Being a Feminist in Mayim Bialik’s World

I just read Mayim Bialik’s op-ed in the New York Times, and cringed all the way through. I have the urge to sit her down, this 41-year-old, respected, well-known woman, and explain that she was never safe. Just lucky. That her Not Like The Other Girls manifesto is steeped in so much internalized misogyny it makes me want to scream. Or cry.

What really killed me is, she clearly has stories. Grown men calling her “baby,” for one. Her telling comment that she has “almost” no experience with being invited into hotel rooms. She obviously saw way more, or was told things by others. But that’s not what she focuses on. She doesn’t use her platform to say, “Look, these fucking assholes were going after LITTLE GIRLS. LITTLE GIRLS were being groomed for this from MINUTE ONE. I missed the worst of it, thank God, and for all those children who became targets, in their names, I am COMING FOR YOU NOW. I, Mayim Bialik, with all the credibility in the world, and with less trauma to bite at my ankles, I am going to BRING YOUR HOUSE DOWN AND BURN IT.”

Wouldn’t that have been something to read? Wouldn’t it have been amazing? But no. Oh, no. Instead, we are treated to a lecture about modest behavior and some incredibly disturbing victim blaming of, again, children.

The immaturity of her worldview makes my head spin. The point is so far away as to have vanished completely. Abusers don’t only target the “pretty” girls. How can a grown woman think that? She actually analyzes her lack of desirability to the sick fucks grooming children while implicitly smearing the girls who didn’t, or couldn’t, fight back.

It’s horrifying. We know “dressing modestly” won’t save us. It’s a fact. What you wear does not matter. How you act does not matter. To suggest that it does is to give cover to those undefined powerful men she talks about. To hear her repeat these lies makes me sad, and so angry.

Something about it reads like survivor’s guilt to me, too. Who knows. Maybe I’m reaching. But I’ve been on both sides of similar dynamics, though in much milder ways. I’ve been the one who got attention from men that made me uncomfortable, while other girls drew away from me because it made them feel small, and I’ve been the one who watched and said nothing while other girls were targeted by men in ways that made me feel jealous, because this society is broken and cruel and doesn’t care about us. I’ve been the one who watched while other girls ingratiated themselves with the powerful men and felt left out, and I’ve been the one who knowingly leveraged my smile and my charm. These situations are complicated, and fraught, and no one is ever really ready for them, at any age. Especially not when the literal adults in the room are the ones perpetuating the toxic, soul-destroying mess.

But by this time in her life, with the experience she’s clearly had, Mayim Bialik should know better than to blame the victims. I can’t figure out her angle, especially towards the end of the piece. Does she think the women she perceives as being more physically beautiful than she is want to be assaulted? Is she really trying to suggest that those women are all just enjoying the attention so much? What is this poison? Her attitude is wildly, willfully insular, and I cannot for the life of me condone whatever particular brand of feminism she claims to be promoting.

My feminism is not appeasement. My feminism whispers until it’s safe enough to shout. My feminism understands that if one person is in danger, we all are. My feminism knows the system that calls one girl ugly and another pretty is setting them both up to be abused. My feminism is not naïve about the culture we live in, Mayim. My feminism knows there is no hiding behind an outfit, or an attitude. My feminism is there for the women trapped in hotel rooms. My feminism won’t excuse the men who ushered them in.