Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Is Mayim Bialik Blaming Victims or Empowering Women?

I am curious how my readers feel about Mayim Bialik's op-ed on the Harvey Weinstein matter:
I always made conservative choices as a young actress, largely informed by my first-generation American parents who were highly skeptical of this industry in general — “This business will use you up and throw you away like a snotty tissue!”— and of its men in particular: “They only want one thing.” My mom didn’t let me wear makeup or get manicures. She encouraged me to be myself in audition rooms, and I followed my mother’s strong example to not put up with anyone calling me “baby” or demanding hugs on set. I was always aware that I was out of step with the expected norm for girls and women in Hollywood. . . .

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.

I am entirely aware that these types of choices might feel oppressive to many young feminists. Women should be able to wear whatever they want. They should be able to flirt however they want with whomever they want. Why are we the ones who have to police our behavior?

In a perfect world, women should be free to act however they want. But our world isn’t perfect. Nothing — absolutely nothing — excuses men for assaulting or abusing women. But we can’t be naïve about the culture we live in.
Bialik's general idea seems to be that while sexual harassment is bad and sexual assault unforgivable, actresses who trade on their beauty are in some sense participating in this culture by objectifying themselves. If you expect to get ahead by displaying your body to filmgoers and flirting with producers, why are you surprised that some of them want to go farther than you do?

It's an old argument, of course, which is why I bring it up. I have long had trouble over how to feel about it. If you say to a girl leaving for college, "don't drink around men, don't have them in your room, don't dress too sexy and don't flirt with strangers," is that sound advice or (proactive) victim blaming? Where is the line between pointing out what the world is like and using the threat of that reality to control women? Can you be really disgusted by the men involved and still think that some of the women are foolish? Or does even a glance at the way women dress or act put you on the side of those jurors who think promiscuous women can't be raped, because they are just asking for it? Or on the side of the rapists?

Or is blaming everything on the man, and implying that the woman has no part, a radical sort of disempowerment for women?

So, anyway, what do y'all think?


Anonymous said...

I think there is no difference between warning young women against placing themselves in risky situations than warning people to look both ways when they cross the street. Blaming the victim only occurs when people suggest women wanted something bad to happen to them or that the aggressor bears no moral responsibility for his actions. We live in a strange society where advocating prudence is castigated and men are treated like they can't make moral decisions.

Shadow said...

I thought it was unclear what Bialik intended, although I came away thinking there was a bit of superiority to it. I also thought her commentary received more likes than it deserved. Nothing new here and nothing expressed well enough or differently enough to bother passing around.

And, of course, you can be disgusted with the men and still think some women are foolish. But Weinstein is not the best example to use when asking this. I mean look at him. This isn't some dapper Dan charming ladies in public then turning into a lizard when he has them alone. He is renowned for his public fits of rage and public threats to ruin people, and his appearance is like that of a social misfit street person who found a tuxedo in a dumpster. But he does have money and power, so perhaps Weinstein is placed under FOLLOWERSHIP.

JustPeachy said...

I'm sympathetic to the argument that "we should be able to do as we please and not have to worry about it" and obviously, men should be respectful to women. But we live in a world with predators. It doesn't matter what's right or how people *should* behave. Predators always shape the behavior of other animals in the ecosystem. An animal that survives is one that takes action to avoid being prey. Of course, we are people, not animals-- but not so far removed, as a species, as we'd like to be. There are predators. There have always been predators. There will always be predators. The presence of predators imposes limits on our behavior. It's OK-- right, even-- to chafe at those limits, and to work to eliminate or control predators in my environment. But it's not OK to behave like I already live in a predator-free environment, when I don't. I don't leave my personal safety up to blind chance.

pootrsox said...

I thought she sounded smug. "I don't get harrassed because I'm smarter than the average Hollywood bimbo."

But you know what? It doesn't matter what you're wearing. You can still be harrassed or assaulted. It doesn't matter if you're "sexy" or look like a poorly kneaded lump of dough (rather like a female Weinstein, in fact?)-- sexual assault can still be visited upon you. It doesn't matter if you're drunk or sober-- though certainly drunkenness puts a woman in more danger than she otherwise might be in. It doesn't matter your color, your age (an 80+ year old woman was raped here in rural VA a few years ago), your ethnicity or skin hue.

One woman told a story of saying "good night" pleasantly to a male dorm-mate on her way to her room... and waking up to find him climbing into her bunk, naked. That could have been Dr. Bialek.

I was 13, looked 11, was wearing a ratty t-shirt and not particularly revealing shorts when an intinerant laborer attempted to rape me. So yeah-- me too. (I didn't even know what flirting *was* -- I had never had a "boy friend." I was a *child*!)

pootrsox said...

I should also add that men can be harassed too, especially if they appear effeminate. Rape is not a sex crime. It's a crime of power-assertion.

leif said...

@pootrsox is closing in on my belief, that assault of any sort, sexual or not, is an expression, an assertion, of power. it is not fair, not just, not respectful. it shows both a lack of self-restraint and an allegiance to the ancient and still as broken-as-ever might-is-right mentality. it is perpetrated on anyone unable or unwilling to protect themselves against it.

what made me roll my eyes a bit in reading the excerpt of bialik's was in reflecting on how ridiculously slow behavioral change is, and the ferocious resistance that meets such change. men, since it's generally men, take the role of the powerful, and anyone, though i suspect this is typically the nearest woman, takes the brunt of the bad behavior.

bialik's statement that amounts to an echo of 'this is the society we live in' speaks volumes to the ineffectiveness of punishment in bringing about proper and rapid change to these behavioral patterns. i long for swift, effective resolution to this mess, but expect at best inertia.

szopen said...


"rape is about power" is an old cliche which has not that much backup in terms of scientific facts.


as for the rest, think about analogies. Any house can be robbed. You can live in a centre, in a suburbia, your house can look rich or not; yet we invest in locks and try to avoid this. Pointing "it is like that" does not mean "it ought to be like that". You advices on how to minimize the risk might be wrong (i.e. your advices might not actually minimize the risk), but if given in a good faith, it's really wrong to interpret those advices as victim blaming.