This week, as the sexual harassment and assault accusations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein have come rolling in, many of us are sitting with mouths agape, wondering how something so sinister and horrifying could have continued for decades, but kept virtually hidden from public view.
And yet, any woman who has experienced a sexual violation (which is, sadly, more common than most realize) knows that it isn’t easy for a woman to feel like she can safety disclose what happened – or even be believed. In essence, accusations like these don’t surprise many women anymore at this point, because we know just how common it is and how many roadblocks women face in terms of sharing their stories of abuse.
In a viral video posted on her Facebook page Wednesday, actress Mayim Bialik touches upon this harsh reality, revealing how she felt upon hearing the news about Weinstein. Bialik confesses that while she was obviously upset and outraged, she was not exactly shocked.
But all that changed when her friend, writer and editor Avital Morman Nathman, asked her a challenging personal question.
This is how it went down, according to Bialik: In reference to Weinstein’s behavior, Nathman asked her, “Will your boys be like this?” Bialik’s first reaction was basically, “Hell no!” A feminist herself, she wouldn’t imagine that her two sons (Fredrick and Miles, ages 9 and 12) would ever do anything remotely resembling what Weinstein is accused of.
But then Bialik took a step back, and wondered if maybe she was simply in denial. How was she to know she was doing literally everything in her power to raise men who would treat women with the utmost respect, in all aspects of life?
Bialik says, of Nathman’s question: “She was asking if — God help me — if I’m raising boys that will become men that girls and women will fear.”
Bialik tells her viewers that although she feels like she is doing all she can, her friend’s provocative question made her wonder if she was, in fact, doing every single thing in her power to raise boys who would never, ever in a million years violate a woman in any way. And in the video, Bialik challenges her viewers to ask the same questions. She asks all of us who are raising boys to ponder this — and then get to work, because our next generation of women (and men) depends on it.
As a feminist mom of two young boys, I will admit that I, too, was taken aback by the questions that Bialik asks us all to confront. My first thought was, “Of course I’m raising boys who will respect women!” My sons have received the message from the minute the exited the womb (and probably while they were inside it!) that men and women deserve equal respect.
Ever since they were little, I have made a point to have open conversations with them about sex. They know that sex is only something that happens between two consenting adults. We have talked to no end about what consent means, too — and that even things like snapping a girl’s bra at school or gossiping about a girl in a sexualized way is a kind of violation.
They know that the expression “boys will be boys” is a bunch of misguided nonsense. They know that there is never an excuse for aggressive behavior, and that the sexual organs you were born with do not give you leverage to be controlling over anyone else in any way, shape, or form.
And yet, is it all talk? As they get older, how will peer pressure and the often misogynistic, sexualized depictions of women in the media affect them? What else can I do to ensure that my boys will treat women with the utmost respect, even as their hormones are raging all over the place?
These are tough, difficult questions. But Bialik believes that we all have the power to make an impact, and I agree wholeheartedly. It starts with how we parent our children – especially our boys. Bialik believes that we can and must teach our boys concepts like equal rights, consent, body autonomy, and responsible sexual behaviors, at even the earliest ages. It’s not a question of if or when: We all have a responsibility to do so. The health and well being of our world — of our children — depend on it.
“We have inherited a broken world,” Bialik says at the end of her video, “And it is our job to fix it … God help us if we cannot turn this thing around, one boy at a time.”
Amen to that. And for those of us who are unsure if we are doing enough — perhaps just asking ourselves these tough questions is a start. And then, maybe just trying — doing our damndest — is the best that we can do.
So let’s take a pledge to always be open with our boys, to teach them to be kind, and to model respect within our families and in all aspects of our lives. We all have the power to do our part.