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Mayim Bialik’s Car Accident and Having Women’s Backs

Updated at the Bottom

Mayim Bialik was in a car accident.  I learned this when she wrote on Kveller, “In case you live under a rock, I was in a significant car accident last week.”  I personally do not live under a rock, though I was unaware of her accident until Keiko sent me a link to the post.  My lack of knowledge is not due to any dearth of concern for Mayim Bialik whom I’ve heard from people who have met her is a pretty rockin’ woman.  Beyond the fact that I like her as an actress, we hold her up to our American kids as a famous-person-who-also-cannot-find-their-Israeli-names-on-keychains-at-gift-shops example.  As in, “do you think Mayim Bialik cries that there are no glitter keychains spelling out ‘Mayim?’  I bet she’s thrilled to have such a kickass name in a world full of commonplace names.”)

I didn’t know about it mostly due to the fact that we live in a fast-paced world where information is shooting at us at breakneck speed, and I can barely keep up with the sites I frequent daily much less the news happening in other corners of the Web.  And I’ll admit it: there’s a hierarchy of people whose life events I’m following.  The twins, Josh, family, and friends come long before politicians, musicians, and actresses (and tucked in the middle of the list are other bloggers, old friends via Facebook, and neighbours).

So we’ve established that I care about Mayim Bialik but because she’s not a friend, I miss out on things happening in her life until they hit People magazine (and if it’s in there, I apologize.  I’m always a few weeks behind).  I’m not saying this to mock her; I’m writing about that opening because it factors into what comes below.

Later in the post, she writes an observation about women:

At the scene of the accident, I’m certain there were women standing around. For whatever reason, not judging, no woman came up to me to comfort me or console me at the accident site. As a modest woman and a feminist woman, I craved a woman to hold. Just as in labor, I believe women can give women special support and I missed out on that.

Those lines resonated with me because I can think of dozens of times in life when I wanted to be helped by a woman, when I expected comfort to come from a woman, and it either didn’t come at all or came from a random man.  Which is not to say that men cannot be just as comforting or just as helpful, and perhaps this is cultural, but there are times when I want women and only women.

There are two sides to the same thought, both revealed in Mayim’s choice of words:

  • We expect people to know things about us.  We expect them to be able to read what we need without spelling it out for them.  And we get frustrated with people when they don’t know things we expect them to know about us.  And this applies to both strangers AND loved ones.
  • We instinctively know what we’d want if the situation were reversed (eg. comfort), and yet as women, we don’t offer it.  We know we want others to have our back, yet we don’t reach out and have the backs of other women.  We don’t want to be ridiculed, yet we belittle other women.  We don’t want our bodies picked apart, yet we pick apart other women.  I just read two posts on the same site: one talked about how detrimental it was to a woman’s self-esteem that our features are constantly being ridiculed by the media (we’re too fat, too thin, too tall, too short) and the other expressed glee over LeAnn Rimes checking into a treatment center and insinuated that she had an eating disorder because she could “hide behind a drinking straw.”

Women have the potential of being each other’s biggest comfort, but we equally have a history of not coming to each other’s aid.  Is that because we aren’t mind-readers even if other women expect us to be?  If that’s the case, is the problem with women not speaking up and saying what they need?  It’s one thing if Mayim had locked eyes with a woman and implored her to come over and had been rejected.  But are those women who were at the scene of the accident failing if they didn’t know she wanted them to step forward?  Does the problem stem from women not being clear about our needs?  Because we’re accustomed to putting our needs last?

Or is the problem that women don’t step forward enough?  That we second-guess our helpfulness?  That we think that it’s not our place to jump into someone else’s life and lend comfort to a stranger? How many times have you not left a comment on someone’s post thinking, “their long-time readers or good friends will be there for them.  It would just be weird if I wrote a comment now if she doesn’t even know me.”  If we want women to succeed, to feel as if there is a benefit to being in a community of women, we need to do more to hold each other up.  And the reality is that sometimes that will mean getting messy: jumping into someone else’s emotional world and offering our support and keeping perspective if our efforts are rejected (since we’re all individuals and have unique wants about comfort) and still trying again with the next woman.

Apologies to Mayim Bialik for using your car accident as an example.  But I think you raise some really interesting questions about the role women could play in the lives of other women.

Do you jump in and offer comfort when you see a woman you believe to be in need of comfort, why or why not?  Would it have occurred to you to go forward and comfort someone who hasn’t asked yet, or do you wait until a need is stated or at least clearly implied?


I put this in the comment section below but thought to move this question up into the body of the post.

Mudhut Mama’s comment triggered this thought: do you think we don’t offer help sometimes because we think it makes a statement about the other woman being weak? That we’re in the position of power: we have the means to help, to comfort, to fulfill needs. And what we’re saying when we offer that help to the other person is “you need help.” Not everyone feels comfortable pointing out that fact, even though it may be clear as day to everyone in the situation that help is needed.

I think that would tie in with how women often mask their talents, their capabilities. A “math is hard”-type thing where, for some, math really is hard, and for others, we say math is hard because we don’t want to be seen as boasting or too smart or state that we’re capable and be called to task or make anyone else around us feel badly because we have this ability and they do not.

Just a thought I’m unpacking.


1 Sharon { 08.30.12 at 1:13 pm }

Hmm, interesting post. I have to say, not only would I not go over a comfort a woman I didn’t know under the circumstances Mayim Bialik described, it wouldn’t even occur to me to do so. For a friend, family member, even a coworker or an acquaintance, I would consider it. . . but for a stranger? No, the thought would not even cross my mind.

By the same token, I wouldn’t want a stranger, female or male, coming to console or comfort me after a car accident. To the extent that I would want that kind of interaction, I don’t think I’d want it from someone I didn’t know.

2 Stupid Stork { 08.30.12 at 1:22 pm }

This is a smidge hard for me to relate to as I am one of those freaks who, under those circumstances, would completely go up and insert myself in the situation whether I was asked to or not. (Although admittedly I may pause and think “holy shit that’s Blossom” before approaching).

I also have a tendency to leave “go get em”” tiger comments whether I’m brand spanking new to the blog or not. I’m all about comforting.

Moooost of the time this is met with appreciation, but the downside is occasionally you’ll get someone who has the “what. are you. doing” response, or just silence. Which is an okay risk – I can handle the occasional silence.

But shyness aside I don’t understand why people don’t try this more often – I’ve been in a couple of crap situations where stander-bys just sort of stared blankly and didn’t want to get involve, and a few where people have approached me – and it was instant relief, if for no other reason than someone coming up to you and in some stupid way saying ‘hey I’m in this with you’.

3 Lisa { 08.30.12 at 1:57 pm }

I’d like to think I would insert myself in such a situation, and offer to help. I was in an accident where only one person (a guy) offered me assistance and it did stick with me as a yucky feeling. I think I can confidently say that if it were a celebrity, I wouldn’t. I don’t know why I wouldn’t, but I just know I wouldn’t. Hero worship, fear of not being cool enough, mistaken view that they should have it under control, I don’t know.

4 Katie { 08.30.12 at 2:27 pm }

Great questions. I’m honestly not sure. I mean, I make an effort to comfort friends. But I don’t know if I would feel comfortable comforting a stranger (nor do I think I’d feel comfortable having a stranger comfort me).

5 Tiara { 08.30.12 at 2:32 pm }

Very interesting scenario & topic…I am more likely to comfort another woman I know than a stranger but I have offered comfort to women I didn’t know who were clearly upset or seemed to need comfort. Just a simple, “Is everything ok? Is there anything I can do?” is enough to open the door if she needs comfort but not too intrusive that she can decline. That’s my comfort level anyway.

6 Kimberly { 08.30.12 at 2:35 pm }

I think one of the factors that may play its part in this is that of culture and small town vs. big city. For instance, if this happened in Cape Breton, someone probably would’ve been sitting there holding her hand, without disturbing her or the scene of the accident. I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at stopping my car, getting out and offering her a bottle of water out of my own grocery bag and a blanket to keep her warm or covered if I had it to give. But honestly, that’s just how its done around here. My cousin was killed in a car crash very early morning a couple of weeks ago. By the time I got to work that morning I knew about the accident, my brother who lives on the other side of the country, heard that it was our cousin and called to confirm. That afternoon we were at the mother’s house with food and hugs and condolences. This isn’t a rare occasion. It’s the norm here.

Yet if you travel to mainland Nova Scotia, people wouldn’t do this and all that separates us is a 4 hour drive and a bridge. They may stop and check on the victim in the accident, may hear about an accident, but they would only do what they felt that they legally should do as a good citizen. Make sure that 911 was called. Ask if they need anything and if they don’t need anything, just awkwardly stand there til police and medics show up.

I’ve always seen it more as the bigger the area you live in, the less social interactions you have with people outside your inner circle of important people in your life. Higher numbers of people in an area always seems to isolate you more and you lose some of those interaction skills you would have in a small area where you know everyone or know them through other people. So those skills are rusty and when you are put in situations like Mayim was in, you know what you would want but you don’t necessarily trust yourself to know how to do it anymore. You would rather not do anything versus doing the wrong thing. Mind you, some can embrace comfort because its so much a part of their nature to begin with, but if you don’t have that practice on a regular basis, many will in fact, stick with the basics. I live in a small town so its common to talk to strangers without being seen as weird or out of the norm. You hold doors open for people, you can sit there and say “you look familiar, do you know so and so” and have a 20 minute conversation with them over this one thing outside of Walmart. So when I visit big cities, or even just areas bigger than my own, I feel isolated regardless of the numbers surrounding me. It’s just my own observation, but an observation nonetheless.

7 Jill A. { 08.30.12 at 2:38 pm }

I go with the incremental form of helping. First moving close to the person as a form of moral support and making eye contact. Then see what response I get from body language and words and take it from there. Like when a child has a melt down in public. I’ll move in and tell the parent, “You concentrate on the child. I’ll do the social stuff and absorb all the nasty looks.” When someone is in pain, physical or emotional, my first instinct is to touch, smooth their hair, stroke their cheek or hands. But most people, myself included, don’t want a stranger immediately touching them, so I try to go slow.

8 rachel { 08.30.12 at 2:57 pm }

“As in, “do you think Mayim Bialik cries that there are no glitter keychains spelling out ‘Mayim?’ I bet she’s thrilled to have such a kickass name in a world full of commonplace names.”)”

That is hilarious…my kids (gd willing) will behold the same issues. The list is so not American! 🙂

9 Meghan { 08.30.12 at 3:18 pm }

I like to think I would reach out and ask if the person needed something. I say this only because when I was in a pretty serious car accident about 8 years ago one woman out of about 2 dozen bystanders very politely approached me and just asked if I needed help or anything else. I instantly burst into tears at the offer and said I could really use a hug. She gave me one and that was that. She disappeared back into the crowd after a few minutes but it made all the difference in he world. I still feel badly sometimes that I never thanked her.

10 KER { 08.30.12 at 3:24 pm }

personally, I wouldn’t want a stranger to start physically comforting me in a situation like that. Just my personal preference, and as a result, I wouldn’t physically comfort a stranger automatically. I would definitely approach them, and at least start talking to them, and if they seemed to need it, I would offer it. For sure. But I’m also a nurse, so I’m not uncomfortable with that.

And also? My older daughter has seizures. When she was first on medication, we had a terrible time finding the right dose, and she kept having horrible grand mal seizures. Once while driving up a major, busy street, she screamed out and started seizing. I spun onto a side street, pulled her out of hte car, and for about five seconds, stood frozen on the side street, holding my seizing child (I’m even a NEURO nurse. Nothing on this earth can prepare you for seeing your own child seizing). when I got my wits together, I brought her over to the grass, and opened the passenger side door, because my younger daughter was also in the car. We were okay- we didn’t need anyone to call 911, the baby was fine, and my older daughter was okay. But as I sat there, cars whizzing by on the nearby major street, and amongst the houses of the residential neighborhood I had pulled off onto, I felt very, very, very lonely. I didn’t need anyone to do anything for me. I just needed another adult around. Someone HAD to have seen me sitting there with my child lying on the grass, someone driving by on the major street had to see me when I standing desperately in the middle of the street. Nobody ever approached us. And even though my profession makes me more comfortable helping in a situation like that, having been through that means that I will never, EVER just keep on driving, or sit in my house and wonder what’s up with the lady sitting on the grass down the street.

11 a { 08.30.12 at 3:26 pm }

Hmmm – I am not one for getting involved in stuff because I am pretty much frozen by indecision. Should I get involved or is the situation resolved? So I pretty much opt to be a witness, in case it’s necessary.

I wouldn’t stop for a car accident unless I saw it happen in front of me. (Not likely if I saw it in my rearview mirror) Mostly that is because it would be unsafe for me or a traffic hazard.

I do believe there is more competition between women than there is support. I don’t know why that is. I outgrew some of it in my 20s, and I outgrew more of it in my 30s. But I see the return of it in women that I know who are in their 50s (which I think is somewhat related to menopause). So maybe the 40s is a good time to be a woman?

12 k { 08.30.12 at 3:27 pm }

I am the type that generally goes into “chaos management” mode. So if it were clear she were in distress, I think I probably would have approached her and gently asked if she needed anything – water, a hand to hold, or someone to just direct the chaos away from her. Stranger, celebrity or otherwise (and for the record, I’ve seen her a few times on Big Bang and I’m not even certain I’d have recognized her as Blossom so the celebrity worship I generally have might not have kicked in).

That said, as a lesbian I think I have a perspective on the “mind reading” thing in that when a woman is in a relationship with another woman, the assumption that your partner can just “know” what you need simply by virtue of her womanhood is a very difficult thing to battle. My wife is the polar opposite of me in many ways, and just because we are both women doesn’t mean that we get each other any more than a man would get me. Think about how often our BFF’s hurt our feelings because they misread us on something, but the husbands among us are assumed to be dolts who don’t get what a woman wants/needs/feels. We set ourselves up to have disappointing relationships with other women because we de-individualize them (is that even a term?). We assume by their very membership in the vagina club that they get it. And those assumptions don’t do us collectively any favors. The reality is the onus is ours to ask for what we need, and not be disappointed by those who don’t give us what we need when we didn’t express it. I think more goes back to the societal pressure for women NOT to ask for what they need/want that goes into this issue. Having each other’s backs means also not setting each other up for failure, and when we assume that another woman just knows what we need and then hold them accountable when we don’t get it – that responsibility is just as much on the person with the need.

Was that clear as mud?

13 GeekChic { 08.30.12 at 4:09 pm }

I’ve stopped and assisted at a variety of accidents / incidents in both rural and urban settings. I don’t do hugs (not my thing) but I will talk to you, hold your hand or touch you for first aid (I have St. John’s ambulance training).

However, I have noticed that I’m often one of the few (or the only) women doing this in both rural and urban settings. I’m not sure why that is exactly. Perhaps my training, perhaps because I was in the military, perhaps because I was raised solely by my Dad, perhaps because I’ve never been particularly “feminine”.

Interesting questions…

14 Mud Hut Mama { 08.30.12 at 4:32 pm }

Really interesting post. It’s something I’ve been thinking about lately but not in relation to this accident – apparently I do live under a rock because this is the first I’ve heard of it. I do think that women tend to have a hard time asking for, and accepting, help and I think it’s sometimes difficult to offer help when you don’t feel invited to do so for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing or for fear of being rejected. Of course this is a generalization and some women are very comfortable asking for help but I’m not – asking for and accepting help push me way out of my comfort zone. I do offer my support when I think someone needs it but in some cases I make the offer braced for rejection.

15 Audrey { 08.30.12 at 4:39 pm }

Once when I was in college my car ran out of gas (fault gas gauge, I am not a total idiot) and I had to walk a mile to a dusty Virginia bar in the middle afternoon. I had to ask one of the strangers inside if they could give me a ride to a gas station. Only one person in that bar was a woman, and I vibrated with my telepathic need for her to offer me said ride. Instead she turned her back to me and some old dude offered the ride. I was terrified but I needed help, so I took it. This was before I owned a cell phone, WHY I got a cell phone. He turned out to be nice and everything was fine. But I have kind of always been bitter about that woman not seeing that I was a young person alone in need of help, and leaving me to a strange dude.

16 Jenny { 08.30.12 at 5:31 pm }

I agree with what K had to say. Just because we’re women doesn’t mean we can read each other’s minds.

As for the question of offering or not offering comfort…again, it’s an individual thing. I have offered to assist strangers who needed help in some situations, but not in others, and it boils down to how safe or comfortable I feel in that situation. I’m not an overly confident person, and I do fear rejection or anger if I insinuate myself into a situation. And sometimes there’s a question of personal safety. My husband is the type of person who will stop for anyone (or anything) he sees that needs help, and I love that about him. But he has a very different personality and background than me. He’s extremely confident and fearless. He was also in the military for several years, so helping others was drilled into him. Living with someone like that has made me more aware of when other people might need/want help and has made me more likely to reach out to them.

17 Detour { 08.30.12 at 5:54 pm }

Super interesting. This is something I struggle with. I want to be someone who comforts a stranger, but I’m afraid to invade their space/privacy and I’m a little shy to start off.

My friend told me about strangers taking the comforting role too far when she was in a bad car accident with her kids. Everyone was physically ok, but the kids were crying as they stood by the side of the road afterward. Strangers wanted to help by holding the kids, which was nice, but the kids just wanted their mom. So they felt separated from their mom and everyone was more upset.

I always want to know what to do when I see a stranger crying. I try to make eye contact with them but don’t want to take it too far.

18 Lollipop Goldstein { 08.30.12 at 6:07 pm }

Mudhut Mama’s comment triggered this thought: do you think we don’t offer help sometimes because we think it makes a statement about the other woman being weak. That we’re in the position of power: we have the means to help, to comfort, to fulfill needs. And what we’re saying when we offer that help to the other person is “you need help.” Not everyone feels comfortable pointing out that fact, even though it may be clear as day to everyone in the situation that help is needed.

I think that would tie in with how women often mask their talents, their capabilities. A “math is hard”-type thing where for some, math really is hard, and for others, we say math is hard because we don’t want to be seen as boasting or too smart or state that we’re capable and be called to task or make anyone else around us feel badly because we have this ability and they do not.

Just a thought I’m unpacking.

19 Sunny { 08.30.12 at 7:19 pm }

Ironically, I *do* live under a rock, and I heard about Mayim’s accident. 😉

20 Io { 08.30.12 at 9:09 pm }

Oh gosh, I don’t know how to answer this because I am totally that person who tries to offer help only to be looked at oddly because they most certainly do not need my help. I think having been offered no help in certain instances (crashed bike on side of road bleeding and nobody freaking stopped, car crash where I had to flag down cops and beg them to do the incident report) I worry about other people being passed by because that is the worst feeling in the world, to be passed by when you are in need.

21 Justine { 08.30.12 at 9:33 pm }

Interesting conversation in the comments.

I actually wonder if the opposite of what MudHutMama suggested might be true: that is, if a woman might hesitate to offer help because she is worried that she might not be able to help *enough*? I suspect that if it’s a woman’s job (e.g. paramedic, etc.) in an accident, then it’s sort of a given. But if it’s a bystander? If we think about this in terms of comments, maybe the barrier is that we worry we don’t have the right things to say, or good enough things to say, especially to comfort or support someone we don’t know? And we think this way because, having been in crisis ourselves, we know how many people with good intentions can say or do the “wrong” thing?

I don’t know … just spinning this out …

22 Laura { 08.31.12 at 7:21 am }

I stop at almost every accident I come across and offer help. I actually find its easier to offer comfort to a stranger than someone I know. Maybe that’s because with a stranger you can offer the support and comfort and then move on where with a friend you might wind up in the trenches with them for awhile.

This post is sort of timely for me and if I have the time I may jump off it with my own. I recently posted about support and what we’re are expectations of our friends and family especially regarding pregnancy and parenting. I am a Choice Mom and I’m finding that I am craving the support of women to help me with my daughter more than I am a husband or male partner.

23 Lori Lavender Luz { 09.01.12 at 12:27 pm }

There are so many factors that go in to any decision I make, especially inserting myself into a situation with a stranger (or a celebrity). Mostly, I would feel it, in the moment. I can’t explain what would make me rush forward to comfort or hold back from comforting or to tentatively move one way or another. I would just act in the moment.

But. My guiding principle would be how would I want to be treated if the situation were reversed. As well as, “would helping be safe for me?”


24 Kathy { 09.09.12 at 12:55 am }

Very interesting post about Mayim’s post and discussion to follow here… I have yet to read her actual post, but appreciate that in inspired you to write this.

That said, one of the excerpts you shard from Mayim’s post resonated with me:

“We expect people to know things about us. We expect them to be able to read what we need without spelling it out for them. And we get frustrated with people when they don’t know things we expect them to know about us. And this applies to both strangers AND loved ones.”

I am queen of expectations (often unrealistic) and wishful thinking. Much of my frustration and disappointment and life stems from my inability to manage my expectations (or unwillingness to try) and the fallout that occurs when people, places and events don’t measure up.

I try have neutral expectations and sometimes succeed. The older I get most of the time, the better I am able to do this. Overall, I did very well with this at BlogHer this year.

When it comes to accidents, as Mayim experienced, and other difficult times in our lives, I find it fascinating how certain people in our lives (both loved ones and strangers) rise to the occasion, reach out and are there for us and others, whom we might expect to support us, well, they just don’t. I too wonder why, what it is that propels some to try to help and makes others too uncomfortable to act.

I am proud to say that most of the time I reach out, get involved and try to help.

As an aside, I found your intro/discussion about Mayim assuming that we must live under a rock if we hadn’t heard about her accident amusing. I can’t imagine getting to a place/level of celebrity (not like I have any level of it now) where I would presume that anyone reading my blog would know if I was in an accident. I guess she was figuring those who read her blog, would have know what happened and didn’t account for those of us who don’t regularly follow her writing.

Anyway, great post and equally great discussion here to follow. Thank you for unpacking this, including the follow-up/update re: Mud Hut Mama’s take on it.

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