As feminists let our response to Weinstein be clear – the silence is over by CaitlinWritten by Caitlin Logan
If you’ve been following the Harvey Weinstein story (and honestly, who could avoid it?), you might have come across Mayam Bialik’s hot take on the issue. The Big Bang Theory and one-time Blossom star has been duly criticised for adding to a flood of unfortunate and misguided responses to an already horrible situation.
Bialik’s op-ed is fairly standard in its reinforcement of victim blaming attitudes: she describes herself as “a proud feminist with little desire to diet, get plastic surgery or hire a personal trainer” and directly connects this to the fact that she has never experienced the kind of harassment being reported by many of her peers.
“I still make choices every day as a 41-year-old actress that I think of as self-protecting and wise”, she says. “I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men as a policy.”
Of course, as a feminist, Bialik acknowledges that “in a perfect world, women should be free to act however they want”. “But our world isn’t perfect”, she says. “We can’t be naïve about the culture we live in.”
I don’t have any desire to lose the wider issue by focusing on one woman’s response to it – which I’ll extend the kindness of saying I assume was well-intended – but this is the tip of a pretty big iceberg which is worth chipping away at a bit.
Amidst a raft of allegations of sexual harassment, assault and rape surrounding the Hollywood producer – and the decision by the Motion Picture Academy to make Weinstein only the second person member to be expelled – there has been a huge amount of commentary on what it all means, for Hollywood and for the rest of us, and how this could all have been prevented.
If you’ve ever taken an interest in media coverage of violence against women, or any issue relating to gender inequality, it won’t have come as a surprise that not all of this discussion has been helpful. Yet somehow, past experience never quite braces you for seeing the sheer breadth and depth of ignorance that emerges when a big story like this surfaces – a reminder of just how far we have to go.
A recurring theme in the media and social media response has been to ask just why it is that so many women who experienced harassment at the hands of Weinstein or others took so long to come forward. The implication within this has been that women, by keeping silent, have enabled men to go on to do the same to others.
These questions represent a failure to understand the heart of the issue; the power imbalance, the fear, the shame – all of these are part and parcel of the abuse and manipulation to which these women were subjected. And yet we see the burden of responsibility being placed directly where it somehow always manages to land – with the victims.
That’s why it’s so disappointing to see women who should know better returning to ye old faithful – victim-blaming -when confronted with the chance to add their voice to a collective challenge to this destructive culture.
And make no mistake, Mayam Bialik’s words are a product of the same culture in which the women she sets herself apart from were so long afraid to speak out against the actions of these powerful men. It’s a culture that says “this is the way things are and there’s no use trying to fight it” – and what could be more powerful than that? It’s not naïve to demand that the culture we live in be better than this. It’s necessary, and it’s way past time.
Bialik has since responded on Twitter to her critics, saying her words were “taken out of context of the Hollywood machine”. I’m not sure how that would make the comments any less misguided, but I would also contest that it’s possible to look at the situation in Hollywood in isolation.
It’s fair to say that the “machine” has its own particular set of circumstances, both around the hyper-objectification of women and the concentration of huge amounts of power among a wealthy few. It seems that virtually everyone in Hollywood has something to say on the matter, and it’s increasingly apparent that this story has cracked open a Pandora’s box which some of the biggest names in the business have been sitting on for years. This is far bigger than Harvey Weinstein.
But it’s also far bigger than Hollywood. The industry and its peculiarities are far away from almost all of us, but this story has unfortunately resonated across the world with far too many women. In many ways, what we’re hearing right now about how things work in the movie business is just a concentrated version of what women have seen and heard their entire lives.
This is a time for solidarity, not only for women in Hollywood, but for all women who are tired of a culture where sexual harassment is so endemic that even feminists are saying – hey, you’ve got to be realistic.
That’s why I would implore any woman – in fact any person – who is tempted by that way of thinking to reject it outright. Don’t allow yourself to be convinced that being resigned to a system that tells women that their worth (for better or worse) is tied up in their sexuality – that by not being one of those girls, that by making the right choices, you can learn to live safely in this imperfect world – is an act of passive resistance.
That’s exactly how this system operates, and I say passive resistance is no resistance at all. The time for “it’s just the way things are” is over – if you’re still intent on clinging to it, just please don’t call it feminism.
Picture courtesy of one of our amazing bloggers, Lauren Carter Allan
Caitlin Logan is our Volunteer Blog Editor. She studied English and Politics, followed by Equality and Human Rights. Fast forward through a few short years and she has recently landed her dream job as a reporter for CommonSpace. She likes writing, reading, Netflix binges, and roller skating- because she has to do something that sounds like a real hobby. Find her on Twitter @_CaitLogan