I brought Sex Object with me to London, because why wouldn't you want to read a feminist memoir that refuses to be optimistic when you're on a week-long trip?
Jessica Valenti is obviously a Name in popular feminism. As the founder of feministing.com and a frequent go-to lady for quotes about how things in the culture affect the ladies, it makes sense for her to be writing books. And she's a good writer! And yes, there is a but, but that only but is that this book is a major downer. Which I RESPECT.
Valenti points out that "even subversive sarcasm" in response to comments from men being assholes "adds a cool-girl nonchalance, an updated, sharper version of the expectation that women be forever pleasant, even as we're eating shit" and that the "inability to be vulnerable--the unwillingness to be victims, even if we are--doesn't protect us, it just covers up the wreckage."
This has made me think.
Because we are conditioned to act like none of it hurts us, to "not give them the satisfaction," but it reminds me of the Hulu show Harlots, which takes the image of the good-time 18th century sex worker and shows the pain and anguish comprising their lives. If we act like harassment doesn't affect us and that everything's okay, it will be much less evident how much damage it wreaks.
With some parts of Lindy West's book Shrill and then this memoir, it looks like a turn is happening in cultural feminism. We might be moving away from smart, sharp, sarcastic replies and towards showing the gaping wounds that are caused by casual comments every day.
Valenti is brutally honest in this book about her life, her fears, and her thoughts. It's a hard read, but it's provocative. IS the answer to lay ourselves out as vulnerable human beings? Or are we supposed to be indomitable superheroes, capable of fearlessly sailing over the waves of idiotic commentary slabbered out by a gender that is seeing its millennia-long hold on power slipping through its fingers?
It's a difficult question. Especially now, as The Handmaid's Tale becomes a cultural touchstone once more and every day we see an elected-by-the-people head of our country whose treatment of women has been demonstrably abominable. It's almost unthinkable to put ourselves in a vulnerable position under these circumstances, but the thing worth thinking about is that people, average people, are not monsters. They just frequently don't think. I know I don't. I believe that people, when faced when someone's vulnerability, are far more likely to make a change than when that person presents a strong sparkling seemingly impenetrable face to the public.
Jessica Valenti was extremely brave for writing this hard book. I have hope we will follow her example.