Arts & Culture

Valenti’s ‘Sex Object’ reflects on misogynistic experiences

New novel explores hyper-sexualized, anti-woman society, confusion of contemporary feminism

Contributing Writer
Thursday, October 13, 2016

Jessica Valenti, writer, public speaker and blogger, wrote “Sex Object” about her personal experiences as a woman facing misogyny.

Jessica Valenti, author of “Sex Object,” is a “moderately attractive brunette right up until the moment she opens her mouth to speak … at which point she gets really ugly really fast.” Or so claims Daryl W., an anonymous online critic of her work who commented on her author photo on the “Honey Badger” Facebook page.

Encountering misogyny like Daryl W.’s is not uncommon in Valenti’s life. In her memoir, Valenti recounts seemingly constant experiences with anti-woman prejudice and male entitlement. In a blur of anecdotes and reflection, she describes boyfriends who abused her emotionally, men who flashed her on subways and male teachers who invited her into their homes. “Sex Object,” a self-deprecating and comical testament to the confusion of contemporary feminism, contextualizes Valenti’s later work as a writer, public speaker and blogger.

With a flashy yellow cover and the title “Sex Object,” Valenti seeks to elicit some sense of shock. Or, perhaps, she attempts to convey that the entirety of her being reduced to and labeled a “sex object” should not shock anyone in a hyper-sexualized, misogynistic society. While the book does discuss many of Valenti’s definitive sexual experiences, it does so in a very middle-school-diary sort of way. While this tactic does effectively curb a certain degree of sexual explicitness — which is emphatically not the point of the book ­— it also casts a shadow of whiny melodrama on the entirety of the work. This makes for a quick, relatively straightforward read that dismisses nuance and instead relies heavily on straightforward content.

Following no distinct chronology, the text proves almost cyclical in form, returning repeatedly to the same prominent experiences. Valenti devotes a significant portion of the text to discussing her two abortions and challenging pregnancy. The ambiguity of her feelings about abortion gives voice to an often silenced perspective. While the parenting section borders on becoming some sort of post-feminist mommy literature, her experience as a pot-smoking mom striving to balance freelance work and a difficult marriage resonates with women attempting to navigate contemporary parenthood alongside the complications of being human.

Valenti’s latest book is very much a blogger’s memoir. Witty and conversational, she discusses her profound discomfort with the internalized sexism stemming from a lifetime of objectification — both Politico and the Atlantic, for example, published articles that discussed her breasts. At the end of the book, in perhaps the most shocking section, Valenti shares the harsh and often explicit comments on her work, revealing the profound reactions she has incited from her critics. Though Valenti may not approach any revolutionary insights for existing feminists, she fearlessly punctuates a topical discussion and grants the conversation an often absent element of humanity.