I’m lying in bed at 3am sick to my stomach over how many of our listeners might react to our conversation about Mayim Bialik’s Times editorial. I cannot bear the thought of hurting those already traumatized further with our conversations about sexual assault. And I have real questions and concerns I can’t shake about the effects of our misogynist culture that I don’t know how to ask without it being seen as victim-blaming.
What I’ve tried to convey (unsuccessfully) from the beginning is that I don’t believe human beings are evil and I do believe that portraying them as such is harmful. I regret now our “No nuance for Nazi” tagline that has now grown into “No nuance for the NRA” and even “No nuance for Mayim Bialik” - who for all her flaws seems a long way away from a Nazi. What we were trying to convey is that nuance doesn’t mean moral ambiguity - some acts and beliefs are wrong and immoral and even evil without equivocation.
However, I’m afraid that “No nuance for ….” has morphed into “There’s no room for conversation or questions.” I believe where a situation contains another human being there is always room for conversation - even if that person is a Nazi or Harvey Weinstein. We share 99.9% of our DNA with each other and that means we are more alike than we are different. No matter how heinous the act, I don’t believe anything is gained by putting the actor in a box labelled “Other” and telling ourselves we would never do that. Rather, I believe it’s important to acknowledge that given the right circumstance we could and ask ourselves, “Why?”
i keep thinking about what I believe to be the most brilliant pieces of media produced in the past decade - OJ: Made in America. I find OJ Simpson to be abhorrent - a murdering egomaniac without remorse or regret. In fact, were I to believe in evil I’d certainly apply it to him. However, it would be a short and unsatisfying documentary if Ezra Edelman had said, “No nuance for OJ. The end!” Instead, he spent 467 minutes asking questions about OJ and not always providing answers. And yet nobody thought Ezra Edelman was blaming Nicole Brown Simpson or Ron Goldman for their own deaths.
The idea of victim-blaming itself seems to have taken on a life of its own and morphed into a purity test of sorts. I do believe Mayim Bialik was asking interesting and important questions about the complicity of an industry built on the sexual objectification of women, even if she did not do so in the most graceful way. I also believe she was arguing she feels empowered by her choices regarding modesty and sexuality. There are many, many women who feel the same way and I do not believe they should be shamed for those beliefs. I also don’t think it’s not a bridge too far to cross to decide a self-described feminist with a PhD in neuroscience - no matter how inarticulately she explained herself - would never argue that women can protect themselves from sexual assault through the clothes they wear.
That is not to say she got it all right. She very clearly did not. In fact, she seems to be making the mistake I’ve made over and over again - which is attempting to deal with a fraught subject matter in too few words or in too short of a time. However, making a point inarticulately does not mean you deserve to have the worst motives possible ascribed to you. When you publish an essay in the Times, you open yourself up to criticism (obviously). But let’s make the criticism count. Let’s move the conversation forward - not shut it down by shaming her.