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Sex Object: a book that reminds you that you never stop being just that

Sneha Vakharia | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:48 IST

Remember the time that you started growing breasts. And something that looked like hips. And you were informed that you now had to wear a bra.

Remember how those body parts - parts you didn't fully understand, parts you hadn't begun to embrace as your own yet - were ogled at when the bus was empty. And touched surreptitiously when the bus was full.

Remember when you gave the man behind you the benefit of doubt. That his gentle rubbing against you was the result of the inertia of the moving locomotive.

Except the rhythm of his movements was all wrong, still it was easier to hope for the best.

Remember when you plugged in your earphones so you could pretend you hadn't heard the catcall that you in fact just did.

Remember when your shirt got wet in the rain. And how vulnerable water could make you feel.

If the world is not a different one for you. I hope you will change it. No pressure.

Remember when someone in school pointed out that your nose was all wrong. And how you stood in front of the mirror every day to count its length in fingers.

And for months after, that was all you could see in your reflection.

Remember when you finally found a "boyfriend" and the cool thing to do would be to give him a handjob.

And maybe even have sex. Maybe take it somewhere else. You weren't a prude. You were cool. And so you did.

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Remember the time the cool girl became the slut.

Cool girl. Slut. Cool. Slut. Cool. Slut.

Remember being torn between both identities. Keeping a ledger in your head of the number of men you'd been with. Do you remember if the tally qualified you as a cool girl or a slut?

Remember the time you went to a gynaecologist for help, and she had an opinion on the way you used your body. It made you feel something that resembled shame.

Remember waking up not knowing what happened? Did you express consent? You're not sure. Was it rape? Let's just hope it wasn't.

Remember the convenient benefit of doubt response popping its head out once again.

Try for a moment to imagine what the world would be like if you were not always a sex object

Remember the time your Math tutor flitted away mosquitoes from your t-shirt. Remember when another teacher asked you for a hug. Or for you to sit on his lap. And remember not wondering if he has your male peers do the same.

Remember when a colleague chased you around a bar telling you how attractive you are and insisting it was a compliment. Remember it not feeling like one.

Remember becoming pregnant and having strangers touch your stomach because, once again, your body had ceased to be your own.

Remember having doctors place their hands inside your body. And nurses massaging your breasts for the milk to emerge.

Remember reading mean things about yourself online. And repeating to yourself, like a mantra, "They're sad and lonely and there's no truth in their words." But feeling miserable anyway.

Remember looking up the word "frotteurism", and learning that it meant the "practice of achieving sexual stimulation or orgasm by touching and rubbing against a person without the person's consent and usually in a public place". And also learning that you'd met many frotteurs long before you knew there was a word for it?

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Remember noticing a shadow under the streetlights and digging out your phone and talking really loudly.

Remember getting into a cab and knowing that the driver could take you anywhere and do anything to you. But always hoping for the best.

Remember the checklist you always carry in your mind - the things you have "the figure" for, and the things you don't.

Every Woman's Autobiography

The clinching sentence of Jessica Valenti's Sex Object is in her dedication. It reads:

"For Layla and Zoe.

If the world is not a different one for you,

I hope you both will change it.

No pressure."

There isn't a chapter or a note that you will struggle to relate to. In fact, the most compelling power of Sex Object is that it is a book any woman could have written.

With minor variations, the experiences she documents are universal. You'll recognise yourself in most pages. A stronger/weaker/lesser/better version of yourself. And it will make you rethink and question your life experiences.

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Valenti will raise important questions and then raise her hands in despair

Why did you spend a greater part of your life giving that frotteur, that teacher, that partner and that colleague the benefit of doubt? Because that was the easier route?

Has pleasing a man become a habit from your teenage years? Have you become "an expert in feigning whatever it was that they wanted to see?"

What would the world have looked like had sexual violation not been a question of when and how bad?

These are difficult questions. And they demand the deepest introspection.

Often, Valenti will raise the questions and then raise her hands in despair. With over a decade of feminist writing under her belt (Valenti founded Feministing in 2004) she hasn't figured it out yet.

But the first step is to acknowledge just how bad things are. And they are, in spite of her pioneering efforts, really, really bad.

First published: 12 July 2016, 1:58 IST
Sneha Vakharia @sneha_vakharia

A Beyonce-loving feminist who writes about literature and lifestyle at Catch, Sneha is a fan of limericks, sonnets, pantoums and anything that rhymes. She loves economics and music, and has found a happy profession in neither. When not being consumed by the great novels of drama and tragedy, she pays the world back with poems of nostalgia, journals of heartbreak and critiques of the comfortable.