A four-time Emmy-nominated actress made the case that actresses can be modest and still successful. That touched off a firestorm of criticism, but in Hollywood and our sex-sells society perhaps modesty is an underused deterrent.
Mayim Bialik, best known as the brainy girl nerd from “The Big Bang Theory” and the awkward teen lead character Blossomin the 1990s tv hit, penned a thoughtful essay in the New York Times about how she has avoided the Harvey Weinsteins of the world.
Bialik admits that she’s not as glamourous or attractive as other actresses, but she also took her mother’s advice to be modest and speak up for herself against unwanted touches. By focusing on her talent rather than just her looks, she has flown under the radar of handsy producers:
And yet I have also experienced the upside of not being a “perfect ten.” As a proud feminist with little desire to diet, get plastic surgery or hire a personal trainer, I have almost no personal experience with men asking me to meetings in their hotel rooms. Those of us in Hollywood who don’t represent an impossible standard of beauty have the “luxury” of being overlooked and, in many cases, ignored by men in power unless we can make them money.
She goes on to explain that her choices are important to protecting herself:
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?
Ouch. To tell (young) women today that they have personal agency and live in a world where their choices may have impacts beyond just themselves is like heresy to feminists. There is a lot of truth to it though.
Critics jumped on Bialik’s comments as victim-blaming. They pointed to the fact that being unattractive still doesn’t stop harassment or worse.
There is absolutely no excuse for men assaulting or abusing women. To every girl, woman, man or boy from every corner of society who has been a victim of rape or sexual assault, my heart breaks. They did not deserve that.
It is worthwhile to remind ourselves of our responsibility as women to look after ourselves. That is the point Bialik makes, I think.
Writer Jennifer Braceras made a similar argument recently for the Wall Street Journal. She provided common-sense tips to college girls returning to campus that can keep them safe. They included:
• Do not get drunk and go home with someone you don’t know.
• There’s safety in numbers.
• Reject the hookup culture.
• Be clear about your wishes.
• If you are assaulted, seek immediate help from someone you trust who is not affiliated with the college
That last point is just as important. Speaking up takes courage, but we have to get uncomfortable. Actresses now feel empowered to speak out about Weinstein, but he certainly isn't the only producer or actor to behave this way.
The Harvey Weinstein saga reminds us that there are troubling double standards for powerful men. Journalists and politicians who could have spoken out and heldhim accountable, sat quietly by while young women were preyed upon.
This is an opportune time to talk about sexual violence, help victims seek the healing they need, prosecute violators, and figure out how we can ensure this doesn’t continue.