“Who would I be if I lived in a world that didn’t hate women?” Wow. What a poignant question. It was taken from the inside cover of Jessica Valenti’s new book Sex Object which I just finished reading and had to tell you about. I have never thought about the impact of misogyny in exactly that way, but similar ideas have certainly crossed my mind before. What would it be like to live in a world without sexism? Where would you go if the fear of violence against women no longer prevented you from travelling? How would it feel to actually be safe on a first date? Why do these questions strike me as so completely ridiculous and unachievable? When will things change?
Jessica Valenti, the creator of Feministing.com, is my favourite author ever. I have read all of her books. In fact, I own all of them, some of which were purchased after reading a library copy and realizing they had to be added to my collection and my book shelves. I love her accessible writing style that is so effective at spreading feminism to the masses and I am also a huge fan of her unapologetic use of “profane language”. Unfortunately, too many feminists write at an academic level that excludes a majority of the world’s population. This academic writing style that is employed by so many feminists with Masters and Ph.D. degrees ends up feeling like it inherently lacks intersectionality through its failure to consider the impact of socio-economic class on many people’s literacy. I have thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of her books, most of which I have read in a weekend or less, and this book, Sex Object, is no different.
As a woman who entered the online activist world about 10 months ago, this book really struck a cord around the amount of harassment that we experience. This bullying and trolling targets us simply for being women, but it is heightened because we are feminists who openly advocate for change. Throughout the book, Jessica provides a number of examples of the type of comments she has received since entering the public realm, many of which are painful to read, let alone be the target of. Yet, I can actually relate to a majority of them, for example when she talked about the eventual comments about the title Sex Object, she knew she would hear something along the lines of not being hot enough for that distinction anyway. I feared the exact same thing when first adopting the moniker and hashtag Body Positive Babe at the suggestion of a friend with much more marketing experience than I have.
I made a lot of notes as I read Sex Object about sections that I could personally relate to. For example, Ms. Valenti’s experience with acting in theatre, the linear history of violence against women in her family or her presumption that scoliosis and clumsiness are connected. But ultimately my main takeaways from this book all go back to life as a woman; how we navigate sexism, misogyny, and rape culture. The entire endnotes section at the back of the book is filled with comments, emails, and tweets that Jessica has received, almost exclusively from anonymous men. The section demonstrates the truly vile nature of the internet. Sadly this is a common experience of almost all online feminist activists. The other quote from this book that stuck with me is, “it is not a matter of if something bad happens, but when and how bad”. When will this no longer be the expectation that women have for their lives? What will it take for us to be able to live in real safety instead of constantly living in fear of violence and harassment?