I bought this book right before spring break and was going to read it on the plane. I left it at home. I had a feeling it wouldn’t exactly be the most uplifting book out there, so I opted to not use it as my vacation pre-game. That was a good choice.
I opened this book to the first page and read the entire thing within two hours. And that was today. Usually, when I post a review about something I’ve read or watched, I sit on it overnight, if not longer. This isn’t something I need to sit and think about. Not anymore.
If you haven’t heard of this book, get it and read it. It’s not fun to read by any stretch of the imagination (sure, it has moments that are funny but it’s called Sex Object… that isn’t something to laugh about.) Sex Object was voted “Best Book of 2016” by NPR and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Was this book “good?” Absolutely. It was fantastic. Raw. Honest. Gut-wrenching. It was real. I think what bugs me most about that “award” is the fact that a book covering such an intense, and often ignored, topic won. That right there says everything that needs to be said about the society we live in.
We are objects. In the eyes of so many men, that’s all we are. Women are treated as objects, placed on this earth simply for the pleasure of men. I don’t know when the last time was that I stepped out of the house and didn’t hear at least one catcall. And I’m from a small town in the Bible belt. Imagine the subway systems of New York City. People say to just ignore them but what happens when we do? It doesn’t stop anything, in fact, it oftentimes makes it worse. I didn’t realize a lot of what I endure and hear on a daily basis did in fact fall into the category of sexual assault. But it does. I don’t like saying that. It makes me uncomfortable even sitting here and typing that. But it’s true. So, I type it anyways.
“Ignoring men, whether romantically or rhetorically, is existential violence to them.” -Jessica Valenti, Sex Object
The first time I experienced this was while I was on my way to use the restroom at a pole vaulting event. I was walking to the restaurant where the restrooms were when I hear a whistle. I ignored it and kept walking, looking at the ground. The next words sent chills down my spine: “hey bitch, you don’t want to ignore me.” I turned and looked back. I’d say the man was around 25-30 and was walking, quickly, towards me. “You fucking bitch. I told you to stop ignoring me!” Then I took off into a run, locked myself into a stall and called my mom, who was just outside, in tears. I don’t know what happened to that guy, but my uncle and one of his friends took off after him. I was 14. I’ve never told anyone this story either. I erased it from my memory until today. Until I realized that my story could help someone else.
I wish I could say that was the scariest thing that’s happened to me. But it’s not. Being on an elevator in a dorm building alone with a guy who has been seemingly obsessed (borderline stalker behavior) with me for months? That was terrifying. Every time this person had rubbed my back or grabbed my hand or touched my hair sent me into a panic. But I never said anything. It wasn’t a big deal. I was wrong. It was a big deal. Any form of unwanted touch is a big deal. The elevator was the last straw. Nothing happened, I physically pushed him off of me before it got that far, but it was enough. I haven’t spoken to this person again.
“No matter the content, the message is clear: we are here for their enjoyment and little else. We have to walk through the rest of our day knowing that our discomfort gave them a hard-on.” -Jessica Valenti, Sex Object
Objects. Is that all we are? Of course it isn’t but to the guy rubbing up against us on the subway, that’s exactly what we are.
And that’s not going to change, either. There will always be someone out there who only sees you as something to look at. Something for their pleasure. It’s hard to accept that reality but the task of changing it is daunting and scary. Admitting fear? That’s scary too. Feminism isn’t about being angry and hating men. We don’t hate men. What do we hate? Having to walk an extra mile out of our way to avoid a specific street corner. Having to live in constant fear. Being expected to “cover ourselves” even though it’s 95 degrees outside.
I hate the fact that our society tells men that my purpose in life is to feed their desires.
“Just the word ‘feminist’ pisses you off. How dare we? Still no name for the men who kill women because we have the audacity not to do what we’re supposed to do: fuck you, accept you, want you, let you hurt us, be blank slates for your desires. You are entitled to us but we’re not even allowed to call you what you are.” -Jessica Valenti, Sex Object
If I can’t be a feminist without you becoming all insecure and needing to remind me who’s boss, you may want to rethink the next time you assume catcalling me from across campus is a compliment. I’m not just going to keep walking anymore. I’m not going to keep my mouth shut.
I know I’m more than an object.