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Ben Brantley Is Asking for It

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Ben Brantley is asking for it.

In his review of Of Mice and Men in Wednesday, April 16th's edition of the New York Times, Ben Brantley says Curley's wife, portrayed by Leighton Meister, "provides no evidence" of being either "slatternly" or "provocative" which, "[G]iven the grim events that eventually befall her character... may have been a conscious choice. We don't want to be left thinking, 'Well, she was asking for it.'"

Mr. Brantley, I am a woman of average looks. I'm no model. I'll never be cast in a Carl's Jr. ad. I am quite short, and, I think it's safe to say, I'm something of a tomboy. Some might even characterize my appearance, on occasion, as slatternly. However, since the age of 13 I have been faced with the unendingly exhausting task of thwarting unwanted attention and advances from strangers and friends, alike. I am in no way alone in this experience. Nearly every woman I know has a story of being harassed, followed, threatened, frightened or raped. In 100 percent of these cases these women, however they may have been dressed, whatever state of sobriety or inebriation they were in, whether they were "slatternly" or well-groomed, were not "asking for it."

When I was 14 a strange man touched my thigh on a crowded subway and then spit at me when I slapped his hand away. That same year a man poured his beer on my head on a subway when I wouldn't let him touch my face (an incident, I might point out, in which no one on the train came to my aid). That same year on a subway a man exposed himself and masturbated while staring at me. That same year I was forced to perform a sexual act on a stranger out of fear that if I didn't, something much worse would happen to me. Then there was the time a man followed me down a subway platform, holding the hand of his very young son and then called me an "ugly bitch" when I asked him to stop following me. And the time I woke up in a strange man's bed after having been drugged (he acted as though nothing were out of the ordinary). These are just a handful of examples.

In each of these circumstances I was wearing long pants and t-shirts, but this is an insignificant fact. Mr. Brantley, if I had been wearing a short skirt, or had my cleavage exposed, if I looked "slatternly," would I have been asking for these experiences?

Perhaps you don't know what it's like to have to think about your safety every time you get dressed in the morning. "Is this suit going to attract unwanted attention?"... "Will this tie make someone follow me?"... "Do these shoes give off the wrong message?" These kinds of considerations are what I (and most women I know) have to factor in every day. Do you have to worry about your sexual safety every time you leave your house? I do.

When we talk about a "culture of rape" in this country, we are referring to a culture in which, "She was asking for it" is a common, acceptable defense for criminal behavior. The only time a woman is "asking for it" is when she is literally asking for it. As in, "Let's have sex," or "Will you have sex with me," or "I'd like to have sex with you," or some variation thereof, either explicitly or implicitly with another consenting adult with whom sexual contact has been mutually agreed to by both parties. "Rape culture" is a culture in which an educated, prolific theater critic would assume that anyone would ever think "she was asking for it."

Furthermore, Mr. Brantley, I'm confused. What, exactly, is Curley's wife asking for? (Spoiler alert.) Is she asking to have her neck broken? If Ms. Meester's portrayal were more slatternly and provocative, would we really be left thinking she was asking to be murdered? What she does ask for is for Lennie to stroke her hair. That's it. This is not an invitation for intercourse. And frankly, even if she says, "Let's have intercourse," once she becomes frightened of Lennie's strength, she has the right to ask him to stop without anyone telling her she was "asking for it." Perhaps Ms. Shapiro made the choice she made with Curley's wife specifically to avoid this kind of ignorant and dangerous line of thinking. If so, it's a sad day for art.

As a member of the media and someone who has a public forum, I hope, in the future, you will consider what such a statement says about what is and isn't acceptable in our culture. I won't go so far as to suggest the paper let you go. Though, frankly, you are kind of asking for it.

Daisy Eagan is a Tony Award-winning actress and author. Visit daisyeagan.com and "Like" Daisy on Facebook