The headlines read. It is not okay any longer to suggest that the way a woman dresses (or looks) has anything to do with being sexually harassed. “Sexual harassment is about power.” Okay. Yes, let me state up front that anyone who harasses another is exerting their power in some way over another whether sexually harassing or hazing or general bullying. Definitely about power. And Balik, who is a neuroscientist, understands the reward centers of the brain better than most of her audience, too, and definitely understands the chemical satisfaction of power raging through the amygdala.
Yeah, But. . .
She also understands sexuality better, as well. Weinstein was getting off at his power, but he was also sexually aroused.
The problem with shaming Balik is that she is making a point about Hollywood that people want to pretend isn’t true, especially the actresses who get the jobs. Look at the list of the actresses harassed. Any Roseanne Barrs? Any Phyllis Dillers? Women who look as if they represent a good portion of American, “regular” women?
All of them are “exquisite” on the beauty scale. Barring our personal preferences for a snaggle tooth or a heavy brow, all of these women meet what neuroscientists have PROVEN we prefer and rate in terms of beautiful. They are “symmetrical”; they have the open-bright eyes, smooth skin, sharper cheek bones and full lips that denote youth. (Even the handful of actresses still working without those qualities, had them when they started out in the industry: Judy Dench and Shirley MaClaine whose acting chops carried them beyond youth, with rare, oh so rare, luck.)
And their beauty is exactly why they get these get jobs. Jobs that require them to more often than not use their sexuality across the screen. Their derrieres and cleavage are on display and often centered in frames without their faces. Or their faces are close in and personal where their perfect skin is apparent (Can you think of one famous actress making a living with pocked skin like Ray Liotta, Edward James Almos, Mickey Rourke?). Women’s roles are often filmed with their lips parted and their eyelashes fanning over their come hither eyes, their fingers trailing along the opening of their blouses.
And here is my point, these beauties work in an industry where their sexuality IS the reason they are working. Yes, they work hard and are good actresses and often even superior actresses. But they cannot deny that their appearance, their sexuality, is why they are there in the first place. On screen they have to dress and behave as people simply do not (or are not supposed to) in real life. Look at the business women in television or movies. Their skirts are so much shorter or tighter than is professional in a work setting. (That this is causing young people to blur the line and struggle with professional appearance NOW in real life is a post for another day. . .) The characters’ makeup is so much heavier than people wear . Their cleavage is much more obvious; even policewomen characters look sexy with buttons opened at breastbone level.
Think of the movie American Hustle. In real life, women were only wearing Amy Adams’ revealing outfits as hookers, dancers or models on magazines covers. But the actress was required to walk around as if this were normal dress in the 70s. Even the recent movie, Deepwater Horizon opens with a sex scene focusing on the “wife’s” body (and in a bit of fair turnaround, Mark Whalberg’s). Plus, whenever a “real life event” is turned into a movie, can you think of an example where the actress wasn’t far more “attractive” on those neuro-science scales than the real person they were playing? Erin Brochovich, Leigh Ann Tuohy, Norma Rae, Karen Blixen, even Tina Turner?
And this is the point Balik may have been trying to make. In an industry where the actresses’ sexual attraction gets her the job, we cannot be surprised that they are then sexually harassed by the man deciding who gets the job. And though the harrassment should still be shunned and punished, we cannot pretend that their bodies and their skin had nothing to do with it.
And this is the direction the argument SHOULD be going: The industry has gotten so sexualized, overall, that these women are already “meat” before they walk into an audition or a negotiation. And THAT has to change. Not just in the boardrooms or offices, but on the screens.
I know that those shocked by Mayim Balik’s article are rightly saying that they should be allowed to be as sexy as they want without any boundaries being broken. Yet then in Hollywood at least, isn’t that a ridiculous, twisted game? “I must turn you with my appearance to get my job, and then allow you to turn on audiences with my package, too . . .but you must respect me as a person.” That’s off.
Why aren’t they building an argument, instead, against being meat from the moment they enter Hollywood instead of trying to suggest their appearance is irrelevant.