I was going to write a dispute of Mayim Bialik’s problematic sexual harassment op-ed, but tens of thousands of women and men beat me to it with two simple, terrible words: Me too.
The one-two gut punch populated social media feeds for most of Sunday, inspired by a viral post (credited originally to a tweet from actress Alyssa Milano) that reads: “If all the women and men who have been sexually harassed, assaulted or abused wrote ‘me too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. #metoo.”
Close to 40,000 people – mostly, but not exclusively, women – had replied to Milano’s tweet by Monday morning.
On Instagram, Twitter and Facebook the words “me too” dominated timelines – sometimes by themselves, sometimes accompanied by an example (or examples) – serving as a harrowing reminder that sexual harassment and assault are deeply ingrained, alarmingly common experiences that poison our culture in ways we’re only beginning to recognize.
And as one person tweeted, “#MeToo is just tip of the iceberg. There are millions without any computer, internet access who have worse experiences of daily abuse.”
Actress and neuroscientist Bialik probably didn’t mean to imply otherwise with the piece she wrote for The New York Times, “Being a feminist in Harvey Weinstein’s world.”
Unfortunately, she framed the horrific, ever-increasing allegations against Weinstein as something that only happens to conventionally pretty girls.
“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,” she wrote.
She wrote about dressing modestly and refusing to flirt with men “as a policy.”
“If you are beautiful and sexy, terrific,” she wrote. “But having others celebrate your physical beauty is not the way to lead a meaningful life.
“And if – like me – you’re not a perfect 10, know that there are people out there who will find you stunning, irresistible and worthy of attention, respect and love. The best part is you don’t have to go to a hotel room or a casting couch to find them.”
But Weinstein’s alleged victims weren’t going to him for attention, respect and love. They were going to him for jobs in their chosen field – Bialik’s chosen field.
Weinstein stands accused of multiple rapes and a growing list of skeezy, sexually charged power grabs. There’s zero evidence his victims flirted with him. It could not matter less what they were wearing. It never does.
The #MeToo campaign is all the proof we need. People are sharing stories of being attacked as children, harassed in uniform, assaulted by coaches. A friend wrote about being raped by the owner of a restaurant where she waitressed during her second year of seminary.
We can know people for decades and not really know their stories. We can know their stories and not really know their struggles. The #MeToo campaign has proved that, as well.
Bialik – and all of us – would do well to remember that.
Sexual harassment and assault are epidemics. We should try to get “a sense of the magnitude,” as the viral post urged. We should also get to work on solving them. That won’t happen as long as we’re framing them as the result of flirting and, whoops, the wrong clothes.
Weinstein’s accusers, and now their #MeToo allies, have launched an important, long-overdue discussion. Let’s honor that courage by refusing to engage in victim-blaming, which has no place in an intelligent, good-faith discussion.
Also, to no one’s surprise at this point: me too.
Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.