Sex Object: A Memoir

by Jessica Valenti

Start Free Trial

"Housewives"–"Chocolate" Summary and Analysis

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on January 15, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 784


When Jessica's mother was young, she reveals, her family dynamic was especially complex. She was the youngest of five children, and her parents owned a moving business. When that failed, Jessica's grandmother—already employed ten hours a day as a nanny and a factory worker—began to offset the loss of income with occasional sex work. Eventually, she and her husband separated. Soon after, he died—he'd been drinking, and a hot plate he was using set fire to his apartment. Jessica's grandmother, though she couldn't have been blamed, felt responsible for his death until her own, many years later.

In the present day, Jessica and Andrew begin to experience some relationship issues of their own and attend couples' therapy. The therapist encourages Jessica to ask for more help around the house and encourages Andrew to be more assertive about speaking up for himself, but Jessica struggles to see the potential for improvement. She blames her post-traumatic stress disorder for the disconnect and resents Andrew for his inability to accept that neither her anxiety or her post-traumatic stress are voluntary.

A few months into the sessions, the therapist hands Jessica a list of "negative connotations" and asks her to point to the one she identifies with most. Jessica is upset to discover that the one that makes the most sense to her is so harsh: "I deserve to die."


Jessica returns to the women's health clinic for her second abortion. She can't help but feel that maybe she's done something wrong—one abortion is understandable, she thinks, but are two?

This time, the decision to end the pregnancy is somewhat more complicated. Now, she is with a partner and in a family, Layla is healthy at last, and they have finally overcome the challenges of their last postpartum experience. But after the complications of the last pregnancy and its aftermath, they are also extremely wary—after some deliberation, they agree that an abortion feels like the best choice. The second one, in the same room, on the same table, is every bit as painful as the first.


Layla, now preschool-aged, refers to herself as "shy." Her therapist, Jessica notes, calls it something else—an anxiety disorder known as "selective mutism."

Though she speaks at home with her parents, and to some other adults she knows well, Layla cannot speak in the presence of other children. At school, she communicates through hand gestures, nods, and occasional clicks or whistles. Though she's healthy and has friends who are happy to communicate with her in whichever manner she's comfortable, Jessica can't help but feel guilt—the anxiety that has been her biggest obstacle in life has, in another form, been passed down to complicate her daughter's life, too.

A friend gives Layla a "fairy door," and Jessica and Andrew put it on the wall in Layla's room. When she sleeps, they tell her, a fairy might come visit through it. Jessica writes a note telling Layla to be brave, signing it from the fairy and leaving her a small gold ring. The note promises that the ring is magic—if Layla wears it, it will help her find her words.

Jessica closes the chapter by recounting a brief but meaningful anecdote that occurred shortly thereafter: the family goes out for dinner. And though she does it in a whisper, Layla orders her own ice cream at the end of the meal.


Though these chapters all deal with extremely challenging subjects, and a reader would struggle to call them a "happy" ending, they do demonstrate three choices that might be seen as Jessica finally taking steps...

(This entire section contains 784 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

to reclaim some agency in her life: the choice to go to couples' therapy with Andrew in "Housewives," the decision to terminate the pregnancy in "Cherry," and the time and energy put toward Layla's speech development in "Chocolate."

All three of these demonstrate not just willing participation on her part, but an active and conscious choice to shape her own narrative in accordance with her own goals—Jessica elects to go to therapy to steer her relationship somewhere healthy rather than to leave or let it devolve further. She chooses to have an abortion because she knows it's the right thing to do for her family going forward. And she actively drives Layla's development with every resource at her disposal, finding the time and energy to help her develop her speech skills and overcome her mutism even though her life is technically workable as-is.

For Jessica—whose story has, with a few rare exceptions, occasionally hinged on being a passive participant in her own life—even these difficult choices made in difficult circumstances might be interpreted as optimism.


"Fakers "–"Ice" Summary and Analysis