Recently, actress Mayim Bialik penned an op-ed for The New York Times, where she discussed sexual harassment and described her life in Hollywood including her entrance into Hollywood as a “prominent-nosed, awkward, geeky, Jewish 11-year-old”. I decided to pen a response.
Hey, guess what, Mayim Bialik! I also have been a “prominent-nosed, awkward, geeky, Jewish 11-year-old” And I was a prominent-nosed, awkward, geeky, Jewish 13-year old when I was catcalled for the first time. I was walking home and a man in a car drove by and said I had nice tits.
I’ll remind you: I was thirteen years old. I don’t remember what I was wearing, exactly, but I remember it was November, so probably a coat, I guess. A hand-me-down dress from my older sister underneath. Ballet flats from Payless.
I’ve always been a fan of yours, partly because I identified with you. I’m also prominent-nosed and awkward and geeky and very, very Jewish. As you talked about in your article, you don’t really look like the other, more conventionally attractive actresses out there. I can relate to feeling awkward and frumpy, surrounded by beautiful people.
What I can’t relate to is this: your suggestion that, somehow, by virtue of your awkwardness and your dressing modestly and not flirting with men and not dieting or getting plastic surgery, you have successfully avoided the type of sexual harassment most actresses face. You suggest, not outright but implicitly, that women can avoid harassment and objectification if they just act like you.
First off, none of that ought to matter. Harassment is unacceptable, assault is unacceptable, no matter what you’re wearing. A woman should be able to walk around wearing whatever the fuck she wants without being harassed or assaulted. Period. End of story.
You say “we can’t be naïve about the culture we live in”, but I think you’re the one being naïve, if you seriously think dressing and acting modestly prevents sexual harassment and assault. I mean, let’s be frank, a creepy predator isn’t going to stop being a predator just because your skirt is a little longer, or your shirt is a little looser. Women get harassed and assaulted when they wear hijabs or other modesty garbs. Women get harassed and assaulted no matter what they’re wearing.
I know this is true because I tend to dress more on the “modesty” side. I also don’t diet, have never gotten plastic surgery, rarely wear makeup, and don’t really flirt with anyone if I’m not already in a relationship with them (not that there’s anything wrong with doing any of this), and I’ve still gotten harassed. Wearing jeans and a t-shirt on the TTC one day this August didn’t stop a man from sitting next to me and putting his hand on my thigh without my consent. Wearing a heavy coat and a scarf didn’t stop a man from demanding my phone number and following me nearly to my house one day last winter. And being a thirteen-year-old, at prime awkwardness, didn’t stop me from getting harassed for what would be the first, but not last time.
These are only a few small examples of what I’ve experienced, and pretty much every woman on this planet has gotten harassed or assaulted while wearing everything from burqas to bikinis.
I know it might make you, Mayim Bialik, feel safer, to think that dressing in a certain way or acting in a certain way can prevent a person from being harassed, abused, or assaulted, but that’s really just not true. You know who could prevent harassment though? Harassers.