When Women’s Bodies Are Not Autonomous: Lessons from Harvey Weinstein

Angry. Sad. Upsetting. Disgusting.

I am going to assume that most of my readers have seen the newsreels about Harvey Weinstein’s misogynistic, selfish, threatening, and disgusting display of male privilege in his sexual assaults on females in the movie business.

Although I understand the principle of innocent before proven guilty, just hearing the accusations made me cringe a bit.

Harvey Weinstein’s case represents male entitlement at its best. In fact, this is male entitlement mixed with delusion on the part of Weinstein: the delusion that his powerful position in Hollywood allows him to prey on and assault women looking to succeed in the business. Or maybe it is not delusion, but rather a symptom of a system that allows men to decide what female sexuality should and will be?

Symptoms of Gender Dominance

Cases like these spiral from a system that allows men to use women however they wish to fulfill not just sexual desire, but gender dominance. I would argue that Weinstein’s actions are an example of demeaning women who want to play their cards at success in a male-dominated industry. It is an example of a system that says women can succeed, but not until they are fully aware of their second-class status and it will always be men with the upper hand. It lets women know that their sexuality is not their own; that female bodies are not autonomous.

Powerlessness via sexual powers not of women’s choice is the name of the game.

And, unfortunately, it does not start and stop with the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world. It so happens that men like Weinstein are the most noticeable from a publicity standpoint because of their elite socioeconomic status.

A Global Problem

However, this kind of sexual manipulation of not just women, but also young girls, happens all over the world via the sex trade, a segment of human trafficking. This trade occurs in poor countries across the earth, but also in staggering numbers in the United States. Statistics show that forced sexual labor is the most lucrative of other forms of human trafficking. Women make up the largest number of sex trafficking victims, but children become victims as well.

Women and young girls are left without a choice when they are sold into slavery via the sex trade. This practice is often used as an effective way into financial gain. And, it is a system that pins women as the tools through which men financially flourish. It is a system that says women can contribute to the economy, but only one built for and by men.

The sex trade serves to remind the social structures that be that while poor men may struggle, women, as well as young girls can and do suffer to feed them. Women, human beings, are kidnapped, held against their will, and forced into using their bodies for money. This is sexual assault in disguise as people trying to earn money. It is sexual assault made to look like the choice of those who engage in sex work.

The kidnap, torture, and forced sexual acts that define the sex trade speak to every power of human degradation. Yes, it often goes unnoticed because our society spends time focusing on the ego-feeding, lewd acts of the likes of Harvey Weinstein. We forget that the kind of suffering Weinstein’s victims so unfortunately and unnecessarily endured happens every day in many corners of our country and world.

Never A Pass

Understand this: I sympathize with the women who have been victimized by Harvey Weinstein and others like him. There is never a price too high that can give sexual assault a pass, be it an Oscar or a buyout for silence.

Yet, let us recognize that there are women and young girls who are forced daily into sexual engagements not of their choosing, lest their families are threatened, their lives are threatened, they want to eat, or are faced with social stigma so paralyzing that they feel they cannot escape the life of the sex trade.

The sex trade is a “business” designed to create a sexualization of women and young girls, centered on violent usurpation of human choice. It is exploitation plain and simple. Exploitation happens in the shadows of men’s fear of too many gains in  women’s rights – no matter how much facetime and money they give to the liberal agenda.

Beyond The High Profile Cases

Yes, we have the televised, high-profile misogynistic sexual offenders like Harvey Weinstein, but we also have the same types that live underground. They may not be billionaires, but their powers to use women and children to their benefit are no more limited. This is where male privilege stands with its iron fist. Like Weinstein, the purveyors and overseers (pimps, etc.) of the sex trade negate the humanity of their victims by looking at human bodies as commodities. And, they recklessly negate and destroy the autonomy of their victims.

Even in poverty, the autonomy and respect for women gets thrown out with their dignity. We need to look at the global impact of treating women like they are tools in a hand-basket.

Commodities come in many forms, yet they might be labeled markedly different. Some come behind closed doors of motion picture tycoons, while others in the desolate and desperate openness of the poorest corners on the earth. Whether it is in a high-rise suite of Hollywood elite or shanty-town shacks in the poorest places on earth, women are used as commodities that benefit men. Some of these women are in our backyards.

This is the farthest thing from female empowerment.

One fact that rings true is that as long as men can choose how and when women’s and girl’s sexuality is used, there can never be such a thing as female empowerment. There can never be such a thing as autonomous bodies with a choice to do with themselves what they choose.

In all our anger over the Weinstein scandal, let us not forget that sexual assault happens daily in the disguised world of the sex trade. Women are used and kept out of the discussion as to how they may contribute to their success or the economy.

As long as female sexuality is up for grabs by anyone wanting either a quick buck or a blow job, there cannot be an adequate discussion of how women’s rights are impacted by men’ use and abuse of women’s bodies. We cannot forget about these victims of rape by focusing only on the Harvey Weinstein types who intimidate women through threat of predatory sexual acts. That means we need to look at the problem as a whole: that there is a pervasive presumption that women’s bodies are not autonomous, even in the institutions that boast their liberal agenda of female empowerment. Until women’s bodies are seen as self-governing and not a sale item, then women’s rights on a global scale will remain tenuous and wishful for the collective whole of humanity.

2 thoughts on “When Women’s Bodies Are Not Autonomous: Lessons from Harvey Weinstein”

  1. Sarah, spot on, as always! I am heartened that male sexual assault and aggression is being more publicly called out right now – but it needs to be more than famous actresses (and actors) et al who speak out. One of the things that is MOST needed now is for men (the majority of whom are honorable) to stand up to other men and call out harassment when they see it.

    Thanks for being a voice for people who may have felt voiceless. Well done!

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