Our Sexual Harassment Conversation Needs to Include Men and Women

Posted on December 27, 2017 in Sexuality by

STOP Sexual HarassmentWho must take responsibility for sexual assault? Men or women?

In the wake of revelations that men from Hollywood to Congress have engaged in unlawful sexual behavior, a robust dialogue is taking place. I’m glad for that. Anything that gets people talking in a productive manner is a good thing.

This dialogue is only helpful when errors are confronted and truth is spoken loud and clear. In light of revelations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and behavior unbecoming of a society that values men and women, much truth is being spoken. For this we can all be thankful and hope that large scale change is the result.

I’m particularly thankful for an actress that shared some common sense wisdom about one of the ways she has protected herself in an industry that has seemingly thrived on exploiting women.

Mayim Bialik has been in the spotlight since she was very young. Being in Hollywood as a child can be dangerous. But Bialik, now 41 years old, says she has made it her practice to make decisions she considers “self-protecting and wise.” Bialik shared her thoughts in an op-ed for the New York Times in which Bialik discusses what it’s like to be a feminist in Harvey Weinstein’s world, she shared the following bit of wisdom:

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.”

Bialik makes some common sense statements about personal policy that has helped her protect herself. Of course, not everyone liked or agreed with her statements. Some accused Bialik of “victim-blaming” in her op-ed. Speaking of Bialik’s choices, a writer at Mashable said:

“She then connects these choices — as well as her refusal to adhere to Hollywood’s beauty standards — with the fact that she ‘has almost no personal experience with men asking [her] to meeting in their hotel rooms’ (an obvious allusion to Weinstein’s abuses). Whether intended or not, the insinuation is clear: Bialik has evaded harm because of her own choices. It’s a dangerous and irresponsible connection. Contrary to Bialik’s implications, it’s not just ‘doe-eyed’ women with personal trainers who experience harassment. It’s all of us.”

In on breath this writer validates Bialik’s experience and her choices, while in another breath she says that Bialik’s experience with making certain choices intended to protect her is “dangerous and irresponsible.” And yet, common sense would dictate that certain choices enhance a desired outcome. In this case, Bialik has a desire to protect herself from harassment and, in accord with that desire, has made choices to enhance the odds of achieving that outcome.

If we break down what Bialik said we arrive at the following statements:

I refrain from being sexual in public and keep sex and sexual behavior private.
I dress appropriately for the situation.
I don’t lead people on or use my sexuality to get what I want.

What I respect about these statements, and Bialik’s op-ed is that there is an admission that we all bear responsibility for our actions. It’s easy in times of social unrest to point fingers and cast blame (or to pile on with those pointing fingers and casting blame). But Bialik strikes a different tone by sharing common sense wisdom on how she protected herself in one of the world’s most sex-crazed industries.

And before anyone decides to send me hateful notes about being misogynist, let me state clearly that misogyny is an evil in our world that needs to end. So is misandry. Any cruel, disrespectful, or harassing behavior towards another person for any reason is wrong. Period.

My point here is that we cannot be responsible for the actions of others. But we can be responsible for our own actions. Every decision we make will have a consequence. This is equally true for men and women alike. The way we dress, the places we go, our behavior, and the company we keep will all have consequences. We can either learn from those consequences and make better decisions (becoming wiser), or, we can blame others and make the same mistakes.

Every action has consequences. Some actions have intended consequences and others have unintended consequences. Some of those unintended consequences are the result of actions of other people that we cannot control. But just as seek to limit the number of unintended consequences as a result of other people’s actions in our every day lives by locking our doors and keeping our passwords safe, we should take precautions to protect ourselves in other ways.

I hope this robust dialogue will continue. And I hope people, men and women, will openly discuss their responsibility to one another. By accepting responsibility for our own actions and the responsibility we owe to one another, we can protect the people we love.

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