Opinion

Victim-shaming celeb 'feminist' Mayim Bialik needs to shoosh

One of the most shocking sidelights of the Harvey Weinstein scandal were the views of 'Big Bang Theory' actress Mayim Bialik

22 October 2017 - 00:00
'Big Bang Theory' actress Mayim Bialik.
'Big Bang Theory' actress Mayim Bialik.
Image: Getty Images

While far from being the first Hollywood scandal of its nature, the Harvey Weinstein storm is certainly the first of its kind, at least in recent memory.

When a powerful man is exposed as a sexual predator, the voices of the women (and sometimes men) he victimised will whisper in the media for a few days, but will often be drowned out by a lack of public interest or by think pieces written by those who fancy themselves as voices of authority.

One of the most horrifying aspects of the Weinstein mess has also been the most liberating: as more and more women speak out about him, the conversation has been dominated by their voices, a chorus across the pages of the world's newspapers, magazines, websites and social media.

As the list of Weinstein victims and survivors grows, so do the instances of women telling their stories, in their words, on their terms.

But of all the pieces published about Weinstein and/or Hollywood's gross misogyny and abuse of women, the one that's stood out the most is by Big Bang Theory actress Mayim Bialik - and not in a good way.

It pains me to even type Bialik's name once more, as I have done countless times on Twitter, on Facebook, on WhatsApp over the week since her essay - Being a feminist in Harvey Weinstein's world - was published in the New York Times.

For those who've missed it, a summary: Bialik, a child actor who returned to Tinseltown after becoming a neuroscientist, writes that growing up in Hollywood often made her feel like the ugly duckling.

"I grew up constantly being teased about my appearance, even from members of my family; my nose and chin were the main objects of discussion," she writes. "I felt like a troll compared to many of my contemporaries. A TV Guide critic described me ... as having a 'shield-shaped' face of 'mismatched features'. I never recovered from seeing myself that way."

But soon the tone of the piece changes. What initially felt like an indictment of the rampant sexism of Hollywood soon shifts to thinly veiled victim-blaming.

"I have also experienced the upside of not being a 'perfect 10'. 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 continues that, even at age 41, she still makes "self-protecting and wise" choices, before writing: "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."

While one can't and shouldn't dispute how terrible it must have been for her to grow up being told that she wasn't "pretty" enough, the victimisation Bialik suffered in Hollywood is no excuse for her to, in turn, victimise other women. Calling yourself a feminist is not a free pass to practise the same misogyny feminism is trying to banish to the depths of hell.

There's a smugness about Bialik's piece that's disgusting and dangerous. It's almost as though she's sticking it up to all those "pretty" girls whose club she couldn't join by saying: "You got groped/harassed/ assaulted/raped and I didn't - who's the winner now?"

As author Irin Carmon said on Twitter: "Bialik doesn't see cruelty about her looks and way 'ideal' women treated are two sides of same coin." (sic) Because the same way Bialik was a victim of sexism and (reverse) objectification, so were the countless women assaulted by Weinstein and the countless men like him.

The closing paragraph in the piece is perhaps the worst of all: "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."

For a self-proclaimed feminist, Bialik seems to know very little about patriarchy's relationship with and control over women's bodies

That is incredibly tone deaf - even hateful - of her. Weinstein's victims weren't looking for love. A number of women who are violated didn't even flirt with their perpetrators. And even if they did (rape isn't just committed by strangers - people are raped by their lovers, their cousins, their friends, their fathers, their brothers, their bosses ... ) that doesn't justify anything. As one savvy tweeter pointed out: "Rape predates the Wonderbra."

Rape is not about desirability and sex. Rape is about power. For a self-proclaimed feminist, Bialik seems to know very little about patriarchy's relationship with and control over women's bodies.

Rape is not punishment for flirting, or wearing a short skirt, or even spreading your legs. And while women (unfortunately) do need to protect themselves, preaching "respectability" shifts the blame for sexual violence away from its perpetrators and towards its victims. That is unacceptable and incredibly dangerous.

The idea that if you don't look men in the eye or show your ankles you won't get raped is bullshit. Women in bikinis are raped, women in niqabs are raped, women with full makeup are raped, women who don't even know what eye shadow is are raped. Altar boys and girls are raped. Babies are raped.

The act of rape is not about the victim - it's about the perpetrator. Until we acknowledge and understand this, until we create a world where men are uncomfortable and as afraid of consequences for their actions as women are for their personal safety, we will continue to give the Bialiks of the world a massive platform from which to spew their vitriol and call it feminism.