Being a "Feminist" in Harvey Weinstein's World

October 18th, 2017

Content Warning(s): Rape, sexual harassment, misogyny, victim-blaming, body image issues.

Please note that this post will contain sensitive material; please exercise caution if you see a topic that could be upsetting to you.

In trying to put together this week's news roundup, I kept getting stuck on one thing: Mayim Bialik's op-ed for the New York Times, entitled "Being a Feminist in Harvey Weinstein's World."

The backlash to the article was instant, and when I began discussing it online and off, I was told the same thing over and over - "you missed the point" or "you're just judging it off the headline" or "that's not what she said" or "you need to read the whole article."

Except I DID read the entire thing. Repeatedly.

Bialik starts off talking about how Hollywood is an industry that profits off the objectification of women and puts pressure on them to "be like the pretty girls" - a criticism that is entirely justified. She mentions harsh comments she's received about her appearance and how they've stuck with her, something anyone with BDD or similar body image issues can relate to.

Then it goes off the rails.

She talks about leaving Hollywood for academia, where she would be valued more for "what was inside [her] brain than what was inside [her] bra." This could be seen as implying that harassment and assault are Hollywood problems, and places like university or the science industry is "safer" - something which is patently not true. But she's discussing her experiences, how SHE felt. Academia seems to have been a refuge for her from the objectification of her career in the television industry. It's worth pointing out that's not the case for everyone.

Bialik talks about how she returned to acting, how she loves her character on The Big Bang Theory, and how she can relate to sometimes wanting to be the "hot girl." Then she says this:

"And yet I have also experienced the upside of not being a 'perfect ten.'"

She says that not meeting Hollywood's standard of beauty gave her the "luxury" of not being harassed or assaulted. She says she makes choices about her style of dress that are "self-protecting and wise." As if people who choose to dress differently are risky and foolish.

Many of her defenders point to one sentence in her op-ed: "Nothing -- absolutely nothing -- excuses men for assaulting or abusing women."

While ignoring what comes after: "But we can't be naïve about the culture we live in."

There is absolutely no "but" after that first sentence.

NOTHING excuses abuse, assault, and harassment. Period. Full stop.

Bialik goes on to end the piece with this:

"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."

The op-ed was immediately met with backlash. Survivors and activists pointed out to her that she was reinforcing victim-blaming and the myth that if someone dresses provocatively/sexily, they're "asking for it" or otherwise somehow to blame. As Ijeoma Oluo so eloquently stated on Twitter, "We don't ask women to give up their bodily autonomy so a man won't take it from them. We hold abusers accountable for their actions." They explained that the people who were assaulted or harassed by Weinstein and others weren't looking for love - just a job. They've stated that sexual assault and harassment are about power and control, NOT attraction and sex, and that how "pretty" you are doesn't actually matter.

Bialik responded with an "apology" that stated her words were taken "out of context" and "[a]nyone who knows me and my feminism knows that's absurd and not at all what this piece was about." She blamed the fact that her space was limited to 900 words - as if more words would have somehow made her piece less hurtful and offensive.

But the words are right there - HER words. You know what ISN'T anywhere in the 900 words? Any iota of empathy or expression of support for the survivors of harassment and abuse in Hollywood or anywhere else. The entire piece is about her. She absolutely has a right to discuss her experiences and feelings, but she's presenting it as an article on being in "Harvey Weinstein's World." When criticized, she basically tells people who were hurt by her words, "I didn't hurt you. You misunderstood."

She didn't listen to survivors and their stories. She didn't apologize.

Lots of people don't "get it" about harassment and assault. They haven't experienced it. I wish we could all be in that group - blissfully ignorant about these horrors because they simply don't exist.

But if you don't "get it," then LISTEN when survivors speak. Try to understand. Don't invalidate their feelings by telling them they just "misunderstood." Take responsibility when you hurt others. That's what we're asking.

Incidentally? This article is less than 900 words.


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