Why This is the Moment to Talk About Sexual Assault

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you’ve no doubt heard a lot about sexual assault, abuse, and harassment. What we’ve been seeing has been dubbed by many as “The Weinstein effect”, where after the breaking of the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment and abuse scandal, many other powerful men in other fields, including entertainment and politics, have had allegations released against them.

Now, in some cases, these were men who had been rumored to be predatory for a while (Kevin Spacey and Louis CK), while in others it seems to have come out of nowhere (George Takei and Al Franken). In any case, it’s clear that this is an important cultural moment of talking about sexual assault and harassment. But why now? This has been a problem for a very long time. Here’s why this is the moment:

Social Media:

In the past, there were very few ways for survivors of sexual assault to come forward, especially if the media wouldn’t take them seriously. Now, however, sharing stories of sexual assault is easier than ever. And while it’s sadly true that talking about it can bring in trolls and mean comments, it can also bring tons of support from friends and strangers right away.

Also, because of all these things coming out at once, survivors feel more empowered to talk about sexual assault because they see others doing it as well. And thanks to campaigns like #MeToo, social media has allowed survivors of sexual assault, even those who don’t want to come forward, to feel less alone.

Investigative Journalism:

Allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, and Roy Moore might have gone nowhere if not for the hard work of investigative journalists who meticulously researched and wrote about these claims, working for long periods of time to bring these allegations to light.

The Harvey Weinstein case came to light thanks to the work of Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey at The New York Times and Ronan Farrow at The New Yorker. Kantor, along with Melena Ryzik and Cara Buckley were responsible for bringing the allegations against Louis CK to light, though the now-defunct website Gawker did report on it back in 2015 .

And though Mr. Moore has deflected the allegations against him as some sort of leftist conspiracy, they are backed up with dozens of interviews and facts by three incredible reporters from The Washington Post: Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard, and Alice Crites.

People Believe Survivors:

This is pretty simple. We live in a culture that actually trusts those who come forward to talk about their experiences of sexual assault. The truth is, very few people lie about sexual assault. After all, coming forward about this type of thing can be extremely traumatizing, and come with very few benefits, and you have to hear people publicly calling you a liar and saying derogatory things about you while uplifting the person who has abused you. I think we are finally in a moment, however, where the bravery of survivors is finally rewarded by our willingness to believe people who do come forward.

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A Response to Mayim Bialik

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.

Mayim Bialik

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.

Mayim Bialik as a child on Blossom

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.

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