in defense of mayim bialik

I read Mayim Bialik’s op-ed on Harvey Weinstein when it came out, and I don’t remember being especially offended by anything at the time. I was a little bit surprised at how much this pissed people off:

I am honored to depict a feminist who speaks her mind, who loves science and her friends and who sometimes wishes she were the hot girl.

I can relate. I’ve wished that, too.

And yet 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. Those of us in Hollywood who don’t represent an impossible standard of beauty have the “luxury” of being overlooked and, in many cases, ignored by men in power unless we can make them money.

I still make choices every day as a 41-year-old actress that I think of as self-protecting and wise. I have decided that my sexual self is best reserved for private situations with those I am most intimate with. I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men as a policy.

I am entirely aware that these types of choices might feel oppressive to many young feminists. Women should be able to wear whatever they want. They should be able to flirt however they want with whomever they want. Why are we the ones who have to police our behavior?

In a perfect world, women should be free to act however they want. But our world isn’t perfect. Nothing — absolutely nothing — excuses men for assaulting or abusing women. But we can’t be naïve about the culture we live in…

In the meantime, I plan to continue to work hard to encourage young women to cultivate the parts of themselves that may not garner them money and fame. If you are beautiful and sexy, terrific. But having others celebrate your physical beauty is not the way to lead a meaningful life.

And if — like me — you’re not a perfect 10, 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.

Apparently that was The Wrong Thing, and we needed stern reminders that rape is about power, not sex, and it’s victim-blaming to comment on victims’ clothing, etc.

I’m going to comment on Clarkisha Kent’s commentary, as a straight guy bystander. This was SRS BSNS!!!!1111one

To explain, with Weinstein being the big topic of the last few weeks, many a survivor has come forward to describe her chilling run-in with him (the latest being Lupita Nyong’o), detailing just how “powerful” and predatory Weinstein was. In the midst of such pain, these survivors set the tone, encouraging empowerment and healing to begin … that is until Bialik opened her loud and wrong mouth.

In this midst of this healing, Bialik penned an article for the New York Times that she assumed would be helpful to the conversation, but it turned out to be one of the most triggering things many of us had read in the past week (and to be clear, I am aware of her “apology” and that it exists, but that does not change the impact her piece had).

This is the social justice warrior stuff the fascists talk about. It gets more interesting toward the end, where she accuses Bialik of concern trolling and goes full psychoanalysis:

And if I am to abide by that definition, it makes perfect sense why the backlash to Bialik’s New York Times piece was so visceral. Because her piece was coming not from a place of sincerity but, rather, from a sense of delayed superiority and gratification. I doubt that she set out to condemn Weinstein’s actions or even comfort his victims (or any victim of sexual assault and rape) at all. Instead, I’d wager that this was a thinly veiled attempt to feel vindicated for being rejected according to Hollywood’s “impossible standard of beauty.”

Think about it. Per Bialik’s own words in her article, it seems as if she has a fairly sizable chip on her shoulder about her looks and having been made fun of because of them over the years (and in her youth). Sure, she tries to dress it up with half-hearted attempts at self-deprecating humor, and details all the things she did to forget “those other girls” (the pretty ones) and distinguish herself from them, but that’s not enough to hide the resentment seeping through.

And it is that same unaddressed resentment and perceived lack of “fuckability” that even allowed her to pen something so insensitive and tone-deaf. It also represents a line of fairly fucked logic that even I don’t have the juice (or the degree) to fully analyze. Indeed, for her to even hint that the numerous survivors who have stepped forward might have avoided their fates by not buying into Hollywood’s hype (read: being pretty) and by “cultivat[ing] the parts of themselves that may not garner them money and fame” is trifling.

Because in the end, “a proud feminist” would know that one’s brains and beauty need not be mutually inclusive and that it is not on survivors or potential survivors to put an end to rape and sexual assault. Nah. “A proud feminist” would recognize that it is on us as people to put an end to it and put an end to the culture of silence that perpetuates it, as well as to the lack of justice that allows it to continue.

As a man, this looks like women bickering because they haven’t worked through their issues on whether they want to defeat the patriarchy or have sex with it.

I think I understand. I wanted girls who were bullying me to like me instead in middle school. Do I get over it, or do I develop a masochism thing? What if almost everything in society socialized me to develop a masochism thing? That’s how society is designed to affect women.

This is where the visceral rejection of Andrea Dworkin comes from. Being fat and wearing overalls are the opposite of trying to “look hot,” i.e., please the patriarchy.

It’s interesting that at least one of Harvey Weinstein’s actual victims comments on how people dress:

Straight, white men tend to tell stories from their perspective, as one naturally does, which means the women are generally underwritten. They don’t necessarily even need names; “Bikini Babe 2” and “Blonde 4” are parts I auditioned for. If the female characters are lucky enough to have names, they are usually designed only to ask the questions that prompt the lead male monologue, or they are quickly killed in service to advancing the plot.

Once, when I was standing in line for some open-call audition for a horror film, I remember catching my reflection in the mirror and realizing that I was dressed like a sex object. Every woman in line to audition for “Nurse” was, it seemed. We had all internalized on some level the idea that if we were going to be cast we’d better sell what was desired—not our artistry, not our imaginations—but our bodies.

And this is her Weinstein experience:

I, too, went to the meeting thinking that perhaps my entire life was about to change for the better. I, too, was asked to meet him in a hotel bar. I, too, met a young, female assistant there who said the meeting had been moved upstairs to his suite because he was a very busy man. I, too, felt my guard go up but was calmed by the presence of another woman my age beside me. I, too, felt terror in the pit of my stomach when that young woman left the room and I was suddenly alone with him. I, too, was asked if I wanted a massage, champagne, strawberries. I, too, sat in that chair paralyzed by mounting fear when he suggested we shower together. What could I do? How not to offend this man, this gatekeeper, who could anoint or destroy me?

It was clear that there was only one direction he wanted this encounter to go in, and that was sex or some version of an erotic exchange. I was able to gather myself together—a bundle of firing nerves, hands trembling, voice lost in my throat—and leave the room.

I later sat in my hotel room alone and wept. I wept because I had gone up the elevator when I knew better. I wept because I had let him touch my shoulders. I wept because at other times in my life, under other circumstances, I had not been able to leave.

At this point many women have come forward to tell their stories about being harassed or abused by Weinstein. All of them are courageous, including the women who could not find a way out. I think for me, I was able to leave Weinstein’s hotel room that day because I had entered as an actor but also as a writer/creator. Of those dual personas in me—actor and writer—it was the writer who stood up and walked out. Because the writer knew that even if this very powerful man never gave her a job in any of his films, even if he blacklisted her from other films, she could make her own work on her own terms and thus keep a roof over her head.

Then she makes a bunch of insightful comments about women’s economic subordination.

Clarkisha Kent is being deliberately obtuse about the fact that dressing a certain way is appealing to the taste of the most anti-feminist men. Trying to be what turns Harvey Weinstein on, which is the feeling of people submitting to him. Obviously that’s not how a person usually acts towards their sworn enemies.

Why isn’t feminism frumpier?