In the controversial article, titled ‘Being a Feminist in Harvey Weinstein’s World’, Bialik says she is “shocked and disgusted by the scope of [Weinstein’s] alleged predation”.
However, she says she is not surprised by the revelations about the Hollywood producer’s sexual misconduct – and suggests Weinstein’s actions may be connected to how young actresses are encouraged to present themselves in “a business that [rewards] physical beauty and sexual appeal above all else”.
Bialik plays neuroscientist Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory, and first found fame as a teenager when she starred in the film Beaches and the TV series Blossom. She writes that she “entered the Hollywood machine in 1986 as a prominent-nosed, awkward, geeky, Jewish 11-year-old”, and says she always knew she was never considered conventionally attractive by Hollywood standards.
“I quickly learned even as a preteen actress that young girls with doe eyes and pouty lips who spoke in a high register were favoured for roles by the powerful men who made those decisions,” she writes.
But while Bialik admits to having occasionally wished “she were the hot girl”, she says she has also “experienced the upside of not being a ‘perfect ten’”.
It is this section of Bialik’s article that appears to have provoked the most anger, as she seems to suggest that her “non-traditional” appearance and feminist beliefs have protected her from situations like those suffered by Weinstein’s alleged victims.
“As a proud feminist with little desire to diet, get plastic surgery or hire a personal trainer, I have almost no personal experience with men asking me to meetings in their hotel rooms,” Bialik writes.
“Those of us in Hollywood who don’t represent an impossible standard of beauty have the ‘luxury’ of being overlooked and, in many cases, ignored by men in power unless we can make them money.”
Bialik, who is Orthodox Jewish, says that she made “conservative choices as a young actress” and continues to make what she describes as “self-protecting and wise” decisions as a 41-year-old.
“I have decided that my sexual self is best reserved for private situations with those I am most intimate with,” she says. “I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men as a policy.”
The actress, who also worked as a neuroscientist for several years after obtaining a PhD from the University of California, says she understands that her choices “might feel oppressive to many young feminists”, who question why women are “the ones who have to police our behaviour”.
“In a perfect world, women should be free to act however they want,” she says. “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.”
Bialik’s piece sparked a fierce backlash on Twitter. In one widely-retweeted thread, Twitter user @VeroniKaboom questioned the premise of Bialik’s argument.
“I was raised to believe ‘modesty’ was righteous. Women should be in constant fear or guilt,” she wrote. “But who benefits from this doctrine? Women? Sorry, nope. God? Debatable. The patriarchy? Absolutely. Scared/guilty women = easier to control.”
She added that she always dressed modestly as a young woman and “never went off alone with boys”, and that did not prevent her from being abused.
“The next time you congratulate yourself for ‘shielding’ your sexuality with modesty, ask yourself what you’re hiding from. And who. And why.”
The actress Gabrielle Union appeared to reference Bialik’s endorsement of ‘dressing modestly’ in a Twitter thread about her own experience of rape.
Reminder. I got raped at work at a Payless shoe store. I had on a long tunic & leggings so miss me w/ "dress modestly" shit.— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) October 15, 2017
Though I was raped by a stranger who raped me at gunpoint after robbing the store, I was still asked by a female "friend" what I had worn— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) October 15, 2017
Mayim Bialik used the Weinstein situation & her own platform to talk about herself. Barely mentioned those affected by Weinstein’s actions.— venkayla (@VenkaylaHaynes) October 15, 2017
Many others suggested that despite its title, Bialik’s essay did not show her as a feminist, because it failed to adequately support other women.
Bialik’s piece is entirely “not like other girls” victim-blaming, with numerous dashes of the types of objectification she claims to despise— Bailey (@the_author_) October 15, 2017
So cross and disappointed with Mayim Bialik’s for her dangerous victim blaming article - she needs to reeducate herself on feminism.— Helen; (@helen_a15) October 15, 2017
In a statement posted on Twitter, Bialik said that her words had been “twisted”.
“[I] see a bunch of people have taken my words out of the context of the Hollywood machine and twisted them to imply that God forbid I would blame a woman for her assault based on her clothing or behaviour,” she wrote.
“Anyone who knows me and my feminism knows that’s absurd and not at all what this piece was about.
“It’s so sad how vicious people are being when I basically live to make things better for women.”
Images: Rex Features