I’m glad Donna Karan was quoted as suggesting women should perhaps expect sexual harassment and assault.
The New York Times asked the fashion designer to comment on allegations Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein preyed upon actresses and female employees and film executives for decades.
“How do we present ourselves as women?” said Karan in a Times interview. “What are we asking? Are we asking for it? By presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality? What are we throwing out to our children today? About how to dance, how to perform and what to wear? How much should they show?”
Karan later issued a statement saying her comments were taken out of context. She said she wasn’t defending Weinstein but addressing a larger issue.
“I believe that sexual harassment is NOT acceptable and this is an issue that MUST be addressed once and for all regardless of the individual,” said Karan in the statement. “I am truly sorry to anyone that I offended and everyone that has ever been a victim.”
I don’t blame Karan. She’s not the problem; her statements indicate this issue’s complexity. She demonstrates why the ongoing subjugation of women is a difficult topic of discussion, particularly and especially for women.
Some women react to stories of sexual harassment and assault by professing the belief we can avoid sexism, sexual harassment and assault and other violence by changing our behavior.
The reality is those who treat women badly will do so regardless of what women do to “avoid” it. The notion our appearance or behavior is to blame addresses a justification, not the causes.
That’s because sexual harassment and assault are ultimately about power.
Consider the accusations against Weinstein. The intriguing commonality isn’t necessarily that his alleged targets are aesthetically pleasing. To a person, each woman is highly intelligent, capable and talented.
In each story that emerges, there is a thread of possession, aggression and control. Therefore, it’s more likely the motivation for Weinstein’s alleged actions was a desire to make these impressive people relinquish control and submit to his will.
With that in mind, Karan’s clarification doesn’t erase the internalized sexism of her initial comments. I infer she meant to say some women make it tough for all of us to be taken seriously.
I’m inclined to agree — somewhat. As women, we should be direct and clear in terms of what we expect and accept from others. We should teach children likewise.
While I believe that means women shouldn’t succumb to pressure to downplay our intelligence and/or diminish our abilities, I don’t believe we must cover up external beauty, either.
Women aren’t “asking for it” any more than a person with a nice home is asking to be burgled. (It might be apropos to include a famous quote admonishing the coveting of that which does not belong to you, but I digress.)
The bottom line is no one has the right to judge skills, talents and abilities based on anything other than a person’s skills, talents and abilities. No one has the right to make employment contingent upon your willingness to comply with abhorrent behavior. No one has the right to intimidate you and make you feel less than human. No one has the right to touch anyone else without clear permission.
It’s all wrong, and it’s time we stop saying otherwise.