You’ve probably read Mayim Bialik’s NY Times piece. She got pushback, natch, and has apologized, thankfully. Now, before we go into some of this, I’ll drop a word of warning: this might make some uncomfortable. If you don’t think you can handle it–don’t be ashamed if you can’t–then don’t hit below the fold.
Now, the entire piece is problematic, for obvious reasons; a good portion of the onus for preventing sexual assault is laid at the feet of women. The article is filled with bits of wisdom such as “They only want one thing” in reference to men or “My mom didn’t let me wear makeup or get manicures.” As if wearing make up or getting a manicure will suddenly open a young woman up to a world of sexual abuse. But the one portion of this piece, the one thing that truly stuck in my craw was this:
I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men as a policy.
I was dressed modestly when I was harassed at work. Both times, I was wearing very modest clothing. In my case, it was either a unisex tee shirt and baggy slacks with a company logo baseball cap or it was a unisex polo with baggy slacks and another company logo baseball cap.
There was literally nothing “sexy” or “provocative” in what I was wearing.
When I was harassed on the street, I was wearing a baggy tee shirt and shorts that rested at the knee. This wasn’t sexy. This wasn’t head-turning. This wasn’t worn for a guy’s attention. This was worn simply because I lived in the South and it got damned hot in the summer.
But to Bialik, I would probably be at fault; I wasn’t quite modest enough, was I? Showing that much skin, I must have wanted the guys to look at me.
Here’s the thing: I was in a relationship when the Taco Bell incident happened. I had no intention of betraying my then significant other’s trust, nor did I have the desire. On every level, I didn’t want attention from this guy. But I got it anyway. And the asshole still didn’t take the hint when I kept saying “No” as I walked into the building. In fact, I was gearing up to scream my lungs out and make as huge a scene as possible; I thought he was going to follow me in and try something. But I was lucky in that case and he didn’t.
I don’t act flirtatiously with guys, either. But there are times when simply smiling at someone will garner you unwarranted attention. As a former Walmart associate, I’ve seen it; men who stand insanely close to a female Greeter and start rubbing the poor woman’s arm or shoulder, asking the helpless associate if she wouldn’t mind having dinner with him. All the Greeter did in this case was smile, which was part of her damned job description. (Walmart had a thing against associates not smiling; at one point while I was still working there, a note had been written on the whiteboard at the CSM’s podium. It said outright that if we, the cashiers, did not smile, we could be written up or fired. This is not a joke.) If you’re female and you’ve worked retail, you know how bad it can be.
In some cases, being flirtatious with guys simply meant being friendly. The jerk who tried to whip it out and jerk off in front of me at the local college? Yeah, he had asked me for some goddamned directions. He was asking for help.
Let that sink in a moment.
Now, I could have biked off, pretended that I didn’t hear what he was saying and this never would have happened. But as young girls, we are usually conditioned to help those who ask for it. We are only told to say “no” in certain, very specific circumstances; saying “no” at other times will garner you the bitch label. So tell me, what could I have done? What should I have done?
There is no good answer for that question.
It’s as if Bialik doesn’t quite understand why these women are coming forward; maybe if some of these women had done something different, they wouldn’t have been harassed. This is why #MeToo is needed. This is why we can’t stay silent on this anymore.
Because it is far easier to say, “Well, if you were smarter, then this wouldn’t have happened,” rather than saying, “Okay, there’s a shitload of work that needs to be done on this. Let’s get started.”