A new memoir from the Guardian columnist and “professional feminist.”
“Who would I be if I didn’t live in a world that hated women?” asks Valenti (Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness, 2012, etc.). As she skips around through her memories, the author does include some examples of unpleasant encounters with men: the guys who whistled at her or rubbed up against her in subways as she was growing up in Queens, New York; the college boyfriend who indulged in a nasty species of revenge after they broke up; the high school teacher who said that he would give her an A if she gave him a hug; the married friend who expressed sexual interest in her. On the other hand, Valenti, who admits that she overindulged in alcohol and cocaine for years, acting on the theory that “cocaine let me drink as much as I wanted without passing out or embarrassing myself,” seems to be at least partially responsible for some of her own suffering. When she notes, “I cheated on almost all my boyfriends with regularity and without remorse,” it’s difficult to give her much sympathy when she complains about a boyfriend who was chronically half an hour late for everything. The sections of the memoir that deal with the premature birth of her daughter, her difficulty bonding with the infant, and her daughter’s selective mutism are touching, but they are not concerned with pain caused by the hatred of men; Valenti has not a word of complaint about her “lovely” feminist husband. The author ends the book with pages of insulting or demeaning emails and Facebook posts directed toward her, an odd choice since it gives the last word to her critics. Ultimately, the scattered narrative includes some jaw-dropping scenes but fails to live up to its provocative premise.
Though lively and richly detailed, Valenti’s work lacks the self-awareness essential to a memoir worth pondering.