I’ve spent much of the week wondering what to write to close out this spree of blogs for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I thought about writing about how doxxing and internet threats can endanger women’s lives. I thought about writing about the fight/flight/freeze mechanism (which will definitely come up later, I promise). I thought about making a list of ways in which my assault consistently changes my life and worldview. All of these would make great posts, but as we round out the month, I think it’s important to talk about things going on in the greater public consciousness that we should all be aware of. Some of these things involve policies that directly affect survivors’ wellbeing, and others are high-profile events that have produced significant negative side effects. In putting them all in one place (though there are undoubtedly too many others to name in a reasonable amount of column space), I hope you can start to see how policy and society at large work to limit women in ways that can have permanent, potentially fatal consequences for women.
TW: sexual assault
My parents enrolled me in dance classes when I was three years old. My mom claims it was because I was clumsy (I believe her, as I’m still clumsy), but integrating myself into a world of high buns, leotards, pink tights, and hairspray taught me innumerable lessons that have affected my musical training from the beginning. Dancing was where music got to be fun, where I got out all the energy I’d never be able to project through a horn or a piano. But there were hidden benefits, too—chief among them, the safety net that helped me as a young victim of sexual assault.
Unlike the majority of women, my assault wasn’t committed by someone I knew, but claiming and using my body as my own, as something I could use to create amazing things, was and is a key part of my recovery. Dance has always been key to that. And the most affirming things I’ve ever heard from a teacher were spoken in dance class: “Is it okay if I fix your posture?” “Can I lift your leg to help you stretch?” “Will you come up here to show the class?” “I’m going to shape your foot, okay?”
Did you catch the commonality running through these questions? Each one asked my permission for an act that required my body. Further, not a single teacher touched us outside of those corrective moments, except for high fives or holding hands (you try herding twelve kindergarteners onto a dark stage and let me know how that works out). I knew as early as elementary school that people should ask before touching me, and I owe that to my dance teachers past and present.
Dance has its fair share of systemic problems. Not all teachers are like that. But in music, most teachers aren’t.
Congratulations on making it through your auditions! I hope you traveled to as many schools as you were able and met as many professors and students as you could. Audition season is an incredibly stressful time, and I’m sure you felt the pressure, but you did it! The worst of the application process is behind you.
In the coming weeks, you’ll start receiving your decision letters, if you haven’t already. You might have your heart set on one school, or you might be choosing from a field of many. You may have musician parents, or you could be trying to figure out for yourself which program is the right fit for you. If you’re in need of an extra perspective, consider the following:
Dear Ms. Bialik,
Most of the time, I am a fan of your work. The Big Bang Theory is one of my parents’ favorite shows (and given their degrees are in electrical engineering and computer science, it’s not a huge stretch to see why), and I follow your online presence with some regularity, particularly enjoying your insights on Jewish culture, heritage, and tradition. You are generally an eloquent, ardent supporter of women’s rights, and that’s great.
I began reading your opinion piece in The New York Times with high hopes,
and your anecdotes about being the gawky, awkward teenager in a sea of beautiful people were both poignant and relatable. Even before your piece was published, I knew you made (and frequently continue to make) what you refer to as “conservative choices as [an] actress.” That’s totally cool. I applaud your decision to represent yourself in a way that makes you comfortable and allows you to pursue the professional life you wish to have. But then you started talking about policies you set for yourself that “might feel oppressive to many young feminists,” and as a young feminist, I’m here to tell you that the words you followed that up with aren’t just oppressive; they’re enabling to predators of all ages.
This is not how I wanted to start my journey with you. You championed yourself as a bastion of diversity, a place where the disenfranchised can be heard, an environment in which people look out for each other.
Your staff didn’t look out for us tonight.