The entertainment world (and many of us who consume entertainment) is abuzz about sexual harassment and assault allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, scrupulously documented in the New York Times and the New Yorker this week.
Just today, actresses including Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie added their own disturbing tales to the litany. “I was a kid, I was signed up, I was petrified,” Paltrow told the Times.
Weinstein’s behavior, according to these reports, ranges from creepy to unprofessional to downright criminal–including rape.
It’s all so damning, and so disturbing, that even high-profile actresses and actors, some of whom likely had inklings about his predatory ways, are declaring themselves aghast. But even in the midst of this chorus of disavowal and “shock,” one brave voice stood alone…blaming the sluts who asked for it!
“I think we have to look at our world and what we want to say and how we want to say it,” Donna Karan, (Jewish) fashion designer said at a red carpet event. “It’s not Harvey Weinstein. You look at everything all over the world today, you know how women are dressing, and what they are asking, by just presenting themselves they way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble.”
As thousands of women sit at their computer screens reading these Weinstein articles, aghast and triggered because of similarly awful, diminishing and scary things they have experienced in their careers (right up to this very moment, heaven knows)—it’s good to hear from Karan that we’re the cause of this “trouble,” because of our fashion choices.
Now it’s perhaps silly to pick on Karan, since she has already walked back her statement–under tremendous public pressure to do so. But putting all snark aside, her initial remarks are a reminder both of how quickly things have changed, and also how deeply, pervasively victim-blaming has remained in the culture–so much so that anyone would even think about blaming women’s clothing choices at a watershed moment like this.
We’re at an important juncture in terms of the way we talk about sexual assault and power. Most people, even those who might have turned a blind eye to this stuff a decade ago, have been awakened by the recent spate of chilling and far-reaching allegations against people like Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and yes, Donald Trump.
Enough ink has been spilled on all these cases (and surely more to come) that we now are expected to understand certain truths about life in a rape culture: that these acts of harassment are often about power and dominance more than sex itself, that there is an implicit power imbalance that makes consent incredibly difficult to navigate for victims, and that harassers tend to target vulnerable women (and people of all genders no doubt), in a clearly discernible pattern.
It takes dozens and dozens of stories, plus documented legal settlements and investigations, for these big stories to come to light. Imagine the lower-profile incidents happening all over the country right now. Because the media and Hollywood aren’t the only small, closed communities where men are given a good deal of power –Jews of all people know that.
So, it’s worth asking ourselves who are the Donna Karans around us, at the small companies, the startups and schools and small business and houses of worship, who hear these kinds of stories and dismiss them out of hand in order to protect powerful figures, figures we respect and revere? And are we standing up to them strongly enough? Or do we see them when we look in the mirror?