Sex Object by Jessica Valenti

There is no shortage of strong opinions about Jessica Valenti. A feminist writer, long-time blogger and founder of the site Feministing, Valenti made her career online. The response to her writing – equal parts support from fans and contemptuous vitriol from misogynist trolls – irrevocably confirms her argument that feminism still has a long way to go. A recent study analysing over 70 million reader comments posted on the Guardian since 1999, with special attention paid to the 1.4 million that had been blocked or deleted by moderators for ‘violating community standards’, showed that of the ten authors who received the most harassment (hostile comments, from condescending to life-threatening), eight were women and two were black men. Valenti’s name topped the list.

Away from the internet, Valenti has published numerous titles on feminist issues, aimed at general readership - entry-level, everyday feminism. With her new book, Sex Object, the personal becomes political. These unflinching essays present a compelling account of Valenti’s experiences growing up as a woman in New York. ‘What would I be if I didn’t live in a world that hated women?’ she asks in the book’s introduction – what would it have been like to have come of age in a culture that didn’t subject half its population to forms of harassment and sexism so commonplace as to be perceived as normal? Sex Object offers a startling depiction of how women manage the expectation that they exist as vehicles for male desire first and human beings second. Valenti’s personal essays are split into three themes: bodies, boys and babies, representing the clichéd arc that a woman’s life is supposedly built on.

However nothing about this memoir is cliché. Valenti is engaging, ultra-candid and darkly funny. Her willingness to discuss her life transparently, without embellishment is refreshing and enthralling. Valenti’s decision to finish the book with a verbatim transcript of some such messages she’s received via social media and her own website is chilling. These comments reinforce her memoir, raising pertinent questions about the long-term effects of misogynistic vitriol. The result is an engrossing, intimate, and remarkably un-didactic read that makes a powerful case for why we need feminism, particularly in this digital age.

Stella Charls is the marketing and events coordinator for Readings.