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.

Body Politics

Body positivity and it’s opposite, body shame, are indeed political in nature. For, bodies are only symbols of much graver societal issues, including misogyny, gender oppression, racial oppression, identity oppression, and just about anything that exists outside of the context of the straight white male. As women routinely succumb to the pressures of fitting the image of what society deems as ideal (thin and pretty), they suppress their fight for and manifestation of equality.

As noted in Miss Representation (I know I’ve cited this before, but it was a game-changing documentary for me), men tend to control the ideal image of a woman. For, males are in large at the top levels of marketing, the media, business, and politics. And because they are largely represented in the marketing industry, they can become the say so of what a “beautiful” woman is. And, this image is marketed to young men and women. This can only allow for misogyny to permeate through conditioned images of what women should look, think, and behave like. I believe a very pertinent example of how men control the standardized image of women in Western culture is our very own President Trump’s demeaning of the 1996 Ms. Universe contest winner, Alicia Machado (Ms. Venezuela), for her weight gain after competing. I am not sure I even need to divulge into how upsetting this is to me (and so many other women), especially considering the cause of body positivity and gender equality that I fight for. The problem with this vicious attack on a woman’s body, outside of the painfully obvious fact that it is derogatory and disgusting, is that it sets up a precedence for body bias towards women. And when there is bias, a binary of acceptable and unacceptable bodies becomes embedded and fixed into cultural norms. In other words, statements like Trump’s calling Alicia Machado “Miss Piggy” create a set of rules that have the potential to become a matter of debate when broken. And, because the diet industry has planted it’s iron fist into Western culture, having a body outside of what is portrayed as ideal by the media and the marketing industry becomes the ugly parallel to the “look” of health, which is thinness. This is the how and why bodies become politicized. Because thin has become the image of health and beauty (see the previous post “Just Say ‘No’… Dieting”) and women are repeated targets of these images and messages, body positivity and hate quickly turn into body politics. Bodies types are pitted against one another: thin vs. everything else, much like the bipartisanship we see in the American political structure.

To embrace all bodies is to embrace all humans. When we fixate on the differences in our bodies, we selectively choose which ones are to be embraced and which ones are to be hated and avoided at all costs. When industries market and campaign for diet products, they speak a language that suggests that “larger” bodies are not acceptable. And to place restrictions on what type of look is acceptable and what is not is to set rules and regulations on a societal level. In diet culture, bodies are policed and judged by arbitrary standards that have become wide-spread on a societal level by nothing other than the media, advertisements, magazines, and even schools. When these rules and regulations are broken, people who have the “wrong” kind of body are ostracized and left either feeling like they need to defend themselves for their shape and look or worse, like they need to change to be acceptable. Just like politicians infuse moralization with the war on drugs, the war on fat and certain kinds of bodies  sets up a scale of “right” and “wrong”. And, it is in this process that bodies that do not fit an ideal Ken and Barbie kind of standard are marginalized. I believe that the subliminal cultural message in regards to women’s bodies is this: if females can at least look the role of the ideal woman, then they can be satisfied about their positional structuring in society. Although there has been a major shift in attitudes towards women’s roles in society, there is still a clear and fixed representation within mainstream media and culture of what an ideal and beautiful woman looks like. I believe this representation is accepted on a collectively unconscious level. This is how powerful the media and marketing industry are, which seems to fit hand and hand with the purpose of the diet industry. And, it is in the process of politicizing the position of women in society that their bodies become politicized. By suppressing the adequacy, value, and virtue of the many different body types that actually exist outside of the movie-star ideal, women’s value is reduced to their looks, which is absolutely a political issue. The reason I am so passionate about uncovering the ugly truth about dieting and the obsession over women achieving a very pigeon-holed body ideal is because when we submit to the pressures of thinness and plastic beauty, we submit to our own objectification. I believe that by adhering to a cultured, rather than individual, idea of beauty, we say that judgement of bodies is acceptable. Women are more than their bodies; ALL people are more than their bodies.

When a person is marginalized for their looks, the issue of justice (or lack thereof) becomes supreme. Take one look at our current political climate and you will see what I mean. To put it plainly, have a President and Administration that marginalizes everyone who is not a rich white straight male. Christy Harrison, an intuitive eating coach, discusses this on the “Body Positivity & Social Justice” episode of her podcast, “Food Psyche”, with yoga guru and body positivity activist, Dianne Bondy.  In this episode, Harrison and Bondy engage in a lengthy discussion about how body positivity and acceptance is not limited to just those with larger bodies, but rather, every person who is marginalized in Western society because of their looks. They discuss how our current President and administration only serves in the favor of straight white males, which has the potential for a devastating effect on the body wellness and positivity of many people. My interpretation of this discussion, based on my own observation of the very limited social equality platform our current political administration has, is that every other person, as well as the bodies they live in, besides straight white males are portrayed as the image of those of lesser value. This includes a long list of people: African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, women, LGBTQ individuals, old people, poor people who cannot afford an Armani suit, women who  gain weight (think Ms. Venezuela), men who embrace feminism, etc. I think you get the picture. We have a list of all kinds of “bodies” that are misrepresented and do not benefit from the current political administration.

To reiterate, the body is only a symbol in the context of hate. In reference to what I passionately advocate against, the focus on women’s bodies is a symbol of much larger issues of identity oppression and box-fitting the “look” of an ideal female. All bodies deserve respect and justice. When we focus on the size of others’ bodies, we invalidate their personhood; their being; their worth. When the diet industry markets a grand-scale campaign waging the war against dreaded “fat” bodies, they moralize an issue that is both individual and biological in nature. Each body has a natural look and set-point weight that is right for them; one that their biology has fixed for them. When we choose to rebel against our natural selves, we give in to body-hate and the effect of this is much more grave than disliking our thighs or stomachs. It sets up an idea of what is right  and what is wrong, placing limited standards on our own selves. In other words, women marginalize themselves when they turn against their own bodies, desperately trying to manipulate and fix them, so that they might better fit on the side of ideal.

Women’s body acceptance extends far beyond diet ads, sensationalized images of thin females, and gym memberships. We are not simply battling for our right to not be heckled for our body shape and size. My point is that to not accept our bodies as they are is the equivalent to accepting marginalization as the status quo. To strive to look a certain way because media images tell us it is the standard of womanhood is to deny our own humanness. Let us look deeper than the magazines, movies, dieting tricks, and beach body workout series, so we can truly experience love of all people, starting with ourselves. There is no better way to show what it means to fight against hate than to be the example you want to set.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Show Must and Will Go On

I feel that I cannot continue writing about the goddess within without taking some moments to reflect on the political climate and happenings of this past week. For, I know there are many women in this country that are fearful and in shock that a candidate who has said and done the vile things he has towards women, minorities, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community can be elected as the next President of the United States.

In this past week, after Donald Trump became our nation’s next President-elect, we have seen a maelstrom of anger-fueled posts on social media, articles about the inanity of the political machine, and a lot of fear circulating throughout the internet, media, and streets. I myself have had many a conversation about what the results of this past election might mean for the welfare of our country (ok, that is a bit of an understatement), have had moments of depression, and found myself seething to the bone, wondering how hate, misogyny, racism, and xenophobia can win over a significant amount of our country’s population. I think you can guess by now that I was in no way, shape, or form a Trump supporter. Considering this is a blog dedicated to female empowerment, I will focus on the unfair treatment of women that exist not just in politics, but in every corner of our society.  In the aftermath of what I consider a terrifying election and the hateful frenzy that fueled it, I want to take time to offer a semblance of my thoughts about women standing in solidarity and provide a brief message of hope. Yes, I want to extend a hand of encouragement to all the women who feel demeaned, discouraged, and like their bodies and minds are a mere ploy for male power in a hyper-masculinized and gender-politicized culture. I believe that this culture is harmful not only to the plight of women, but also to marginalized populations, races, religions, and men who defy the standardized ideal of masculinity.

I believe that now is the time more than ever for the women in this country and the men that support them to rise up in unity. There is a fire burning through the walls of gender equality. Although women have made significant strides in the past century, there is still much work to be done. For, the major institutions in this country, including politics and the media, are still overwhelmingly run by men like Julian Assange who wish to keep females below the power threshold. However, ladies, let me tell you that your voice, mind, and soul DO matter. Yes, our nation elected a man to Presidency that has spewed incredulous messages of hate towards not only women, but also minorities, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and anyone and everyone that was not in his playing field. This leaves me in fear and disgust as much as anyone who was opposed to the Trump-isms that drove the President-elect’s platform for his campaign. However, as much as I am in shock and terror over Donald Trump’s election, I also know that this is not the time to give up hope for the future and let go of all the progress women and men have made in equal rights campaigns in the last century, from the suffragette movement in the 1920’s to bra-burning in the 1970’s to the present day, in which women are assuming some of the most powerful positions in the nation and world. So, I propose that instead of viewing these next, probably very long and grueling, four years as the end all to our rights and freedoms as women, let us use our collective anger towards the misogyny that pervades our political system to invigorate us to act against the patriarchal figures that attempt to discourage female empowerment. However, we cannot do this with hate in our hearts. For, we have witnessed time and time again in the history of our nation and the world that in the end, love can and does win. At this point, we cannot focus on Trump-supporters versus Hillary-supporters or divide ourselves from those who voted third-party in the 2016 Presidential election. For empowerment is meaningless unless it extends itself to all women and men. Furthermore, let all those who support gender equality act in love against the vitriolic pledges of hatred we witnessed not only in this most recent Presidential campaign, but those that have existed within the context of our culture for hundreds of years. Women, let us stand up in solidarity with the power of our voices and speak not just for fellow females, but for humanity as a whole. For, sexism impacts the dignity of all human beings by demeaning a part of the whole. In other words, human dignity is threatened any time a group of people claims superiority over the other. Dignity cannot be found in the context of contempt. Ugly discrimination is nothing but a path to superiority for one specific group of people- – a path that leaves narrow-mindedness the only option when power is perceived to be threatened. At the heart of misogyny is a pervasive, falsified, and socially-constructed version of masculinity: one in which the ideal male is portrayed as one who always has the upper hand in every and any situation. This version of masculinity has an impact not only on females, but also on men who either do not believe in or wish to live according to this male standard.

Today, in the hyper-masculine Western world, one run on competitiveness and power-seeking, women in the most influential positions are subjected to harsh and unfair criticisms of their looks and incendiary attacks on their characters. All we need to do is simply look at the abject vitriol Hilary Clinton was subjected to in the past campaign, as she was called a variety of ugly and demeaning names, degraded for how she looks, and portrayed as an evil threat to the solidarity and progress of this country. I believe that this was done so simply because she is a powerful woman. All we need to do is look at the media’s past portrayal of her and hear comments about her hair, makeup, and pantsuits, rather than her qualifications and passion for the work she has dedicated her life to. All we need to do is look at the super television star her opponent, Donald Trump, was turned into, despite his contemptuous views and actions against any group of people that were not rich white males, to understand that there is something seriously wrong with how our country enacts and gives attention to equal rights. Why is this? I believe it is because men have been cultured in this country to remain stoic and dominating, whether that be in politics, business, or personal relationships. It seems that when a female has the audacity to shift the tide and balance-out this masculinized culture, she immediately is perceived as a threat to the stability of male power and becomes the target of attack. And, I believe that because we live in an appearance and diet-focused society, a woman’s looks, temperament, and character become the focus of discussion when her success and qualifications are simply too much for her male opponents to counter.

Now, please do not misunderstand me. I am not in any way saying that all men are vicious, violent, dominating, and sexist. In fact, I think the majority of men in our culture are good-intentioned and are sensitive to and advocate for the plight of women. Personally, I know many of these men. However, there remains this subset of men who are rooted in traditional and outdated values of gender expectations and thus, continue to view and treat women as second-class citizens who are worthy of a lecture more than they are equality and respect. Unfortunately, many of these men remain at the top tiers of industry, the media, advertising, Wall Street, law, and politics. This is how and why the gender gap remains in a very precarious position and why the fight to close it must go on with more fervor than before.

However, ladies, I do not want to discourage you. After all, I did promise a message of hope. We have the power of voice. We can let our feminine powers of perseverance, nurture, love, and intuition be the forces that carry us through the difficult moments of gender inequality. Let these be the values that guide us towards the common goal of equality, fairness, and unbiased representation of females of all shapes, sizes, characters, and colors. For, these are the qualities of the goddess within every woman that can unify us to take action, no matter if you were a Trump, Bernie, Hillary, or third-party voter.

So, next time us women hear a misogynist attack on us for our body shape, looks, or other qualities, let your self-love allow you to speak up. Next time we hear a woman in a position of power demeaned for her gender, let all women speak in unity louder than the voice of hate. Next time you hear a man make an inappropriate sexualized comment, clarify that you are not an object of prey and remain confident in it. Let us rise above the unrealistic beauty standards that bleed through every corner of advertising. Let us join in unity to say we will continue to stand tall despite ugly name calling. And most of all, let us use this vulnerable time in our nation as the fuel to re-awaken and re-define our fight for equality.

I do not want to undermine the significant strides that women have made in this country. Without them, I would not even be able to write this post. There are many (Hillary Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Michelle Obama just to name a few) that are pushing the boundaries and sharing their vision for harmony in the nation and world, all the while encouraging other women and girls to do the same. Thus, we cannot remain frozen and fixated on the party lines that have seemingly divided our country and allow them to create partisanship between women. Trust me, I am angry, hurt, and saddened by the results of this election because they are suggestive of the fact that the fight against bigotry and sexism have taken a back seat to hyper-sensationalized fear. However, let us women and men that stand for love and equality use this tidal wave of scary politics to turn our concern about misogyny, sexism, racism, homophobia, and hate into a call to take action against ideologies that are truly a threat to humanity. Onward we must go to fight the good fight and release our nation from the fear-mongering that has perpetuated discrimination and inequality. We must go with compassion in our hearts and passion in our souls.

 

With Love,

 

Sarah