I do a lot of reading. Normally I power through books at an alarming rate, unless they’re super dense, like that time it took me a month to read Helter Skelter. Not so with Sex Object. I had to step away from this book for a week or so; not because it was poorly written or I couldn’t identify with the stories, but because it was a strange mix of too familiar and too foreign all at once.
This book made me look at the way I view men. I don’t think that’s a surprise. The vignettes in this book analyze the way sexism and misogyny filter through a woman’s life and there are stories of catcalling, stories of abortion, stories of promiscuity. They’re all written with a degree of separation that I really identify with. Dry humor, sarcasm, and blatant honesty are all things I can appreciate in a book. There’s a lot to unpack in this memoir. Getting groped on the subway, abortions, dangerous flirtations with married friends, imposter syndrome, even motherhood make an appearance on the pages. But I had to take a break for a little while because it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth, realizing that it’s not just you, that men are terrible everywhere.
But, to a certain degree, I felt really… far away from this book. Maybe it’s where I grew up. The suburbs of southern California don’t really compare with New York City. Maybe it’s the fact that I grew up fat. Boys don’t typically catcall fat girls. Especially fat girls who wear back braces. And headgear. And dental braces. (I was a mess. It’s a wonder I’m not socially inept.)
Sure, I’ve gotten a comment here or there, but nothing like what Jessica Valenti describes. And I don’t really know how to reconcile that, because it’s a fucked up feeling– I don’t want to be catcalled, but by not being catcalled, I worry that I’m unattractive. Obviously I know that logic is flawed; being attractive is not the rent I pay to the world for existing, and men on the street certainly aren’t my measuring stick for what’s hot or not. But… still.
There comes a point where I just can’t identify with the author. I’ve never had an abortion, I didn’t grow up poor, I wasn’t made fun of for my race or promiscuity. I’ve led a very privileged life. I’ve gotten some lewd comments on the internet, but nothing like the last few pages of this memoir. It’s important to realize that many women live their lives steeped in this blatant, inherent sexism and objectification. I’d like to say I’m just not one of them, but I know that’s not true. I know men exist out there who just see me as something to fuck. But because I don’t fit the typical western standards of beauty, because I’m fat and freckled and have a big nose and spend most of my time alone, they don’t open their mouths.
None of this is to say that this isn’t an important read. I think everyone should read this book, regardless of gender or orientation. Remind yourselves that women and femme-presenting people are frequently subjected to this objectification and experiences. If you’re a guy, especially a cis male, do better. Teach your friends to do better. Make memoirs like this one less necessary and less universal.