Donna Karan’s apology for blaming women for sexual assault didn’t go far enough

Fashion designer Donna Karan originally put the blame on the women who said they were sexually harassed or assaulted by producer Harvey Weinstein.
Fashion designer Donna Karan originally put the blame on the women who said they were sexually harassed or assaulted by producer Harvey Weinstein. abcnews.go.com

Donna Karan apologized on “Good Morning America” Monday morning for saying the women allegedly harassed and assaulted by Harvey Weinstein may have been “asking for it.”

“I want to say how sorry I am,” the fashion designer told Robin Roberts. “What I said is so wrong and not who I am.”

Let’s talk about that for a minute, specifically the “not who I am” portion.

Early this month, when Karan was asked about the allegations against Weinstein, she responded, “How do we present ourselves as women? What are we asking? Are we asking for it? By presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality?”

On Monday, Roberts tried to get Karan to explain that original response: “What did you mean by those comments at that time?”

“That’s the problem,” Karan answered. “I made a huge, huge mistake.”

Roberts tried again: “Under what circumstances could a woman be asking for trouble?”

Karan dodged and weaved again: “I love women. I absolutely adore women. I care about them. I’m a mother. I’m a grandmother.”

She blamed exhaustion. “I had just … come from a 14-hour plane trip.” She talked up her pro-women cred. “As a woman, for women, I want to bring out who that woman is. I mean, that’s my passion. I still do this for over 40 years, as we know.”

She did not, however, explain that original response.

What she offered, instead, was a series of statements meant to distance herself — and those of us listening — from the original comments.

It’s a common tactic and an understandable one. She has a multimillion-dollar business to keep solvent, after all. It’s also a missed opportunity.

Karan is, like Mayim Bialik and many others, getting a quick-and-dirty, overdue lesson in the sort of cultural biases and assumptions that place blame on the victims of sexual harassment and violence. Biases and assumptions that they too held.

I use the past tense, “held,” optimistically. Because my hope is that an offshoot of the Harvey Weinstein saga and the avalanche of stories that followed it — from filmmaker James Toback to Illinois politicians to actor Kevin Spacey — is a seismic shift in the way we regard women and men who come forward with stories of being violated.

My hope is that the astonishing number of victims stepping forward, from various industries and all walks of life, will do two things: One, remind the victims they’re not alone and they weren’t targeted because of anything they did/said/wore. Two, remind the folks lucky enough to avoid harassment or assault that they’re simply that: lucky. Not street savvier, not stronger, not better at selecting a wardrobe.

I’d love to hear a celebrity say as much. Imagine if one person with a huge public platform said something to this effect:

“I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I used to look for ways that a woman or man invited harassment or assault. It was a defense mechanism that made me feel less as though it could happen to me or someone I love. It separated me from a problem that I felt powerless to combat.

“Now I understand we all have a role in combating sexual harassment and violence — refusing to engage in it and rigorously educating those around us to do the same, calling it out when we see it, believing people when they report it.

“I wasn’t doing my part, and, worse, I was contributing to a climate that makes it harder for victims to be believed. I’ll do better. That’s not who I am anymore.”

Karan got partway there. An apology is a start. But I hope it’s not the end. We need to move to a place where problematic comments like hers are relics of the past, rather than every-couple-of-day headlines.

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