Mayim Bialik’s misguided op-ed in the New York Times and subsequent defence thereof is perhaps the most troubling response to the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault and harassment scandal, for various reasons. Bialik ostensibly has it all: fame, wit, success and a PhD. Most importantly, she has a platform. She has used that platform in a troubling way. Instead of supporting her peers, she raised her voice only in what appeared to be a thinly-veiled attempt to highlight her perceived superiority. She implies that ugly girls are overlooked by sexual predators and proudly espouses her decision to dress modestly and to avoid flirting.
When someone who is as well-educated as Bialik turns to victim-blaming, we see just how deeply the patriarchal system can affect any of us, by pitting woman against each other from a young age. Bialik alludes to her insecurities and her desire as a teenager to be “like one of the pretty girls,” even considering plastic surgery to achieve the good looks she desired. She admits that she internalized the harsh opinions of men, saying “I never recovered from seeing myself that way.” Instead of resenting the system that caused her emotional pain, her stance barely conceals her resentment towards the “pretty girls.” When these feelings of inferiority are so internalized, it makes women incapable of being true allies to those who need support.
Bialik states that we cannot be naïve about the culture we live in. We are not. We live in a world where a man who is mugged on the street for his Rolex would never be chastised for what he was wearing or the part of town he was frequenting. Where a man whose car has been stolen would never be asked why he chose to park it in a public space in the first place.
In Bialik’s world, “other” women are desperate for the attention of men and cultivate their good looks based on that desire alone. According to her, women looking for this acceptance and love “end up on the casting couch.” In my world, I was harassed by a man in power who I had to spend time with if I wanted to keep my job (and a roof over my head), and who didn’t face any consequences when I reported him.
In Bialik’s world, men are no better than wild animals, like sharks which should not be provoked with bloody bait. In my world, I share a space with intelligent, civilized and educated men who should know and do better.
It is a real shame that despite the backlash following her article, Bialik became defensive instead of taking a much-needed critical look at her own internalized misogyny and the roots thereof. Instead, she claimed that the piece was about her own experiences. However, she claims not to have experienced sexual assault or harassment. So how is this a valuable contribution to the discussion? Is this truly about sharing, or about shaming?