Sex Object by Jessica Valenti

SSex Objectex Object by Jessica Valenti
Published by Dey Street Books

Jessica Valenti, creator of the widely popular feminist blog Feministing.com, has written several books about feminism over the years, but Sex Object is her first memoir about her own personal experiences. The book is not just about growing up in a world in which girls and women are treated as sex objects before anything else, but it’s about her own personal struggles, triumphs, and experiences throughout her lifetime.

I really like Jessica Valenti for many reasons so I had been pretty excited about this book. For the most part, I’m glad I read it, but I hate that I didn’t love it like I had hoped that I would. The parts of the book that I most enjoyed were Valenti’s personal stories, while unfortunately I didn’t enjoy as much the musings on feminism and what it means to be a woman in the world right now and in the 80’s and 90’s when she was growing up.

Part of my issue with Sex Object is that overall I’m not sure what Valenti added to the existing conversation around how women are treated in public spaces – much of what she discussed was how women are treated on public transportation and other places, and I hate to say it but I’ve heard all this before. While it’s important to keep having this discussion, I would have liked something to be added to the conversation around progress (if that’s even a thing) … I don’t know. The best way to say it is that I personally didn’t get anything new from these parts of the book.

The personal stuff, though, I did like. I would have liked even more of it, to be honest, especially as this is a memoir. I like Valenti, I like her politics, I like her writing style, I like her attitude, and I would have liked learning even more about her than what she shared in the book. Although, to be fair, she did share a lot – from her childhood, to her experiences having two abortions, to her issues within her marriage, to being a woman who is working on her own confidence in the world and in her career, to being successful in both of those things, to being pregnant and raising a daughter – and I definitely enjoyed all of these parts of the book.

While I was disappointed about some aspects of Sex Object, overall I did appreciate the book and I’m glad that Valenti chose to write a memoir. I have to remind myself to continue following the work she’s doing now (I think she has a podcast and also writes for The Guardian) because she is one of the many smart voices in feminism right now, someone who is talking about uncomfortable but important topics. I would recommend this book for fans of Valenti who are looking to get to know her on a more personal level.

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Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen

Here We Are: Feminism for the Real WorldHere We Are: Feminism for the Real World by Kelly Jensen
Published by Algonquin Young Readers

This is a really strong collection of feminist writing geared mostly at teenagers and young adults that I really enjoyed. While it is aimed at younger readers newer to feminism, it definitely has universal appeal and the diversity of voices in the collection absolutely gives something for everyone.

I loved so many of the pieces in this collection but I wanted to highlight a few in particular that really stood out to me. “Bad Feminism: Take Two” by Roxane Gay, which I’d previously read in her book, Bad Feminist, is a super inspiring essay about her particular feminism and how certain things that Gay is interested in may make someone label her a “bad” feminist but explaining that everyone’s feminism is different and feminism has room for ALL the different voices that make up the movement. There is a conversation between Laurie Halse Anderson and Courtney Summers titled “A Conversation about Girls’ Stories and Girls’ Voices” about why “rape books” are so important and why it’s so crucial to young women to read stories told from the perspective of girls going through the same things they are going through. “Reading Worthy Women” by Nova Ren Suma, about how she had a college professor who had a syllabus of only male writers, and upon asking him why, he informed her that there are “no worthy women writers” for his students to read, and this one interaction fueled her quest to read as many women writers that she could (and of course, she found plenty of “worthy” women to read). These are just a few of the incredible essays found in this collection, and there are many more.

Here We Are is a fantastic collection that I highly recommend. Highly recommended.

All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

All About Love: New VisionsAll About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
Published by William Morrow

There are a lot of beautiful passages and statements in these essays about love by bell hooks. She is known as a feminist writer, and I found this book really interesting in that yes it is written from a feminist perspective, but it definitely has a universal appeal that I’m not sure all books labeled as “feminist” really have.

hooks talks a lot about the ways in which love is modeled and taught in childhood; and how in most people’s upbringing, what is taught is damaging and hurtful and a poor example of what love truly should look like. I believe that a lot of people will find these chapters helpful and will likely have some “ah-ha” moments about their own childhoods and the examples they might have had growing up. I personally saw a lot in these sections that applied to me; however I had already done most of this emotional work to understand that what was displayed for me was not the love I should aspire to as an adult, so I can’t say that I had any earth-shattering revelations about my own life.

There are other sections that specify what exactly a person should look for that defines “love”, what should be deal breakers (the fact that love and abuse cannot coexist is one major thing that the reader is supposed to take from this book), and what it looks like when someone is showing love to a partner, parent, child, etc.

I did enjoy this book and I think it has universal appeal. One thing to note, however, is that it is very hetero-focused and a bit narrow in scope. That being said, I loved a lot of what I read here and hooks has a beautiful way with language that I absolutely adored. I will definitely pick up more of her books and was excited to see All About Love was the type of book that many people could pick up, enjoy, and feel that it offers valuable insights.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should All Be FeministsWe Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Published by Vintage

This essay is adapted from the author’s TEDx talk about feminism – put in simple language that makes good sense for the average person who wants to understand what feminism is and why it’s important in today’s world.

We Should All Be Feminists is short but powerful. It packs a ton of arguments into fifty pages. The author highlights how the marginalization of women in the US, Nigeria, and around the world harms both women and men and discusses simple things that can be done to educate ourselves and our children in order to halt misogyny in the near future. She shares personal stories and life experiences, as well as things she’s read and studied over the years that point to factual evidence of discrimination of women throughout the world.

This should be a required primer on feminism for anyone who is even the least bit interested in understanding the subject. Many people may not understand that feminism is simply about the belief that all sexes should be equal, and this essay illustrates that extremely well. I can see why it became such important reading and I highly recommend We Should All Be Feminists to just about everyone.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

Shrill: Notes from a Loud WomanShrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
Published by Hachette

I hadn’t even heard of Lindy West when her memoir came full-force into the book world, but many of the feminist authors and activists I’ve come to admire over the years were recommending it, so I read a few pieces she’d written online before downloading this audio. I liked the snippets of West’s that I read, so I settled in for what I anticipated to be a smart, funny listen that would hopefully make me think differently about some issues. And I got exactly what I was hoping for.

Lindy West is incredibly smart, darkly funny but also witty and can even be silly funny, and bares all for the reader in her book. She talks about the experience of having an abortion and how it affected her (and, more importantly, the ways in which it did NOT affect her). She talks about having a “debate” on national TV about why it is not okay for comedians to make fun of rape, or more specifically, of women who have been raped. She rails against a societal message that to be fat is to be less than, that we should make judgments about people based on what their bodies look like. There is a LOT packed within these pages and I could have had twice as much, that is how much I enjoyed it.

I listened to the audio of Shrill, which West narrates herself, and it was fantastic. There’s nothing like an intelligent, interesting human telling his/her own story in their own voice, right into your ears.

There’s a lot to discuss within the pages of Shrill, but I’ll leave it short and sweet here. This book is really great, full of anecdotes and opinions, yes, but so much food for thought about topics even I, a self-proclaimed feminist, hadn’t really considered before. Highly recommended.

Lumberjanes Volumes 3 & 4

Lumberjanes, Vol. 3: A Terrible PlanLumberjanes, Vol 3: A Terrible Plan by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, and Carolyn Nowak
Published by BOOM!Box

The third installment of the fun and feisty comic Lumberjanes has Mal and Molly going on a date (yay!) and being interrupted by none other than the Bear Woman. Meanwhile, back at camp, Jo, April and Ripley are focused on earning every badge they possibly can (and these badges are ridiculous).

This was my favorite of the series yet. I loooooooved seeing the character development here, especially between Mal and Molly – both individually and as a couple. I loved seeing the two of them separate from the rest of the group, how they navigated the craziness that was thrown at them in a particular way that only the two of them together could have done. I also quite enjoyed the silliness of the tasks the other girls were trying to complete for the most random, odd-ball badges ever. It was hilarious and fun to read and the adventures in this book were more exciting than some of the previous ones, I thought. I REALLY liked this volume in particular, but the series as a whole is just tons of fun.

Lumberjanes, Vol. 4: Out of TimeLumberjanes, Vol 4: Out of Time by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, and Carolyn Nowak
Published by BOOM!Box

This volume focused more on Jen than it does the campers – it starts with Jen trying to teach the girls basic survival skills, until a mysterious blizzard hits camp, Jen is separated from the group, and a taxidermist who says she has all the answers “saves” her. Jen quickly realizes that this person is not the safe place she claims to be, and she must save the day and find her way back to the campers.

I really enjoyed the focus on Jen in this volume, as she’s a character that has only really gotten development through the eyes of the other characters. This one was a chance for her to come into her own and show the reader more of her personality. There was also more in terms of getting the back story of the camp and of Rosie’s past. I liked this volume a lot even though it wasn’t my absolute favorite of the series, it brought development to the story and held my attention big time. This series is great; seriously, if you’re not reading it, you need to start now.

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

My Life on the RoadMy Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
Published by Random House

From the publisher:

Gloria Steinem—writer, activist, organizer, and one of the most inspiring leaders in the world—now tells a story she has never told before, a candid account of how her early years led her to live an on-the-road kind of life, traveling, listening to people, learning, and creating change. She reveals the story of her own growth in tandem with the growth of an ongoing movement for equality. This is the story at the heart of My Life on the Road.

I probably would have read this book at some point on my own, but what propelled me into reading it sooner than later was Emma Watson choosing it for the first pick of her Goodreads book club. I haven’t kept up with Watson’s book club, but I am happy that the idea of such a thing inspired me to read My Life on the Road because I really loved reading this book and getting to know Steinem on a personal level.

Steinem shares a lot with the reader about how and why she became the woman she did. She delves deep into her past, discussing how both of her parents’ personalities and life choices shaped Steinem’s own personality and life choices. She then gets into details about her own travels as an activist and feminist writer and organizer, and how each new place she visited inspired and changed her ways of thinking and being in the world. Honestly, I just enjoyed going on this journey with her. I loved learning more about her as a person, getting to understand how the individuals that crossed her path over the years influenced her in various ways, and learning more about the activism that was so central to her life.

Something that I particularly loved was getting to know some of the specific women Steinem worked with and spent time with throughout her life. Many of them were people I was ashamed to have never heard of, and I was inspired to do some research on a few of them. She talks quite a bit about race and the civil rights movement, and how feminism and women’s rights are – or at least, should be – tied into civil rights. This is one aspect of feminism that particularly interests me, something I want to keep reading more about, so I was pleased to see how much it is important to Steinem, too. More of this in feminist books, please.

My Life on the Road was a fantastic journey that I loved taking with Gloria Steinem. Highly recommended.