A third-wave feminist insists that being a woman in public is still no joke
by Jessica Valenti
Dey Street Books
$26 List Price
WHEN POPULAR FEMINIST writer Jessica Valenti was a prefeminist eighth grader in New York City, she left a crowded subway train one afternoon and realized that one of the back pockets of her jeans was wet. There was enough fluid that she worried someone would think she had "peed" herself, so she rushed home to take a scalding hot bath and hide the stain from her mom. Though she hadn't noticed anything during the ride, she's certain of what happened that day: A stranger ejaculated on her.
This bleak incident is one of many in Valenti's latest book and first memoir, Sex Object, a work intended to illuminate the countless micro (and macro) aggressions endured by women at the hands of men. "Who would I be," Valenti begins by asking, "if I didn't live in a world that hated women?" The implied answer is: someone very different. Yet this is not the kind of memoir concerned with self-exploration. (Its rather baffling epigraph, taken from the mentally fragile protagonist of Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays, reads: "I am what I am. To look for reasons is beside the point.") Valenti takes her problems to be problems all women share. "Object status is what ties me to so many others," she writes in her introduction, adding that "those at the margins" have it much worse. She presents her life as evidence of what even a relatively lucky woman must navigate to survive our society: menacing strangers on the streets, cruel boyfriends in the sheets.
I don't mean to be glib. It takes an especially disingenuous person to deny that sexual assault is commonplace, and yet for every woman with a
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