Erstwhile star of Blossom, Big Bang Theory, and - lest we forget - the young Bette Midler in Beaches - Mayim Bialik made waves last week with a New York Times op-ed describing her experience as a young woman in the Hollywood system. Her perspective is very different from many that we have recently, for the slightly awkward reason that she has made a career of quite specifically Not Playing The Sexy One. And whilst she did not say - as had been widely, angrily, reported - that little sluts like Six and blonde ho-bags like Penny were asking for it, Bialik’s reference to own modest dress and massive hooter (not to be confused, American readers, with hooters) could certainly be read as victim-blaming. Which is a shame, because there is a fascinating angle to be taken here on the crushing misogyny inflicted on the unfuckable by the self-appointed arbiters of fuckability.
I think of my own experiences in the workplace. The office sex-pest who latched on to everyone except me. The famous Artistic Director who resolutely failed to get my name right in six years of working together. The projects I had run and the men who had taken credit for them. The suspicion that some of the opportunities I was missing out on were more to do with my gender, age and figure than my qualifications and experience.
I mean, what am I? Chopped liver?
But then I also thought of the privilege and status conferred upon me and my matronly bosom. I thought of the younger women I have mentored, stood up for, empowered, encouraged, promoted and championed. The freedom to work in very male environments without the fear and blushes that come with being see as sexually available. The big-sisterly role I have been able to take to kindly correct or firmly call out the behaviour of men of my acquaintance (and, indeed, friends) towards women of my acquaintance (and indeed friends). I thought of the violent outburst of another Artistic Director I worked with, in which I intervened, drew a line, and stood my ground. I think of the highly gendered bullying of one boss (my boss’ boss) who I reported to HR.
I could be clear, confident, unemotional, eloquent, impersonal.
Or, I could be bossy, pushy, a ball-breaker.
I was old enough and ugly enough.
And then I think of the Oscars, Baftas, the sheer seismic salary scales of these men. And I think of my career, and how I have taken a hit each and every time I spoke truth to power, every time I stood up for myself and my colleagues. I can think of three jobs I quite specifically don't have right now because of this very reason. I think about how my friendly tellings-off have gone down like a shit sandwich and how I don't really have these friends anymore.
So maybe I had escaped sexual harassment. Gendered harassment and discrimination, sure, but no real pestering or bothering. I mean, that guy who pulled his car up along side me on my way home from work last night was just paying me a compliment, and I really was asking for trouble out on my bike, a lone woman late at night. The time that Office Sex-pest said I looked just like the painting of a sprawled and naked model I was flattered: I love Modigliani, and my haircut is very much like the woman depicted. Sure, I’ve been catcalled on the street, but it was mainly guys shouting at me for being fat, and never men leering at my womanly form. And of course - like so many women I know - I have had jugs juggled, hooters honked, melons perved. Mostly from random nutters, but have also certainly shouted "Oi!" at a male colleagues copping a feel at work parties - but hey, it was late, we’d all had a drink, I do dance quite energetically, and it was probably my fault, me and my out-of-control boobs. Ugh, sorry, I’m sure you didn't mean to touch me up, these things get everywhere. No big deal.
It’s my fault. It’s a compliment. It’s no big deal. I can take it.
The idea that women should conform to a societal norm or beuty and behaviour is bad for all women. We all pa a price for it. There’s the deepest, darkest level of this; the punishment and “corrective’ rapes, abuse and coercive control are meted out on queer and trans women, on disabled women, and on women whose perpetrators have deemed them fat or ugly or stupid or otherwise bad. The racialised sexism and sexualised racism experienced by women of colour - not least in Hollywood. There’s the casual Everyday Sexism level, the being ignored or overlooked by not presenting as young, pretty and perky, as being able to take a joke, a wink, and perhaps a little bit of the other in the bogs at the office Christmas party. Some girls get Fwooooarrrred at by gents in the safety of their fast-moving vehicles, other get Fattttyyyyyyyed. Some have their skirts lifted, some their headscarfs yanked. Some are groped, some are hit.
I check my privilege. I am educated, professional, white-looking, cis, heterosexual woman. I have a flat, a family, friends, a network, a voice. At my most vulnerable, when I feel powerless and hopeless, I still have a whole world of options and safe-havens.
And I worry that privilege, force of habit, and the pervasive way things are have made me complicit. I’ve joshed along with play-flirting, I’ve given the hugs requested by men in return for them just doing their fucking job. I have judged other women and no doubt been judged by them in turn. I’ve internalised the rules of engagement, the pecking order, and my place in it, and I have projected and imposed that on others. There is a full and colourful spectrum of violence and humiliation perpetrated - some casual, so some malicious, some criminal - and we need to recognise the intersectionality and insidiousness of misogyny.
Bialik is an Orthodox Jew. We don’t have many of them on the telly, so no wonder people were surprised at the conservatism displayed in her article: this is not what we expect from Hollywood. I often read her on GrokNation because she writes well and on subjects which interest me, and because it’s very rare for an atheist Jew like myself to get to hear what an orthodox Jew thinks, IRL. I can never work out what the hell a religious way of life offers to any woman, let alone one whose wealth and education give her plenty of options. The world would be her oyster if oysters were Vegan or Kosher or into attachment parenting. I don't get it, but I like her, I like her writing, and I LOVE Blossom.
Her opinion on #MeToo in general and Weinstein in particular is interesting, and one that deserves a platform. What happens to the women who are desexualised, or for whatever reason, off the sexual menu for your average sleezeball? Orthodox religious dress of many faiths is intended to free the woman of the world of desire and the male gaze, although not for nuns, who are, famously, sexy. Many liberals find the very idea of this conservative mode of dress abhorrent, proscribed by old men with beards and long fingernails, lasciviously pawing over the sinfulness of the very thought of a woman’s body and what they’d like to do to it. But it does kinda work as a repellant for mens’ sexual advances.
If only the full sheitel or burqua gave protection from racism, sexism, and all other forms of discriminatory practices and harassing behaviours, instead of acting as a weird shit-magnet and projection-screen for the the prejudices and misconceptions of even the the most right-on of us. If only anything any of us wears - pant suits or habits or hairwraps or our headscarves - if only they protected women from being raped. This is why victim-blaming is so comforting and persuasive: it gives us the illuson of power and control over our fuckability.
It must be nice not to have to have this conversation. It must be nice to not have to think about how what you wear might be read. It must be nice not to be blamed or to blame yourself. I must be nice to be believed and heard and seen. So Bialik was missing the point, and we’re missing the point to attack her. We must hear, see and believe all of our sisters as they shout #MeToo out loud or silently in their hearts. We're teetering on a tipping point of major social change and only full weight of intersectional solidarity will push us in to that bright tommorow.
Don’t know about the future, that’s anybody’s guess
Ain’t no good reason for getting all depressed
Buy up your pad and pencil, I’ll give you a piece of my mind
In my opinionation, the sun is gonna surely shine
Stop all your fussin’
Slap on a smile
Come out and walk in the sun for a while
Don’t fight the feeling, you know you want to have a good time
And in my opinionation, the sun is gonna surely shine.