On October 13th, prominent actress and one of the lead cast members of the hit sitcom The Big Bang theory, Mayim Bialik, wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times responding to the Harvey Weinstein scandal. This was extremely relevant since she is apart of the Hollywood community like the majority of Weinstein's victims.
However, when it came to the rendering of the opinion, she emphasized on aspects that objectively and empirically have nothing to do with sexual assault. For example, she mentions how happy she is her mom didn't let her wear makeup or get manicures when she was younger. Or that she stayed away from being called “baby” and didn't give hugs to men at work.
As a black woman, I found Bialik’s opinion piece to be extremely out of touch and quite inconsiderate. I am not preaching about political correctness and the need for it because this being an opinion piece, she obviously had the right to say and comment anything she felt appropriate about the situation. However, I felt she could've been more careful with the insinuations she was making because some of those, are ones that can easily perpetuate rape culture and myths about sexual assaults.
The problem with such statements is that in this very specific context, where we are dealing with an issue as prominent and as delicate as sexual assault and harassment, the choice of words and associations those words then make are really important. And they are to be chosen extremely carefully. I think this is something she failed at in writing her opinion piece.
Furthermore, I was shocked when I read that she had “experienced the upside of not being a "perfect ten". I went on to feel relatively disgusted when she said that “as a proud feminist with little desire to diet, get plastic surgery or hire a personal trainer, [she has] almost no personal experience with men asking [her] to meetings in their hotel rooms” (a situation that was described by a lot of Weinstein’s victims in their statements).
In any field of work or study, words are important and they are always at the forefront of the expression of what we feel. From this, we can easily understand just how necessary it is to choose the right words so we can convey exactly what we feel. And as I have mentioned earlier, this is what made this piece seem so out of touch, in my opinion.
Mentioning “the upside of being a not being a 'perfect ten’”, when talking of sexual assault is clearly drawing a link between the two. When, in reality, being a ‘perfect ten’ has nothing to do with being a victim of sexual assault. Additionally, it also has nothing to do with wanting to get plastic surgery or having a personal trainer neither does it have anything to do with the desire to diet.
Furthermore, with alarming statistics like how in 2014, 67.1% of sexual infractions in Quebec were sexual assaults. I wonder how many percent of those were “a perfect ten”... because truth is that anyone can be the victim of sexual assault and that one’s being not as pretty does not shelter them from it. And statements like the ones mentioned before are extremely destructive, for this very reason.
In my opinion, someone who wants to self-proclaim as a feminist cannot be making such broad and out-of-touch statements about what women should and should not do. For that matter, they should also not be insinuating anything about the behaviours that could potentially make them victims of sexual assault or harassment.
In 2017, in the era of information, (I mean we literally have phones you can unlock with face recognition now?), it is not acceptable for people to be making statements resembling the famous “she shouldn't have been wearing something so short” when talking about serious issues like the ones at hand. It is even less acceptable, to have a woman say those things about other women.
Bialik mentions towards the end of her piece that she believes “we can change our culture” which is unequivocally true. But I think, we can achieve it by letting women be free and stopping to tell them what to do. We can also do it by adopting a more “girl power” attitude when women come forward to talk about their experiences. We want to encourage victims to come forward and I would tend to believe to associations and statements like Bialik’s would have the opposite effect.
The Big Bang theory actress has since apologized for the statements she made. This is, however, still a great opportunity to spark a conversation about a serious subject in our society.
As for the choice of words to use when talking about these very serious issues, Femifesto, a feminist group who fight to eradicate rape culture and other societal issues, have created a guide of information and better words to use when talking of related subjects. You can consult the guide here.
And if you would like to talk to someone about your experiences, here are some alternatives.
Centre d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions sexuelles, Outaouais
Case postale 1872, Succursale B
Gatineau (Québec) J8X 3Z1
1 888 757-7757 (sans frais)
Du lundi au vendredi, de 8 h 30 à 17 h 00
CAVAC de l’Outaouais
729, boulevard Saint-Joseph, bureau 104
Gatineau (Québec) J8Y 4B6
1 800 331-2311 (sans frais)
Du lundi au vendredi, de 8 h 30 à 16 h 30
De l’aide au bout du fil - Ligne sans frais - accessible 24h/7jours
À travers le Québec: 1 888 933-9007
Région de Montréal: 514 933-9007