The Feminist Memoir Your Bookshelf Needs
Sex Object author Jessica Valenti talks feminism, apologies, and living a messy life.
Despite all of the awesome things about being a woman—and there are SO many great things—there's also a lot of bummer stuff. Think rape culture, misogyny, gender pay gaps, harassment, and the list goes on. This makes us especially glad we got our hands on author and Feministing founder Jessica Valenti's new memoir, Sex Object, which revisits her own experiences with sexism from childhood until today. From accounts of creepy dudes on public transportation to internet trolls and everything in between, this brutally honest and spot-on read sparks a necessary convo about what it means to be a woman in 2016. And it couldn't have come at a better time. Before you settle in with the book yourself—which you totally should, asap!—check out our interview with Jessica below.
Why did you decide now was the right time to write Sex Object?
I was really inspired by the feminist moment we're having with women's storytelling and narratives—women are sharing their experiences at an unprecedented rate, and there's this vibrant conversation about the importance of women's voices. But I also really wanted to write something that started a conversation about what the cumulative impact of sexism does to us—not just one or two experiences, but a lifetime of misogyny.
What do you hope readers, particularly young women, get out of the book?
I hope it will resonate, but really I hope the message they get is that it's OK to mess up and to be messy.
This quote in the book really struck me: "We're trapped in between huge bodies unable to move, too afraid to yell or bring attention to ourselves. We're trapped on the train, in the street, in the classroom. If we have no place to go where we can escape that reaction to our bodies, where is it that we're not forced?" What advice do you have for girls who are just now experiencing these things?
I think we need to find community and support—whether that's online or off. There's a tremendous power in sharing our stories and finding each other so that we know that what we're feeling is not unusual and that we're not alone. I'd also say, try to reclaim that public space when you can and when it feels safe. It heartens me to see so many women doing this, speaking out against harassment and such. It does feel like we're making some progress.
Some of the earlier parts of the book discuss how society teaches young women that they need to apologize for being female: whether it's having breasts, having a voice, or even taking up space on the subway. When did you decide that you weren't going to apologize?
To be perfectly honest, it's something I'm still working on! Part of the problem is that when you don't apologize, when you're not polite, there are social consequences for women. And it's also a difficult trend to break out of when you're so used to it. So more than not apologizing, I try to forgive myself and be OK with it when I do.
What is your advice for dealing with haters on the internet?
You know, it's so dependent on the hater and your particular mood! Sometimes making fun of them is a great way to feel like you have some of that power back while demonstrating to other followers that this is something that happens when you speak up. Sometimes you may feel like ignoring it or reporting the abuse. Only the person in the situation can answer what the best move is. Above all else though, find support.
Buy Sex Object: A Memoir here. Then, read her other book Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters here.