July 24, 2016

a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork: Valenti's "Sex Object"

We’ve been lucky this year to see the release of some very strong feminist texts, from Dawn Foster’s “Lean Out” to the collection of Solnit essays in “Men Explain Things to Me”. To that, and others that of course I am missing, we should add Jessica Valenti’s “Sex Object”.

What makes this compelling is not the use of memoir to explore feminist themes - that has been done before. What makes this compelling is Valenti’s voice. I had not read anything by her previous to someone linking an essay in the Observer on twitter that was basically a teaser for this book. That, for me, was publicity that worked, since I immediately put the book on my list and am talking about it now. I got it and it was literally one of those books that I couldn’t put down, staying up two hours later than I normally would on a weeknight, and then finishing it the next day as I sat in my backyard with my feet in the grass as the birds ate at the feeder.

I don’t want to try to give anything away here, since the plot is her life and she tells it so much better than I would be able to in a truncated fashion here. What I want to relate is what reading this made me realize. There are a lot of hurdles to being a woman that just don’t exist when you’re a man. There’s so many things that you can blithely ignore because you are not at danger, and society isn’t structured so that you are automatically perceived as both weak and automatically subservient to any person (this goes double for being a white man). So what Valenti’s book really made me internalize, perhaps for the first time, is the reality of male privilege. Because what male privilege to me is now not what I get automatically for m=being a man, but it is more defined by absence. It is what I don’t have to deal with and what I don’t have to think about. It is the privilege to have that extra mental space to think about whatever I want. I think this is the key thing that critics of the idea of privilege miss. And is the memoir format that really drives the point home since it is one thing to intellectualize it, but it is another thing entirely to live in its absence.