Mayim Bialik’s Words Are Dangerous, Because She Means Well.
In her recent Op-ed in the NY Times actress Mayim Vialik offered some words of (what she thought would be) wisdom, regarding the rape culture of Hollywood and society at large. She talks of her own story of flying under the radar of predatory men because thankfully, her plain looks protected her from the predatory claws of pedophiles and entitled men in Hollywood. She credits her plain looks as the reason she escaped sexual assault in Hollywood. In a way, she echoed author Roxane Gay who writes about her relationship with her body in the aftermath of her sexual assault right on the heels of teenagehood. Roxane Gay too, in her many attempts to never again be violated, decided that becoming what men found unattractive would keep her safe. She writes,
I didn’t care about getting fat. i wanted to be fat, to be big, to be ignored by men. I began eating to change my body. I was willful in this . Some boys had destroyed me and barely survived it. I knew I wouldn’t be able to endure another such violation, and so I ate because that if my body became repulsive, I could keep men away. Even at that young age, I understood that to be fat was to be undesirable to men, to be beneath their contempt. I made myself bigger. I made myself safer.
Roxane Gay, Hunger
This is also the kind of thinking that led many mothers in some parts of my country, to adopt the practice of breast ironing; Young girls whose breasts are starting to develop, are held down so a stone heated in the fire, can be used to press down the breast issue to stunt its growth. The hope is to delay their development as much as possible, because keeping womanhood at bay also means keeping predatory men at bay. Though it’s unlikely that neither Mayim Vialik nor Roxane Gay would condone such a practice, they both share this belief that has been drilled into women from the moment they’re old enough to be aware of their bodies: girls who get sexually assaulted, are the ones who didn’t do enough to not be noticed by men. The difference between Roxane Gay and Mayim Vialik however, is that Roxane Gay knows what a damaging belief it is, to build a body you hope will never be violated. She wrote an entire book on just how damaging it is. Mayim wrote an Op-ed in the NYTimes as to why it is a thing to aspire to. She writes,
My mom didn’t let me wear makeup or get manicures. I am honored to depict a feminist who speaks her mind, who loves science and her friends and who sometimes wishes she were the hot girl.
I can relate. I’ve wished that, too.
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.
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 know/hope Mayim means well. I know she wants girls to know there’s more to life than our looks, especially when for a long time we were often told that it’s the only thing we have to offer. But this wasn’t the place to discuss the importance of girl’s intelligence. Not in juxtapositation to sexual assault. Not in a way that would suggest that there is any other way to prevent sexual assault than to hold perpetrators accountable for their sense of entitlement to people’s bodies. Because these are the words people will take and parade around like “see, if only this girl had been more modest, perhaps spent more times in her books, this wouldn’t happened”. But what about those of us who were raped, studying for a biochemistry exam? And you know what, fuck books. The girl at the club, in her short dress showing off her coke bottle body, she too, deserves to be respected whether she was acing her exams or flunking out of school.
Mayim’s words are dangerous, and more dangerous because they come from a woman. She reinforces the idea that girls who get raped were too flirty, too pretty for their own good, and perhaps invested much more in developing their boobs than they were in developing their brain.
This is the argument often used to not only blame girls who get raped, but to also laugh in the face of girls considered “unattractive”, when they speak of their assault. Too ugly to be raped, too fat to be raped, too mentally challenged to be raped. And we tell them they should either be grateful for the attention, or they’re lying.
Mayim’s words are dangerous. Not only because she’s a woman, but also because she means well. It’s the good intentions that do the most damage. Because they’re disarming, they do too much damage before you realize they’ve sunk into your bones and turned your blood to acid.
Mayim’s words are dangerous because those are the ones that suffocate the voice of women who want to speak out but wonder if they were respectable enough that night, if they were the perfect victim enough, enough to warrant sympathy, support, outrage, accountability, justice.
Mayim’s words are dangerous. Because they suggest that there’s a threshold where a woman’s body no longer belongs to her.
For so many women, hating their bodies comes from a deep longing to abandon their body. Abandon the body that everyone else thinks they know what to with. I wish people knew the pain of not feeling safe in your own body. People will get robbed in their own home, and try all they can to move elsewhere. But when you’ve been violated, you can’t leave your own body. Nobody deserves to be alienated from themselves.
My deepest wish is for us to raise girls who know that their body belongs to them. And for us to raise boys who know girls’ bodies don’t belong to them. EVER, no matter what they’re wearing or how their behavior is. That there’s a difference between wanting attention and deserving assault.
There’s no but. No exception. No circumstance.
We belong to ourselves.
I know Mayim means well. But it’s the folks who mean well who are often reluctant to change, reluctant to see the damage of their words and actions, and it’s often them who are complicit in the violence many women experience.