Update: This letter was originally published on Oct. 17. Mayim Bialik tweeted the following apology on Wednesday, Oct. 18.
— Mayim Bialik (@missmayim) October 18, 2017
When I saw the headline for your recent New York Times op-ed, you had me hooked. “Being a Feminist in Harvey Weinstein’s World” sounded like a fresh take on this disturbing scandal, particularly coming from someone who has been in and out of the biz for three decades. But then I read your article.
Since you first appeared on television as the lead in Blossom, I have no doubt that you’ve seen and experienced countless examples of the way Hollywood “profits on the exploitation of women,” as you wrote. But you didn’t actually delve into any of those examples. Instead, you used this platform to espouse the virtues of modest dress and behaviour, as if that has any legitimate connection to sexual harassment and assault.
In 900 words, rather than mention the women who have come forward—peers in your industry—or if you have had any interaction with Weinstein or had heard any of the rumours about him, you decided to discuss your own insecurities about your physical appearance. You then shaded women who naturally, or through cosmetic procedures, fit Hollywood’s definition of beauty. The result is an op-ed that seems to ask us to sympathize with you because you aren’t a “perfect 10” while you also casually victim-blame those who have experienced sexual assault.
In the immortal words of The Office’s Kelly Kapoor: “I have a lot of questions. Number one: How dare you?”
I appreciate that you see yourself as a “prominent-nosed, awkward, geeky” actress surrounded by young women with “doe eyes and pouty lips.” Not fitting the conventional standard of beauty is hard, I get it. I’m not exactly symmetrical myself. And if you had just written an op-ed about the insane beauty standards in the industry, I would defs have read that. But instead, you tried to create a tenuous link between your personal experience as a “nontraditional-looking woman,” who dresses conservatively and makes sure not to be flirtatious, and the fact that you have avoided sexual assault in the industry.
I am not here for that and neither were many social media users.
Lots wrong with Mayim Bialik’s op-ed but one quick thing: Being an awkward girl with a big nose never protected me from harassment. https://t.co/C0oA7zxAab
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) October 14, 2017
This is a terrible and dangerous opinion. “You wouldn’t get assaulted if you weren’t so pretty.” https://t.co/yhl0UYBSIj
— a damn kobold (@skinnyghost) October 14, 2017
In a Facebook Live with the New York Times on Oct. 16, you stated that the op-ed was based on your own personal views of your own personal experience and if people were offended by that, then you were sorry because that was not your intention. During the broadcast, you mentioned that this is such a complex topic that it could’ve been a thesis. But TBH, you don’t need more than a few words to say: I believe survivors. There’s no need for additional words when your initial hypothesis is flawed. I don’t need to read more about how, as you say, you’re 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.”
Um, OK. Let’s get one thing straight.
Going on a diet, getting Botox or booking a boot camp have nothing to do with and do not determine someone’s personal experience with men—and putting those two ideas into the same sentence is dangerous and irresponsible. I don’t do any of those activities either, and I still have men yelling vulgar things at me from their cars, calling me “sweetheart” and leering at me whether I’m wearing makeup and a miniskirt or glasses and sweatpants.
On your personal website, Grok Nation, you frequently say that you are first and foremost a scientist. So, as a scientist you should know the difference between correlation and causation—and just how dangerous it is to derive something that data just doesn’t support.
That’s the problem with your argument, and it’s the same problem with the Facebook Live that followed. You tried to say you weren’t equating someone’s dress with their likelihood of assault, but you did. Your words may have been a little more academic, but they still focus on women, what they wear and how they look, instead of on the predators gazing upon them. It’s basically the same flaw that makes The Big Bang Theory problematic: reducing women to nerd or hot chick stereotypes. (There’s also a ton of misogyny written into the show, but we’re not going to get into that here. That said, perhaps for the same reasons you think Big Bang is so groundbreaking—it’s not—you are unable to see why your op-ed was so harmful.)
“I eventually left the business when I was 19 to pursue a doctorate in neuroscience at the University of California, Los Angeles,” you continue in your op-ed. “I craved being around people who valued me more for what was inside my brain than what was inside my bra.”
Legit, you may have just cost Joe Biden some of his hair with this statement and that is NOT OK.
In your Facebook Live, you backtracked a bit and attempted to add that academic institutions are not immune to sexism, but what you failed to note was that the issue is much larger than that. As a reminder, an estimated one in five women will be sexually assaulted while in college. The Brock Turners of the world don’t care what a woman is studying or if she got a manicure or what she is wearing. (Not-so-fun fact: these numbers, likely underreported, prompted President Barack Obama to enact guidelines to make it easier for victims to report sexual assault—guidelines which Betsy DeVos, the current U.S. secretary of education, is attempting to overhaul. Now consider how this op-ed can be used as fodder to support the silencing of victims.)
The way you speak about your feminism and position this issue as “the pretty people” versus “the rest of us” creates teams when we all need to be on the same side. In the Facebook Live, you said you’re a second wave feminist, and you lumped yourself in with Gloria Steinem, but you forget that Steinem—a passionate advocate for victims of sexual assault—wants us to “put the onus on men, not point fingers at women.” But since you did focus on women and physical beauty, it’s worth discussing an important fact that author Irin Carmon pointed out: you have a lot in common with the women you are so casually ostracizing.
Sad it still needs to be said: people who look, dress all kinds of ways are also sexually assaulted or harassed. https://t.co/KR074UPKS6
— Irin Carmon (@irin) October 14, 2017
Also sad that Bialik doesn’t see cruelty about her looks and way “ideal” women treated are two sides of same coin. https://t.co/KR074UPKS6
— Irin Carmon (@irin) October 14, 2017
I hear you when you say that “women should be able to wear whatever they want,” and that nothing “excuses men for assaulting or abusing women”—but that point is completely offset by the rest of the words in your op-ed. In fact, those statements are straight up drowned out when you also say things like: “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.”
Please, do not tell me what gives my life meaning. Don’t speak down to people who want to feel beautiful and sexy. There is nothing wrong with that, just like there is nothing wrong with you owning your choice to never shave your legs. But don’t make it mean more than it does.
You end by saying: “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.”
So let me finish this letter by saying let’s not make light of “hotel rooms” and “casting couches,” the way you did so casually in your kicker. The women that had to deal with Weinstein in hotel rooms weren’t looking for “attention, respect and love.” They went to those rooms with a reasonable expectation that they would be treated as professionals in their industry, and they were let down. To dismiss them the way you did, and call attention to their looks and attire, lets the Harveys of the world win.
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