Mayim Bialik recently wrote a piece for the New York Times in response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal still roiling the nation. Mr. Weinstein has been accused of sexually assaulting, abusing or raping over 80 women.
Bialik’s piece claimed solidarity with the women assaulted and with women readers disturbed by the news. However, I felt that it would be more accurately described as a diatribe of victim blaming and self-congratulations that Bialik had managed not to fall prey to the same fate.
Claiming to be a feminist concerned about women who might be preyed upon by men like Weinstein, Bialik asserted that because she isn’t conventionally beautiful and doesn’t dress provocatively, she has never been sexually harassed or assaulted in Hollywood.
I found her article surprising. Bialik has never been a well-known voice for feminism, but she holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience, is a single mother and plays Amy Farrah Fowler on “The Big Bang Theory.” With Hollywood actors spouting their opinions left and right from their positions of power, it’s a bit concerning to know that young people and Bialik’s target audience of women will take what she has written at face value.
The article begins with Bialik sharing how she started working for Hollywood at a young age, and how this had an emotional toll on her.
“I was immersing myself in a business that rewarded physical beauty and sex appeal above all else,” she wrote. “I was always aware that I was out of step with the expected norm for girls and women in Hollywood.”
While Hollywood is notorious for the objectification of women, Bialik’s words led me to believe that she found those women responsible for Hollywood’s treatment of them. She explained that, while she did not believe herself to be beautiful because she saw many conventionally beautiful women given roles she was not, she never felt the need to radically change her appearance.
“I have also experienced the upside of not being a ‘perfect ten.’ As a proud feminist with little desire to diet, get plastic surgery or hire a personal trainer, I have almost no personal experience with men asking me to meetings in their hotel rooms,” she said.
I found this a little ridiculous because women aren’t responsible for their genetic makeup, and their appearance shouldn’t dictate how they are treated by society. For someone with a neuroscience degree, I would think that Bialik would understand that.
With her scattered comments about beautiful women ending up in hotel rooms with producers, Bialik appeared to miss something that Weinstein had also missed — the reason people were so shocked by this news was that most of the cases did not involve consenting women. She seemed to believe that because these women were beautiful, all of them were willing to sell that beauty in order to get better roles.
At the end of the article, Bialik wrote, “And if, like me, you’re not a perfect ten, know that there are people out there who will find you stunning, irresistible, and worthy of attention, respect and love. The best part is you don’t have to go to a hotel room or a casting couch to find them.”
She went on to explain that there were precautions that women should be taking to avoid these situations, the sort of precautions that she takes on a daily basis.
“I have decided that my sexual self is best reserved for private situations with those I am most intimate with,” she wrote. “I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men as a policy.”
The words read more prideful than helpful to the young women who were meant to be her audience as if the fact that Bialik believes herself to be less than beautiful and that she dresses modestly has spared her from any type of sexual assault.
RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), an organization committed to supporting rape victims, has reported that one in six women in the United States are the victims of sexual assault at some point in their lifetime. They also write that 321,500 women age 12 and older report sexual assault each year. Those from the ages of 12 to 34 are at the highest risk of sexual assault, and girls from the ages of 16 to 19 are four times more likely to be victims of rape than the general population. From the years 2009 to 2013, Child Protective Services believed that 63,000 of their children had been the victims of sexual abuse nationally.
However, RAINN also reports that the rate of sexual assault has fallen by 63 percent since 1993. I don’t believe that this is because, as Professor Patricia Franzen, a gender studies professor at Albion College sarcastically paraphrased it, “we all have to dress like nuns until the world changes.”
Dr. Franzen believes that Bialik’s article was not a good representation of the Weinstein situation, or of modern day feminism, as it claimed to be.
“It made me sad,” she said, “because here’s a woman who is obviously incredibly capable — she has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, and has been a star of several TV shows. This is a woman who is successful, and I had hoped that she could talk about the fact that she’s successful in spite of not having this classic ‘Hollywood Type’ figure. I felt bad that she had been made to feel bad about herself by Hollywood, but the other part I felt was: It doesn’t matter how you dress. It doesn’t matter how you flirt or don’t flirt. That’s not the issue. We shouldn’t have to wear long-sleeved dresses in public. Who knows whether that would even protect us anyway. And I think we should be free to be ourselves. We have no power over the bodies that we have. We get very little choice in that.”
Professor Franzen went on to detail what she believes to be the true problem behind the sexual assault, stating that she believes Bialik is way off the mark. She continued that this is not why women are harassed, but that it has to do with power. Specifically, with the power that these men have going unchallenged by society.
Professor Franzen believes that what really causes women to turn on other women in cases like these have very much to do with power.
“Unfortunately, people are attracted to power. And too often, people would rather associate themselves with power than to call it out, and women, unfortunately, are among them.”
Men like Weinstein aren’t especially interested in what the women they abuse are getting out of the situation. There are hundreds of pretty girls lining up to take on a role in Hollywood, and they know that. The reason it took so long for people to find out the true scope of what Weinstein did was because Hollywood was OK with not exposing it and because he was such a powerful figure.
I understand what Bialik was attempting to say. She believes that men should not be able to get away with sexually assaulting women, and thinks that women shouldn’t be naive in a world where this sort of thing is a major problem. However, women dressing less provocatively and never flirting with men isn’t something that I believe is going to fix the situation, and Bialik’s article is heavily colored with her bias against women she believes were put in situations like that because they were prettier than her.
If anything, her article only reinforces the culture that allows men like Weinstein to get away with sexual assault for as long as he did.
Photo via Wiki Commons.