This past weekend the New York Times published an op-ed by famed actress Mayim Bialik. The former child star threw in her two cents on the Harvey Weinstein affair from her Orthodox Jewish feminist perspective. Feminists unaware of the fact that you can be both religiously observant and an advocate for women’s rights took to the Internet in droves to demand an apology from Bialik. Her guilt? Feminists asserted that Bialik “slut-shamed” the victims of sexual abuse.
In actuality, Bialik wrote, “I still make choices every day as a 41-year-old actress that I think of as self-protecting and wise. I have decided that my sexual self is best reserved for private situations with those I am most intimate with. I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men as a policy.”
“I am entirely aware that these types of choices might feel oppressive to many young feminists,” Bialik added. “Women should be able to wear whatever they want. They should be able to flirt however they want with whomever they want. Why are we the ones who have to police our behavior?”
“In a perfect world, women should be free to act however they want. But our world isn’t perfect. Nothing — absolutely nothing — excuses men for assaulting or abusing women. But we can’t be naïve about the culture we live in,” she said.
The actress spoke from personal experience. She acknowledged the double standard that ultra-left wing feminists have marched topless in cities across the world. Yet, because her personal behavior does not land on the side of the radical minority, Bialik was immediately condemned and blacklisted by everyone from Newsweek to the online publication Kveller that heavily relies on her name and support for publicity.
Bialik quickly fired back a smart retort, refusing to apologize and proudly declaring herself to be both a “bleeding-heart liberal and a social conservative.” It’s a combination that doesn’t play well in mainstream media. Definitive points of view are generally the only ones that get clicks. The more radical, the better. But, that’s not the real issue at stake here. The real issue underlying the Weinstein affair was brought into the spotlight by Bialik Gate: The fact that culture assumes women aren’t allowed to think, let alone act independently of one another.
This myth of the Feminist Sisterhood is partially why Weinstein got away with his crimes for so long. Yes, plenty of Hollywood men were complicit in silent witness. But, if every woman knew to the point that jokes could be scripted about Weinstein’s behavior, why did it take this long for the story to break? Sure, Courtney Love is a rebel, but why didn’t any of her fellow “sisters” stand up with her when she spoke out about Weinstein in 2005?
Alyssa Milano, another child actress, is getting great street cred for starting the #MeToo social media campaign in Weinstein’s wake. Why didn’t she speak out before now? And more to the point, why is reducing sexual assault to the hashtag of the week better than Bialik’s recommendation to take a principled stand through the real-life choices you make every single day? We’re not just supposed to all think alike, to be good feminists we’re all supposed to be victims as well? What’s more, we should brandish our victim status in the form of yet another hashtag that will come and go faster than the few weeks freshman girls spend reading The Scarlet Letter. Forget making principled life choices. Let’s just throw it out there and move on, shall we?
Even grosser was Kveller’s take. “What we really needed to hear from Mayim: ‘It’s not your fault,'” read their banner headline. Really? You need absolution from Mayim for presumed guilt despite your claims of innocence? Why does a celebrity need to grant you a clean conscious or wash your soul? Is there some queer pagan feminist ritual out there involving redemptive passes granted by one sister to another that I haven’t heard about?
Bialik’s point was well reasoned and even-handed. Her unwillingness to cower to the demands of a faceless crowd of perma-victims who are willing subjects of groupthink is what makes Mayim a standout worth listening to. Especially if you’re one of those wacky feminists who believes that one of the best ways to empower women is to encourage them to have and express opinions of their own.