Another Harvey Victim:  Feminist Actress Attacked for Advocating Modesty

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An actress spoke in favor of modesty … and, predictably, she needed to apologize for it.

In a New York Times op-ed piece recently, Mayim Bialik wrote this:

“I still make choices every day as a 41-year-old actress that I think of as self-protecting and wise. I have decided that my sexual self is best reserved for private situations with those I am most intimate with. I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men as a policy.”

She was blasted for her comments for what critics said it “implied.” Some of that criticism might be understandable, given when the piece appeared, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. (The story’s headline: “Being a Feminist in Harvey Weinstein’s World.”)

But Bialik included this disclaimer in her article:

“I am entirely aware that these types of choices might feel oppressive to many young feminists. Women should be able to wear whatever they want. They should be able to flirt however they want with whomever they want. Why are we the ones who have to police our behavior?”

She made a good point, but it did not matter. She was accused of blaming the victim, with the old, piggish belief that some women are “asking for it” by the way they dress and act.

Initially, Bialik denied the accusation, saying, “that is absolutely not what my intention was … I think it is safe for me to start this conversation by saying there is no way to avoid being the victim of assault by what you wear or the way you behave.”

That, apparently, was not good enough for the critics. Eventually, Bialik sent out an apology on Twitter:

“I am truly sorry for causing so much pain, and I hope you can all forgive me.”

It is too bad that Bialik felt the need to apologize when she explained herself in the original story and emphasized it again.

Maybe the column would have worked better out of the Weinstein shadow, but then would the New York Times have cared? Without the Weinstein hook, how “edgy” would a story about modesty be?

It could be that Bialik’s use of certain words were a trigger, as in “I still make choices … I think of as self-protecting and wise”? 

Was Bialik protecting herself from the Weinsteins and other pigs of the world?

Or did Bialik simply, and forcibly, mean she was protecting her dignity.

She already stated what Hollywood thinks of her dignity: 

“I have always had an uncomfortable relationship being employed in an industry that profits on the objectification of women. Though pressure to ‘be like the pretty girls’ started long before I entered Hollywood, I quickly learned even as a preteen actress that young girls with doe eyes and pouty lips who spoke in a high register were favored for roles by the powerful men who made these decisions.”

But Bialik stuck to her beliefs and remained modest. For that, I hope she does not have to apologize.

Modesty emphasizes a person’s dignity. Conversely, immodesty emphasizes something else.

My daughter, Kelly, wrote briefly about the subject on a creative blog that offered advice to freshmen females in college. Kelly’s topic was modesty. I will give her the last word:

“When you choose what you will wear, or how you will carry yourself, are you doing so as a young woman who knows her own worth? Because I’ve never known a woman who squeezed herself into a skintight mini dress because she thought it highlighted her beauty in a manner befitting her dignity.

“Similarly, I have never seen a woman drape herself over a man at a party because she wanted him to respect her intellect or admire her sparkling wit.

“Now, of course, the men are honor-bound to make eye contact and treat women with respect and courtesy regardless of what they’re wearing, but this post isn’t about them. It’s about us women holding ourselves accountable to conduct ourselves in a manner that reflects our own worth.”


Kevin Thomas is a writer and former teacher living with his wife and children in Standish, Maine.