Over the past two weeks on the heels of the Harvey Weinstein travesty, I’ve noticed a trend. And I have a question and am in need of an answer.
Why is that some white women are incapable of focusing on a topic without shitting on someone else? I say this because I thought I was gonna have my hands full with Rose McGowan and her baseless comparison of white women to n-words, but then, almost concurrently, Mayim Bialik threw her hat in the ring in a bid to become the most problematic white woman at the moment by maligning sexual assault survivors.
To explain, with Weinstein being the big topic of the last few weeks, many a survivor has come forward to describe her chilling run-in with him (the latest being Lupita Nyong’o), detailing just how “powerful” and predatory Weinstein was. In the midst of such pain, these survivors set the tone, encouraging empowerment and healing to begin ... that is until Bialik opened her loud and wrong mouth.
In this midst of this healing, Bialik penned an article for the New York Times that she assumed would be helpful to the conversation, but it turned out to be one of the most triggering things many of us had read in the past week (and to be clear, I am aware of her “apology” and that it exists, but that does not change the impact her piece had).
Frankly, I don’t even have enough time to explain why the New York Times published said piece—which grossly undermined the work they had done to expose Weinstein—to begin with. But I do have time to explain the variety of ways that Bialik’s piece is inflaming, shaming and victim-blaming.
Starting with this:
1. “Ugliness” does not prevent an assault or unwanted advances. That is a gross and outdated myth.
Perhaps the most egregious part of Bialik’s op-ed is the assumption that being unattractive or possessing “nontraditional” looks (read: being “ugly”) is enough to prevent a disgusting, dirt-ridden scuzz bag like Weinstein from harassing and/or assaulting you. The presumption here is that not looking a certain way—or, rather, existing on the opposite spectrum from where a pretty person would live—somehow allows you to squeeze by any potential assault or unwanted advance by (in this case) a cisgender straight white man. That a lack of “fuckability” will somehow save you from such a disturbing perpetuation of violence.
I take it you’re already shocked at such a claim, but I assure you there’s more.
Bialik anchors this baseless assumption on her own personal but limited experience in this area, which includes no such encounter with Weinstein or a Weinstein-like figure. She makes sure to point that out by stating that these same “nontraditional” looks have given her—“a proud feminist”—and others like her “the ‘luxury’ of being overlooked and, in many cases, ignored by men in power unless we can make them money.” Apparently, she has gotten this far and avoided “men asking [her] to meetings in their hotel rooms” because she and these other women don’t represent Hollywood’s “impossible standard of beauty.”
That’s ... a lot. And it’s also completely erroneous. And here’s why:
2. Rape (and sexual assault) has never been about attraction. Or even sex. It is about power and control.
Of course, there is the school of thought that assumes it is about both, but I would vehemently disagree. To assume that rape is chiefly about sex is to declare that assailants (in this case, straight cis men) are slaves to the urges of their dishonorable phallic member and have to contend with “‘beastial proclivity’, ‘wanton lust’ and ‘unchained carnal desire’” in order not to rape.
Men who rape or assault are evolved enough to know and do better. They opt not to because the act of rape and assault itself is about using violence as a means of holding power and control over a nonconsenting human being. And then, with that power, they go on to humiliate, violate and degrade their victim and, in turn, shame that person into silence. Because without the silence, there can be no dominance.
Those who are still on the fence about this issue need look no further than the rise of stealthing. With that example, if one has prior and enthusiastic consent to proceed with healthy, consensual sex with a condom on, what is the point of steamrolling said consent by secretly removing the condom?
The point is the thrill of trading an equal power balance in a consensual situation for an unequal power balance—essentially, a power imbalance. Said imbalance would tip power in the perpetrator’s direction, and that doesn’t happen without someone being violated or someone else getting his or her power and autonomy stripped away.
THAT is the turn-on for these perpetrators. That power. That dominance. Not the goddamn sex or the attraction.
With that being the case, Bialik may be shocked to find that something superficial like downplaying her “flirtatiousness” would have no bearing on decreasing the likelihood of such a violation. She may be completely flabbergasted to find that over- or under-expressed femininity doesn’t affect that likelihood, either.
She may also be shocked to find that those of us who are masculine-leaning women, men or nonbinary individuals are still just as susceptible to rape and assault. She may even be astounded to find that those of us who possess even more of those qualities that don’t fit into Hollywood’s “impossible standard[s] of beauty”—like being of color, disabled, queer, trans, fat, etc.—are STILL susceptible to rape and assault.
Except she wouldn’t be shocked. Because she knows this. She, in all of her Ph.D.-in-neuroscience glory (which she made sure to mention as if education can also stave off rape and assault—something that we know is false, particularly if we look at the disgustingly high rate of rape and assault on college and university campuses), had to have known this. She has surely lived long enough to know that these arbitrary things that she has listed are not enough to stop rape or assault.
So, if she did know this, what was the point of her article?
3. Bialik’s article is what I would liken to the equivalent of concern-trolling.
Oxford defines a concern troll as:
A person who disingenuously expresses concern about an issue with the intention of undermining or derailing genuine discussion.
And if I am to abide by that definition, it makes perfect sense why the backlash to Bialik’s New York Times piece was so visceral. Because her piece was coming not from a place of sincerity but, rather, from a sense of delayed superiority and gratification. I doubt that she set out to condemn Weinstein’s actions or even comfort his victims (or any victim of sexual assault and rape) at all. Instead, I’d wager that this was a thinly veiled attempt to feel vindicated for being rejected according to Hollywood’s “impossible standard of beauty.”
Think about it. Per Bialik’s own words in her article, it seems as if she has a fairly sizable chip on her shoulder about her looks and having been made fun of because of them over the years (and in her youth). Sure, she tries to dress it up with half-hearted attempts at self-deprecating humor, and details all the things she did to forget “those other girls” (the pretty ones) and distinguish herself from them, but that’s not enough to hide the resentment seeping through.
And it is that same unaddressed resentment and perceived lack of “fuckability” that even allowed her to pen something so insensitive and tone-deaf. It also represents a line of fairly fucked logic that even I don’t have the juice (or the degree) to fully analyze. Indeed, for her to even hint that the numerous survivors who have stepped forward might have avoided their fates by not buying into Hollywood’s hype (read: being pretty) and by “cultivat[ing] the parts of themselves that may not garner them money and fame” is trifling.
Because in the end, “a proud feminist” would know that one’s brains and beauty need not be mutually inclusive and that it is not on survivors or potential survivors to put an end to rape and sexual assault. Nah. “A proud feminist” would recognize that it is on us as people to put an end to it and put an end to the culture of silence that perpetuates it, as well as to the lack of justice that allows it to continue.