To be honest, I’m not sure where to start; but I’ll just state the first thing that came to mind when I read your letter. You don’t have to be “pretty” to be sexually assaulted or harassed.
To someone who is pretty intelligent, that should be really obvious. Before you write this off as someone who is going to take what you said “out of…context”, let me just tell you what I thought of your open letter for the New York Times.
I read your letter and I understood exactly what you said, and in a weird way I could relate. I too grew up as a pretty dorky kid who was more on the tomboyish side of life. I too always thought that I wasn’t “one of the pretty girls” for many reasons; one being that I’m not a light-skinned black woman and the other that I’m not white. All the things that pretty girls are privy to I figured I wouldn’t have access to. I get that. But here is where we cross paths, Mayim. I learned pretty early on in my life that you don’t have to be conventionally pretty to be sexually violated, you just have to be there with a predator.
Not sure if you knew this, but predators in general have a type of prey they go after, and all it takes is the right time and situation for them to go after what they want. Whether that is being in a position of power in which they feel their prey will do whatever they want (such as teachers, religious figures, or older family members), or those in power who can control your livelihood such as bosses or Hollywood directors and influencers.
I don’t know what kind of world Hollywood is, but if it’s anything like the regular world I live in, I can imagine that there are predators everywhere. For you see, Mayim, when you’ve been under the gaze of a predator once (or twice), you become very aware of your surroundings. You learn to pick up on things and certain vibes of people so you can avoid certain situations from repeating themselves. This isn’t a perfect science. After all, some are trickier than others, but this is how I live my life so I can only speak about my own toolkit.
As I’ve said before, predators have a specific kind of prey that they prefer. Bears like fish. Foxes like rodents. Large owls like small dogs. And Ted Bundy liked women; seniors in high school to college-aged. Harvey Weinstein is no different than a bear or Bundy. He had his type of prey and he preyed upon them hard and often. Just because you weren’t on his preferred prey list doesn’t mean that something this tragic couldn’t happen. Now, I’m not wishing you any ill will. Believe me, what I’ve experienced and the aftermath of it is not something I would wish on my most hated enemy. And trust me, they deserve a lot…but this isn’t something I would give them.
I’m just saying by being modest, not flirting with men, getting a higher education, not expressing yourself sexually or whatever, doesn’t guarantee you a pass from being harassed or sexually assaulted by a sick and twisted individual who craves power in whatever way they can get it. If the things I listed were some magical disqualifiers from being a victim, why the hell are there so many people who are women, men, disabled, trans, non-binary, asexual, queer, gay, bisexual, etc. who are all those things (or at least one) getting harassed and attacked?
If it were so simple to be a tomboy or modest and not get attacked, that would be fantastic! But that’s not the world we live in, girl. We live in a very diverse world with a lot of diverse people with very diverse tastes.
We have people who are flirty and sexually expressive. We have people who are socially awkward and silly. You know what we also have? We still have predators that prey on both of those kinds of people. We also have people like you. People who only see one side of the road because you’ve never traveled the other path. People like you who want to victim blame instead of telling predators to kick rocks or how we shouldn’t give predators passes because prey were naïve or attention seeking.
In your piece you said:
“In the meantime, I plan to continue to work hard to encourage young women to cultivate the parts of themselves that may not garner them money and fame. If you are beautiful and sexy, terrific. But having others celebrate your physical beauty is not the way to lead a meaningful life.”
What does it mean to “lead a meaningful life” for young women, exactly? I always assumed that was subjective, but apparently you have a better idea. To live a meaningful life to you must mean having thought-provoking conversation with fellow intellectuals, more women in STEM, young women tackling social constructs and issues that plague our world as we know it, and being unapologetically nerdy as we change the world! I assume this doesn’t factor in being sexually expressive, embracing your femininity, smiling, wearing a short dress, giggling/laughing, breathing, and other things that would bring on someone celebrating or appreciating your physical beauty.
You ended your op-ed with the line:
“…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.”
That’s classic if you ask me! So I’ll leave you with a banger of my own.
Predators find their victims because that’s what they do. Whether that’s leading them to believe they’re a meeting away from getting the job of their dreams or they need to come to the one lab class on a weekend to get the 20 points they need to graduate. You’re right on one thing though, there are people who will find me “stunning, irresistible and worthy of attention, respect and love.” One of my predators did when he called me his ‘little sister’ and said we should play house. DM me on Twitter and we can talk about the ones who found me when I was “modest” and “not a perfect 10.”