume that sweeps readers along from her childhood in Queens, N.Y., to her experiences of motherhood and her career as a celebrated feminist writer, Valenti attempts to answer the question—not by imagining that other “version of myself that never existed” but by setting out a bold and unflinching road map of her journey to becoming the woman she is. Valenti has a knack for making the mundane moments in her life startling and the shocking ones routine, which is exactly what is needed in a book that seeks to force its readers to reevaluate the norms of sexism and sexual violence that have become our wallpaper without our even noticing. Her style is fluid and engaging, drawing the reader in with deftly drawn anecdotes and demonstrating different insidious forms of gender inequality through the vivid recreation of her own lived experience.The choice to order the book nonchronologically, starting with the description of her first abortion and jumping between childhood taunts and marital pressures, between her own experiences and those of her mother and grandmother, is a powerful decision that allows the stories to breathe. Valenti is offering something that is more than the sum of its parts. By presenting these vivid snapshots in a messy and disjointed way she invites the reader to examine the gendered implications of each episode, the better to understand their cumulative impact on her as a woman. In many places, the anecdotes speak eloquently for themselves. Occasionally (as in the description of her mother’s offer to talk with her about birth control as “a well-meaning lie”) the lack of context can become frustrating for readers, leaving some sketches feeling like empty examples of a wider point we haven’t quite made out. Valenti is at her best when she combines memoir and feminist analysis in a way that feels enlightening and unforced—for example, in the chapter where she allows herself the space fully to explore her own discomfort and socialized guilt at the come-ons of a married male friend, and takes us with her as she comes to the realization that “it makes me feel disgusting and cheap—even though it was not me who said the cheap thing.”Valenti’s book is a memoir and as such a very specific story of her own unique experience. It might not, therefore, be considered a vehicle to establish wider conclusions about the systemic effects of misogyny across a spectrum of different women’s lives. But as a memoir, it is enough that it tells one woman’s story, and in its unwavering bravery, it is powerful enough to stand alone. Her descriptions of harassment, sexism, and sexual assault embody the truth she articulates in her first chapter: “Recognizing suffering is not giving up and it’s not weak.” It is strong, and it does an important service for others who suffer too. (June)Laura Bates is author of the forthcoming book Everyday Sexism (St. Martin’s/Dunne, Apr.).
Jessica Valenti’s powerful personal story offers unique perspective on how sexism and patriarchy manifest themselves in the daily lives of American women. Sex Object is a necessary read for women and men alike.
An entertaining and shocking memoir from a leading feminist writer.
Valenti uses the personal to shed light on a universally female political problem. There is an awakening that happens as a woman reading this book.
A powerful literary memoir that expertly makes the case for feminism today.
This aching account of attempting to live, date and work while female is a brave admission of vulnerability.
A gutsy young third wave feminist.
Jessica Valenti is widely known as a feminist leader- with this stunningly brave and often funny memoir, we get a chance to know her as a human being. This is an incredibly powerful book. I can’t recommend it loudly enough.
Adrienne Rich wrote, ‘When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.’ In Sex Object, Jessica Valenti tells her truth with stunning vulnerability and courage, defying easy answers and daring us to look away. You won’t forget it.
Deeply moving, honest, and unflinching, Sex Object secures Jessica Valenti’s place as one of the foremost writers and thinkers of her generation. Her personal story highlights universal truths about being a woman, and makes the case for why feminism today is an unstoppable force.
[Valenti’s] memories are relatable and raise important questions about how society treats and views women.
A bold undertaking… consciousness raising. Valenti is one of America’s best-known and often divisive feminists.
Valenti writes in impressively honest detail.
A zesty, zeitgeisty memoir.
Powerful...incredibly readable... she wants to take us back to a place of telling stories.
Amazing...a profoundly raw and honest book.
Yes, All Men (And Everyone Else) Need To Read ‘Sex Object’
I began reading Jessica Valenti’s Sex Object before the most recent tape (as of this writing) leaked of a presidential candidate bragging about sexually assaulting women for fun, but there could hardly be a better validation for the subject.
In her latest work, Valenti (Why Have Kids?; The Purity Myth; Yes Means Yes!) provides an unflinching description of her experiences with sexual assault and harassment, dysfunctional relationships, and objectification. The result is a book that is brief and harrowing, sometimes confessional, and occasionally brusque. Valenti, founder of the feminist blog feministing.com, considers the effect of these experiences on her psyche, her ability to live life without fear, and, as the account progresses, how her anxieties and encounters affect her young daughter. There is little in the way of a call to arms here, but instead a clear-eyed documentation of the author's life as a woman in an urban setting where sexual objectification is rampant. While Valenti doesn't claim that her experience is universal, she convincingly argues that her stories, while personal, are not by any means exceptional. VERDICT Despite several darkly humorous passages, this book can feel bleak. However, some readers will strongly identify with the author's history, and with her drive to provide a better environment for her daughter.—Rebecca Brody, Westfield State Univ., MA
A new memoir from the Guardian columnist and "professional feminist.""Who would I be if I didn't live in a world that hated women?" asks Valenti (Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness, 2012, etc.). As she skips around through her memories, the author does include some examples of unpleasant encounters with men: the guys who whistled at her or rubbed up against her in subways as she was growing up in Queens, New York; the college boyfriend who indulged in a nasty species of revenge after they broke up; the high school teacher who said that he would give her an A if she gave him a hug; the married friend who expressed sexual interest in her. On the other hand, Valenti, who admits that she overindulged in alcohol and cocaine for years, acting on the theory that "cocaine let me drink as much as I wanted without passing out or embarrassing myself," seems to be at least partially responsible for some of her own suffering. When she notes, "I cheated on almost all my boyfriends with regularity and without remorse," it's difficult to give her much sympathy when she complains about a boyfriend who was chronically half an hour late for everything. The sections of the memoir that deal with the premature birth of her daughter, her difficulty bonding with the infant, and her daughter's selective mutism are touching, but they are not concerned with pain caused by the hatred of men; Valenti has not a word of complaint about her "lovely" feminist husband. The author ends the book with pages of insulting or demeaning emails and Facebook posts directed toward her, an odd choice since it gives the last word to her critics. Ultimately, the scattered narrative includes some jaw-dropping scenes but fails to live up to its provocative premise. Though lively and richly detailed, Valenti's work lacks the self-awareness essential to a memoir worth pondering.
Sharp and prescient… The appeal of Valenti’s memoir lies in her ability to trace objectification through her own life, and to trace what was for a long time her own obliviousness to it…Sex Object is an antidote to the fun and flirty feminism of selfies and self-help.