Mayim Chaya Bialik, the neurophysicist/actress who rose to fame on The Big Bang Theory, has recently gotten into hot water over her comments on the Harvey Weinstein allegations. In an October 13th op-ed for the New York Times, Bialik wrote about being a feminist in the film industry, and many believed she was blaming Weinstein’s victims for his behavior.
Bialik begins the piece by talking about the film industry’s hostility to women before she suggests the qualities that have prevented her from being sexually assaulted: “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.”
Later in the article, Bialik says that “those of us in Hollywood who don’t represent an impossible standard of beauty have the “luxury” of being overlooked” by men looking to commit sexual assault, and says that women who complain about the necessity of policing their behaviour to avoid being sexually assaulted are “naive.” She concludes her article by saying, “And if — like me — you’re not a perfect 10, know that there are people out there who will find you stunning … The best part is you don’t have to go to a hotel room or a casting couch to find them.”
Bialik’s words drew ire from many across the internet. Fellow actress Patricia Arquette fired back on Twitter, “I have to say I was dressed non provocatively [sic] at 12 walking home from school when men masturbated at me. It’s not the clothes.” Journalist and creator of the website Feministing Jessica Valenti mentioned, “Being an awkward girl with a big nose never protected me from harassment.”
Many were frustrated with Bialik’s conflation of sexual assault and sexual desire, and believe her article placed too much importance on the appearance of victims as a driver of rape. Dr. Eve Louise Ewing, an educational sociologist, summed it up well when she tweeted that Bialik “is placing blame on victims and forgetting that rape and assault are about power, not about desire.”
In a Facebook Live Chat on October 16th, Bialik addressed the frustrations, saying, “a bunch of people have taken my words out of the context of the Hollywood machine and twisted them to imply that God forbid I would blame a woman for her assault based on her clothing or behavior.” According to Bialik, she “was trying to speak about a very specific experience … in a very specific industry” and “not looking to speak about assault and rape in general.”
This is not the first time that Hollywood has dealt with sexual harassment accusations against powerful men, and it likely will not be the last. Debates like the one about Bialik’s op-ed may shape how sexual harassment and assault are discussed for years to come.
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