I woke up to a message from a colleague, asking for advice and expressing her outrage. She recently learned that a former student, who had studied for her Masters Degree under my colleague’s supervision, has been driven out of her PhD program due to a sexually harassing professor. What to do? I offered the standard package of advice, knowing this young woman will most likely go quietly for fear of retaliation and career-ending retribution if she reports this professor. All of which leads me to consider #TheMissingWomen. From the actresses who left the film industry due to Harvey Weinstein; the musicians/composers/singers run out and ruined by Russell Simmons; the hostesses/servers/sous-chefs who gritted their teeth and let their pot of rage simmer on low; the hotel maids who escaped groping guests; to the young women who leave academia to avoid sexually harassing professors whose power over them makes or breaks careers — how can we begin to measure the missing women who leave their careers of choice (or necessity) because they have been ground down, groped, sexually harassed and driven out? This is about sexual assault and harassment, to be sure. It is about the violation of bodily integrity and personal dignity, with equal certainty. It is also about the loss of employment, career aspirations, dreams and economic security. How can we begin to measure the economic fallout for #TheMissingWomen?
This is a case study we have discussed in Gender Theory and Practice. What is the “natural body”? Michael Phelps also slept in an oxygen-enriched sleeping pod to enhance his competitive swimming skills, yet that was accepted as a training tool — not the privilege afforded to a wealthy white male athlete with corporate endorsements. Fast forward to Caster Semenya and a ruling that she must alter her hormones to level the playing field. Take a look at the pictures below, a reminder that black bodies (of all genders, to be sure) were the lascivious objects of the colonial gaze.