I recently made the mistake of flicking through an online “where are they now” photo gallery of child stars. There were lots of stories of ‘retired from acting’, ‘went back to school’ and ‘still in the business stories. But one of them made me more than a little upset.
It was the caption for Mayim Balik. It read: “Mayim Balik is widely known for her role as Blossom Russo on the TV show Blossom. Mayim is now 37 and appears as Amy on The Big Bang Theory.”
Anyone who knows anything about this actress will probably see the issue with this blurb straight away.
Here’s what it should have said: “After playing the title role of Blossom, Mayim went to university and earning her Ph.D. in neuroscience before taking on the role of Amy in The Big Bang Theory”.
The published blurb feels as though the actresses age is a more important life achievement than having attained one of the highest educational qualifications in a particularly difficult scientific field.
When the focus of the piece is to quickly summarise the lives of child actors with a ‘then and now’ picture, what possible reason could there be for overlooking such a monumental educational achievement? It’s not an issue of length, both of those blurbs are exactly the same size (if you take 37 and Ph.D to each count as 1 word), and it’s not like including the her educational achievement required cutting out one of her pop-culture reference points.
The ugly subtext here is that her education isn’t a desirable factoid to include in what is essentially a puff piece (mostly) about looking at how many child stars have turned out to be fairly ordinary people. But editing out such a significant achievement denies Balik’s power as a role model for, not only young girls, but women in scientific fields. Not to mention the counter-argument Balik represents in the face of stereotypes of women in the entertainment industry ( a stereotype that The Big Bang Theory happily exploits for laughs with the character of Penny).
The photo gallery blurb itself is a relatively small thing, but it speaks to a mindset that either considers educational achievement to be an unremarkable quality, or it acknowledges a cultural intimidation of educated people that makes such an omission seem acceptable in the eyes of anyone involved in the production of such bubble-gum reporting.
If a woman’s age is truly a more significant than her high level of educational attainment, then I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.
Actually, no. I’m happy here. Can I fire a few thousand vapid idiots into the sun, instead?