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Sunday, October 16, 2016

On Sexual Entitlement

Yesterday I visited the Clark Museum in Williamstown, MA. I had been there many times before. Each time, I saw Jean-Léon Gérome’s 1866 magnificent painting “Slave Market.” Each time, it touched me deeply. But in lieu of the subjectivization of women by Donald Trump in the now infamous 2005 Access Hollywood video, and the way the Republican presidential candidate - innocent till proven guilty -has responded to the accusations of sexual misconduct by several women, I found the painting extremely relevant.

Mesmerized, as if I was seeing it for the first time, I could not move away from the painting. The way the stripped young woman, a girl really, is presented by a slave trader to her potential male buyers; the way they examine her; her graceful tilted head; her powerlessness, all broke my heart.

I feel as if I know that girl. You might have heard of her too. She’s one of the Korean “comfort women,” forced into prostitution by Japanese soldiers in World War II. She’s an Asian teen sex slave, forced into sex tourism or into the porno industry. She’s a young Eastern European woman, trafficked and forced into a life of prostitution in the Middle East or elsewhere. She’s one of the 276 Nigerian schoolgirls captured and enslaved by Boko Haram in 2014, 21 of whom have been released last week. Fifty-seven of them were able to escape sometime after being captured.  She’s one of the Yazidi sex slaves taken by ISIS.  The list is long.

I am familiar with how it feels to be subjectivized as a woman. Year ago, as a young war widow, I knew what it felt like to be treated as if I were a piece of meat sought by men for sexual pleasure. That experience culminated when my fallen husband’s best friend, whom I had trusted like a brother, raped me (the story of my rape appears in one of the posts in this blog). That is why I am so taken by the painting each time I see it.

Perhaps something positive will come out of the scandalous Trump video: an honest debate of the way men in positions of power feel sexually entitled to women.

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