The Power Exchange

Women’s bodies are exchanged in a way during transnational exchange that is very similar to that of international affairs. During this, women are frequently subjected to lives of discrimination, abuse, stereotype, objectification and many more. While trying to find identities in new countries, migrant workers tend to be more inclined to being objectified as women; in a world where surviving is the most important thing, how far will women allow themselves to be sexualized and objectified to stay alive?

A prime example we saw of women’s bodies being a source of exchange was in the Rape in the Fields video we watched in class. This documentary portrayed young undocumented workers coming to the United States in search for a job, yet finding themselves mistreated and abused in more ways than one. These female workers come to find a job, desperate for money they are willing to do whatever it takes to support their families. However, in the process, they are forced into nonconsensual sexual exchanges with their bosses. There is an informal power exchange occurring because these women do not feel as if they can stand up for themselves due to the positions they’re in. They have no real choice or autonomy over their bodies. In exchange for a job, female undocumented workers feel as if they need to surrender to the abuse and violation. It wasn’t until within the last ten to fifteen years where one woman decided to stand up for herself, her body, her dignity, and for women all over who don’t have a voice. She went to court to file charges against her boss. This was one of the first times the court systems responded to this sort of cry for help.

One may argue that anonymity gives women a chance to reclaim their sexual lives, but in the case of undocumented workers, anonymity makes them more vulnerable to abuse and violation. In Gonzalez Lopez’s article, the concept of capital femenino is discussed. And what is capital femenino you may ask? This notion views virginity as a commodity. Lopez introduces this term to explain how women and men assign higher or lower value to woman’s premarital virginity depending on the socioeconomic context in which they grow to maturity. Similar to the body of women, virginity of a woman is seen as an article of trade that helps women acquire a higher or lower value. As a result of this, women’s choices begin to be something that is overlooked and undermined. No longer do women have a say in how people perceive them and their decisions. Sex is what defines someone as a “woman”. During this, people’s expectations are not met and even worsened by sexual oppression. Although different from the power based violence we see in the Rape in the Fields video previously talked about, this concept of capital femenino and the notion that women’s bodies are up for exchange can also be seen as a power exchange. The power is now in outsiders to put forth their opinions and expectations on young females. They have the power to judge, accept or deny the bodies of a young woman. When women feel they have to be a certain way or obtain certain things to please those around them, power based objectification is taking place.

In Lee’s article of Filipina women in Lebanon, we once again see an exchange of power in this culture because other people are in control over Filipina women’s sexuality. There is a dispute where the ideas of “binit” versus “sharmuta” is juxtaposed. “Binit” is the “virgin” perception, whereas “sharmuta” is the whore perception. This creates an integral double standard which is intensified for the Filipina migrant workers. In this culture Filipina workers are highly sexualized, yet, their objectification is seen by them not being allowed to leave their home except on Sundays. On Sundays, however, they are finally allowed to leave their homes…but during this time they take the opportunity to over sexualize themselves. In a society of being told what to do, power is seen through exchange of control. These women are being controlled, told what they can and cannot do, and thus feel the need to over sexualize themselves.

We live in a world today where men’s absolute fixation on women’s bodies undermines their ability to see women as anything other than objects for their consumption. Talents, interests, achievements of the female is overlooked and we’re allowing men to get away with it. On a global scale we see how often women’s sexuality is seen as a source of capital. Sexuality is bought, sold and exchanged although sometimes not consensually. We see how body and race plays a part in sexuality and work through the lives of undocumented farm workers, Filipino workers in Lebanon and women all around the world. In transnational exchange of women’s bodies, we see how they are traded in a way similar to international trade and we see how women are objectified, abused, violated and discriminated towards as a result.

One thought on “The Power Exchange

  1. Exploiting female sexuality as a means of exchange is a depressing phenomenon. What’s even more depressing is the fact that this happens at a domestic and global level. I wonder, though, how this could end? For example in the documentary, it explained that when one of the bosses was accused of sexually assaulting his female employee he never faced any charges because he was able to somehow portray their relationship as consensual enough. Until the law follows through with consequences for sexually exploiting vulnerable workers there will likely be no change. Sexual exploitation needs to come with increased and harsher penalties in an attempt to combat it. Migrant women who depend heavily on their jobs deserve more rights and protection before their employers. I struggle to think of a potential solution to such a complex problem…so long as sex remains a lucrative commodity I don’t think we will see a decline in this abuse any time soon.


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