Big Bang Theory's Mayim Bialik Publishes Irresponsible Essay on Sexism in Hollywood

Big Bang Theory actress Mayim Bialik published an Op-Ed in The New York Times on Friday in response to the news of producer Harvey Weinstein's uncovered history of alleged sexual assault and harassment. Her essay, titled "Being a Feminist in Harvey Weinstein’s World", has been lambasted by critics on the internet, many of whom believe she passive-aggressively blames Weinstein's victims for what happened to them. In a single essay, she manages to victim blame, congratulate herself for her own "modesty," describe attractive women in myriad mean-spirited ways, plug The Big Bang Theory, and vastly misunderstand rape culture.

She has since responded to horrified critics by claiming they misunderstand her point, saying she's surprised at how "vicious" people have been. Ironically, there's not much more vicious than Bialik's takedown of Weinstein's victims—she's clearly disgusted with certain practices in Hollywood, including manicures, wearing make-up, getting elective plastic surgery, flirting, and she believes that avoiding all of these things can protect one from a man like Weinstein.

While many women in Hollywood have raised their voices in support of Weinstein's many victims, Bialik chose to write a strange and misguided essay about her own experiences as a "prominent-nosed, awkward, geeky" actress. She says Weinstein's actions don't surprise her, citing the poisonous pressure in Hollywood to objectify women, but then she follows a bizarre tangent, confessing she never felt "like one of the pretty girls". When she arrives at her inevitable conclusion, she damns every one of Weinstein's victims with an off-color joke. "And if—like me—you’re not a perfect 10, know that there are people out there who will find you stunning, irresistible and worthy of attention, respect and love," she condescends to other actresses. "The best part is you don’t have to go to a hotel room or a casting couch to find them."

mayim_bialik_new_york_times Actress Mayim Bialik speaks onstage during the #BlogHer16 Experts Among Us Conference at JW Marriott Los Angeles at L.A. Getty / Matt Winklemeyer

Bialik's implication here is that Gwenyth Paltrow, Rose McGowan, Ashley Judd, and Angelina Jolie went to Weinstein's hotel room because they were searching for validation and had some character flaw that she just doesn't have. By going on and on about how she never wears revealing clothing, Bialik generalizes about all of Weinstein's victims, suggesting that they would have been safe from sexual assault if only they had fought harder against Hollywood's image of a perfect woman. Let's not forget that Bialik has a history of publicizing her discomfort with other women's beauty; in 2014, she wrote a blog post decrying Ariana Grande's public image. "If she has a talent (is she a singer?)," Bialik writes, "then why does she have to sell herself in lingerie?" For the record, these are the billboards that so deeply disturbed Bialik.

Ironically, Bialik cites the work of Jill Soloway and Jenji Kohan as support for her slut-shaming argument, but she misgenders Soloway (who identifies as non-binary), and conveniently forgets that both writers tell stories about sexual assault victims who are not, at any point, "asking for it". On Soloway's Transparent, multiple characters are raped in their youth by predators who want to overpower them regardless of what they're wearing, and Kohan wrote a rape storyline following a prison inmate named Doggett (Taryn Manning) who is raped by a guard and then blames herself for flirting with him. Neither Soloway nor Kohan write television that supports Bialik's argument, and yet she uses them as examples of women getting ahead in Hollywood.

In response to Bialik's Op-Ed, many critics have tweeted at her, begging her to consult with other women on the subject of slut-shaming, or blaming women for sexual violence they experience based on what they wear or say. Actress Gabrielle Union tweeted about sexual assault she experienced at gun-point, recalling that a "friend" of hers had asked what she was wearing at the time, suggesting that maybe a different choice of outfit could have protected her.

What Bialik blatantly ignores is that sexual assault is an act of power and victimization, and not sexual attraction. If Bialik's take on sexual violence was at all based in truth, the only victims of assault in America would be the manicured, flirtatious, "young girls with doe eyes and pouty lips who spoke in a high register" she describes with such hateful disdain. The U.S. Department of Justice's office on violence against women says there is zero evidence, from case studies on sexual assault and from in-depth interviews with repeat rapists, that a victim's grooming habits, voice register, or clothing affect how a predator views them.

The astronomical rate of sexual predators targeting the disabled, the elderly, or those belonging to culturally vulnerable populations disprove Bialik's dangerous theory—according to statistics, and not Bialik's illogical feelings on the matter, having a lower voice or prominent nose will not protect you from sexual assault. A Federal Commission on Crime of Violence Study once found that only 4.4% of all reported rapes involved provocative behavior on the part of the victim. In fact, people like Bialik, who blame female victims based on their clothing and "flirtatious" behavior, inadvertently support rape culture—and there are many people in Bialik's corner. Studies have found that many men and women persistently believe that clothing makes one a target for a sexual predator, although there is no support for that claim. Clothing doesn't affect a woman's likelihood of being harassed, but it does affect whether bystanders will help her, or whether jurors will sympathize with her during a rape trial.

Dr. Sherry Hamby, founding editor of the Psychology of Violence journaltold Elle magazine that beliefs like Bialik's come from a distinctly American logical fallacy: we don't want to believe that bad things can happen to good people, so many of us blame victims in order to make sense of chaotic violence. The worldview Bialik projects in her NYT piece, in which "feminists" must dress and act a certain way to protect themselves from sexual predators, would be shattered if she was confronted with actual statistics on victims. She continues on believing falsehoods because it's easier to stomach than the truth.

The fact is, as long as there are men like Harvey Weinstein active in Hollywood, preying on women they believe they can control, regardless of what they're wearing, no one is safe. It doesn't really matter whether your nails are painted or not.