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What feminist author Jessica Valenti wishes she could tell her 15-year-old self about sexism

Author and feminist Jessica Valenti talked about her new book, Sex Object, on a recent episode of The Ezra Klein Show.
Author and feminist Jessica Valenti talked about her new book, Sex Object, on a recent episode of The Ezra Klein Show.
Paul Morigi/Getty Images

How do you prepare a young daughter for being cat-called? For being flashed on the subway? Or for other, subtler, forms of sexism?

"We don’t have language to explain what that feels like — what that means or what that is," says Jessica Valenti, columnist and Feministing founder. "Especially when you’re thinking about kids and growing up."

On the latest episode of The Ezra Klein Show, Valenti talks about how she’s grappled with being treated as a sex object — and the real, psychological impact that has on women across the country.

"There are researchers who study something called ‘objectification theory,’ which is the way in which women react to being sexually objectified," Valenti says. "And they’ve been able to link it to anxiety, depression, psychological distress. These things have tangible impacts."

In June, Valenti published Sex Object, a memoir that strings together sometimes painful stories about experiencing sexism. On The Ezra Klein Show (which you can listen to here or subscribe to here), Valenti explains exactly what motivated her when she set out to write it:

The best I can hope for is the message I wish I had gotten when I was 15: that the world is messy, and so expect to be a mess yourself.

I don’t think I was fully prepared for how much I would blame myself for not knowing how to handle a really chaotic world. Things can be really tough for women, but we’re meant to live in it and go through it day to day without showing any impact or being worse for the wear — which I don’t think is realistic. And I think women carry around a lot of self-doubt and self-hatred for not handling it better, when in fact we should not be handling it. It is terrible, and it’s okay to feel really fucked up about it …

That’s the question I was really trying to get at with my daughter: How do I prepare her for that? I don’t have the language for it. We don’t have language to explain what that feels like, what that means, what that is, especially because it is so unrelenting and differs from space to space.

It may be easy to say: ‘If you’re on the subway, a guy may flash you, and that’s going to feel really terrible.’ But how do you connect that and relate that to looks you’ll get or a small comment a teacher might make? It’s really difficult to articulate, especially when you’re thinking about kids and growing up.

You can find Valenti expounding on what she wishes she could tell her 15-year-old self in the essay she published in the Guardian.

Show notes:

Among the other topics discussed on the show:


For more podcast conversations — including episodes with Rachel Maddow, Bill Gates, political scientist Theda Skocpol, and conservative activist Michael Needham — subscribe to The Ezra Klein Show.

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