By now, most of you know who Harvey Weinstein is. Or, more appropriately, who he was.
But, do you know who Mayim Bialik is?
She is the popular star of the TV sitcom “The Big Bang Theory”, former child star “Blossom”, and a Ph.D. neuroscientist who recently wrote a controversial opinion piece on Weinstein in the New York Times for which she has been widely criticized.
But, I want to step in and say that I think I know what Mayim Bialik meant when she wrote the post.
Like Ms. Bialik, I am not a perfect 10. But that’s okay with us. We were lucky, because as little girls we learned not to value ourselves based on our appearance, but to take pride in the might of our minds.
Being different from other women made us stand out, and often times subjected to a surprising amount of jealousy from our peers. The idea that a woman could be truly comfortable in her own skin, not conforming to societal beauty and behaviour standards, troubled them. Ordinary girls aren’t supposed to be so confident.
It seems we are far more at ease with our bodies than most women. Unless I am forced to for a grand occasion, my nails are not polished, my hair frizzy and tied back, my eyebrows not waxed, and my clothes quite modest.
I too benefited from having a strongly feminist mother. I stand up and shout my truths, and I cannot imagine giving up my power to make a man feel better. Only confident men feel comfortable around me; the weak ones call me names and slink away.
I do not flirt. I’ve managed to use hard glares, standoffishness and general unapproachability to effectively discourage any unwanted attention on the bar scene.
When I joined the legal profession, I was told to change — to dress a certain way, cut and straighten my hair, to only wear my pearls, to lose weight, to go to bars and drink with men, to stop being so “ethnic”.
I was advised that I needed to “fit in” to succeed.
But I refused to conform. And sure enough, I struggled to break in despite being talented and skilled. I eventually did, always being hired by similarly strong women who recognized my talent and worth behind a mop of curls.
So this is what I think Ms. Bialik was trying to communicate to her fellow actresses. That they should lead with their talent, their minds, and their strength. That they are much more than a fit body and beautiful face. That perhaps a change can come to the industry if women stopped basing their self-worth on their sexuality. That maybe then they would be viewed by men with respect, and avoid circumstances of sexual harassment.
But it won’t work.
I see Ms. Bialik’s point, but don’t agree with it.
In my view women do not need to change.
A woman should be able to act, say, and do anything she pleases. She can take pride in her beauty and flaunt her sexuality. Women should be free to be whomever they want to be, and not fear they will be attacked and harassed for it.
Women should be free.
It’s the abusers that need to change. And the culture that lets them get away with it. And the justice system that shames and disbelieves those with the strength to come forward. Our sons need to be taught by us that sexual harassment is not okay, to learn to respect women, no matter what.
For all our seeming similarities, in values, feminist confidence, and modesty, I have still been pinched, grabbed, prodded, coerced, shamed, threatened, and attacked. I have had to endure leers, disgusting comments, and cubicle mate pornography habits. It can happen on the street, in your home, at the workplace.
I do not know a single woman who has not been sexually harassed.
And, when it happens, it is lightning fast. Out of nowhere, you go from friend, wife, relative, girlfriend, stranger, co-worker, to just skin and bones, all for the perversion of pleasure from dominance and power over an unwilling partner.
I am glad that Mayim Bialik has yet to endure sexual harassment.
But I do not believe, as she has suggested, that it is her face, or body, or her modest clothing, or avoiding work meetings in hotel rooms, or her strength of mind and character that has kept her safe.
She’s just been lucky.
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