Now that some of the most prominent Hollywood stars have begun condemning the allegations of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein, Donna Karan, fashion designer and founder of DKNY, has walked back her victim-blaming remarks in an interview defending the movie executive.
In a public statement issued late Monday night, Karan apologized for her comments in a red carpet interview at the CinéFashion Film Awards the previous night and insisted her remarks were “taken out of context and not representative of how I feel about the current situation concerning Harvey Weinstein.”
That’s an embarrassingly weak defense for someone who pivoted in a discussion about sexual harassment allegations to muse, at considerable length, about how women should think about how they dress and “what they are asking for.”
Karan stressed that women would benefit from considering “how do we display ourselves? How do we present ourselves as women? What are we asking? Are we asking for it by presenting all the sensuality and the sexuality?”
Are we supposed to believe that Karan’s remarks were “taken out of context” when, later in the interview, she doubled down on her suggestion that women who dress provocatively or celebrate their sexuality are asking to be sexually harassed or assaulted.
“You look at everything all over the world today and how women are dressing and what they are asking by just presenting themselves the way they do,” she said. “What are they asking for? Trouble.”
It’s somewhat shocking to hear this victim-blaming narrative from a 69-year-old fashion designer whom The Washington Post’s Robin Givhan recently called “Seventh Avenue’s greatest advocate for professional women,” praising her as a rare designer whose “point of view was so rooted in that place of overlap between a woman’s power and her sexuality.”
In her apology statement, Karan also emphasized that she’s spent her life “championing women” and that her life has been “dedicated to dressing and addressing the needs of women, empowering them and promoting equal rights.”
But her remarks on the red carpet suggest that there’s a subjective line where women who dress a certain way are exploiting their sexuality--and asking for “trouble” in doing so.
Let’s be clear: any woman who believes other women are “asking for it” because of how they’re dressed or by expressing their sexuality is not a feminist. Karan perpetuated an attitude about sexually empowered, sex positive women that condones the behavior of men like Weinstein--the Trumps and Roger Aisles and Bill Cosbys of the world.
She stated the obvious when she noted that the problem of men abusing their power and believing that they can grab women “because they let you,” as our president famously said, is bigger than Harvey Weinstein. But this, too, was a subtle way of letting Weinstein off the hook.
“I think he’s being looked at as a symbol right now, not necessarily as him” she said. “Harvey has done some amazing things.”
We’re all guilty of saying things without thinking them through sometimes, and we regret them later when we’re shamed or punished. I don’t doubt that much of Karan’s apology is sincere. “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,” she said in her statement. “I am truly sorry to anyone that I offended and everyone that has ever been a victim.”
But it’s telling that she didn’t clarify her repeated references to what women are “asking for” when they present themselves to the world. Exactly what kind of “trouble” are they asking for? Is it Ashley Judd’s fault that Weinstein allegedly asked her to give him a mssage and watch him shower? Is it a former TV reporter’s fault that Weinstein allegedly masturbated into a plant in front of her? Did the model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez ask to be groped by Weinstein, who admitted to the NYPD in 2015 that he was “used to” this kind of behavior?
The answer, of course, is a resounding no. To suggest this is of anyone is to enable men like Weinstein to abuse their power.
Shortly before Weinstein’s lawyer Lisa Bloom quit the job, she referred to him as an “old dinosaur trying to learn new ways.” But even Bloom realized the old, friendly dinosaur image--someone who was “trying to do better,” as he put it in an open letter in the New York Times-- was a tough sell. Weinstein had been paying women to keep quiet for more than twenty years. Why would he stop now?
Karan has proved to be an old dinosaur herself, a supposedly progressive feminist (or at least a designer whose clothes came with implicit feminist stitching) whose beliefs don’t align with progressive feminism.
She is of course entitled to believe whatever she wants. But her remarks about women “asking for it” are part of the problem, and part of a climate that allows alleged abusers like Weinstein to flourish.
Her remarks help explain why Weinstein was “used to” groping women, as he put it--and why other studio executives and Hollywood power players who knew of his proclivities didn’t breathe a word about them.