While horrific and shocking, the revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s chronic, decades-long harassment and sexual assault of women is no surprise to most women.
Women’s bodies and sexuality are commodities traded in intimate relationships, the marketplace, and in the workplace. The commodification of women’s bodies is a symptom of a culture that deeply fears women. Representing more than fifty percent of the human race, women are the ultimate “Other.” And to maintain dominance over the Other, it is imperative to reduce them to objects.
The invisible trauma of Weinstein’s victims is that the women who were assaulted and abused by him had probably experienced sexual abuse and trauma for years—or even decades—before they encountered him.
As a trauma specialist, I find that most people have a very narrow view of what constitutes trauma. To understand sexual trauma and abuse, it’s important to know that women experience many micro-traumas on a nearly daily basis. Sexual micro-traumas are one of the most insidious, relentless, hidden traumas women endure.
Trauma is any event that is perceived as overwhelming, and from which you can’t escape. When a stranger catcalls you on a deserted street after dark you’ll probably feel overwhelmed and frightened. And if you’re a woman who wants to escape the catcalls, staring, leering, and lewd comments like, “I was just enjoying the view”—all commonplace for women—your sole option is to stay home, stay out of the public arena, and stay out of the workplace.
Given the options of either enduring these sexual micro-traumas or dropping out of life, women persist. They get up, they go out, and they internally—and externally—armor themselves for protection to the best of their ability.
The reality of the ubiquitous nature of sexual micro-traumas is that women “accept” them as an unavoidable—yet uncomfortable—part of life. They remark to one another in private, “Yeah, that happened again,” or they share about how some guy followed them in the produce section of the grocery store and asked a random question that “creeped them out.”
Weinstein’s victims likely experienced dozens—if not hundreds—of these sexual micro-traumas before he had the audacity to ask them to give him a massage, oral sex, or when he “inadvertently” touched their breasts or groped them.
Over time, women become desensitized to the relentless public objectification and harassment. If they don’t, they will live in a perpetual state of hyper-vigilance and anxiety. Sadly, desensitization leads to normalization and sets women up for exploitation, abuse, and assault.
Let’s end these sexual micro-traumas by teaching our daughters that while their bodies are offered up regularly for dehumanizing objectification, this is not acceptable and it’s not okay.
Let’s teach them to honor their precious bodies, and empower them to have the courage to say, “No” to anything that feels weird, bad, or uncomfortable. Let’s encourage them to tell the truth when someone else’s behavior doesn’t work for them, and when needed, to report offenders to school administrators, the HR department, or to law enforcement.
Let’s teach our sons that girls and women are thinking, feeling, vulnerable human beings just like them. Let’s teach them that girls and women have a right to their bodies, and a right to be free of all forms of objectification. And let’s teach them in no uncertain terms that no one has a right to another person’s body—regardless of prior kindness, favors, money spent, or a person’s power, status, or anything else.
Let’s do our part to reduce—and eliminate—the sexual micro-traumas that set up girls and women for sexual exploitation. When we do, there will be fewer Harvey Weinsteins and more women who feel safe, welcome in the world, and free.
Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW is the author of Moving Beyond Betrayal: The 5-Step Boundary Solution for Partners of Sex Addicts. For more information, visit her website: vickitidwellpalmer.com