Harvey Weinstein, Victim-Blaming, and the Blind Eye

Taking a hard look at Donna Karan’s remarks and the culture surrounding sexual assault in Hollywood

I once compared Harvey Weinstein to a mobster. I was covering an amfAR event in which Weinstein was being honored for Women’s Wear Daily last February when I observed an abnormally high concentration of mega celebrities in the crowd, there, presumably, to kiss the ring. I wrote: “Perhaps it’s his physicality (burly and mean-mugged) that draws the mafia comparison. Or maybe it’s the veiled threats, which can make even the biggest movie stars quiver, or his agenda pushing.” Apparently, as we now all know, he’s not only forceful when brokering movie deals.

Mobster, no. Monster, yes. 

And while a slew of celebrities have come out of the woodwork, championing the brave women who stepped forward to make their experiences public and hold Weinstein accountable, a totally unexpected defense of the mogul took the Internet by storm. That would be Donna Karan. 

“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. What are they asking for? Trouble,” Karan said at the CinéFashion Film Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday night.

It was on video. 

“To see it here in our own country is very difficult, but I also think 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 all the sexuality?”

She also said of Weinstein and his wife, Georgina Chapman, who has since announced she’s leaving her husband, “I think they’re wonderful people.”

On Monday, Karan issued a press release, saying, “I made a statement that unfortunately is not representative of how I feel or what I believe… 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. I am truly sorry to anyone that I offended and everyone that has ever been a victim.” Even so, Karan’s initial response is so uncharacteristic of her, it’s difficult to digest. This is the woman who has championed women for decades—remember her iconic In Women We Trust campaign, picturing the first female president? That’s why her words—right there on video—are so disheartening. It feels like a betrayal.

It’s worth noting that Donna Karan isn’t the only designer to get blowback—it’s expected that Marchesa, Chapman’s eveningwear label, will also take a hit, particularly as Weinstein’s involvement will lessen. He was known in fashion circles to pressure actresses to wear Marchesa to big events, reportedly threatening them if they didn’t comply. Weinstein is also understood to finance a large part of Marchesa, and financing going forward remains to be seen.  

Anyway, back to Donna: The often deployed “asking for it” defense is so cruel and utterly nonsensical. If a guy walks out of a boxing class wearing the gloves, can someone walking by just sucker punch him in the face? That makes just about as much sense to me as victim-blaming.  I don’t care if those women showed up to Weinstein’s hotel room in nothing but a pair of boobie tassels—rape and sexual assault are never invited. 

The accounts from these women are harrowing—British artist and writer Liza Campbell recalls trying to exit Weinstein’s hotel room while he was in another room, only to find the doors locked. The third door she tried let her out. I cannot imagine the terror when feeling the clinking of those first two locked doorknobs. 

But the issue of who knew remains, and while the focus is squarely on Weinstein—as it should be—I would like to see the circle widened. These people were complicit and must be held accountable. Who was involved in the payouts? Who at Miramax protected him or even facilitated these encounters? Italian actress Asia Argento was lured into Weinstein’s hotel room when a Miramax producer invited her to a fake Miramax party there. She showed up to find only Weinstein. He orally raped her. Who was that producer? 

The word “rumors” is being thrown around quite a bit by the celebrities who are coming out to denounce Weinstein. Let me say that I, a lowly little reporter who predominantly covers fashion, have even heard passing mentions of “Harvey’s Girls” and “Harvey’s Couch,” so, to me, the idea that people were dumbfounded is a bit curious. That being said, celebrities can be quite insulated by their handlers.  

The gist of those rumors, however, was entirely different from the truth. The idea was that he was a compulsive cheater pig who slept with young actresses and sometimes, as a result, gave them big movie roles. It was thought to be a totally consensual act. George Clooney clarified the distinction quite well in an interview with The Daily Beast. “This is an interesting moment. I’ve seen a lot of people, from Meryl [Streep] to Judi Dench, come out and say ‘holy shit,’ and I think that that’s been the reaction by a lot of people in Hollywood. I don’t think that people were looking the other way; I think that people weren’t looking, because in some ways, a lecherous guy with money picking up younger girls is unfortunately not a news story in our society…. And I feel very bad for all of the victims. I mean, cornering a young anchorwoman in the kitchen and jerking off into a potted plant? That’s not just some rumor about Harvey hitting on a woman; it’s disturbing on a whole lot of levels, because there had to be a lot of people involved in covering that up.”

The normalization of sexual assault is impossible to deny, particularly when half the country just shrugged off Donald Trump bragging about it just weeks before the election he won. It’s awful and, more than that, it’s scary. So what can we do? I, for one, will not be seeing any Weinstein Company movies for the foreseeable future.

Here is a link to six organizations that support survivors of sexual assault that address everything from the influx of sexual violence on college campuses to victim dignity. The Grateful Garment Project provides survivors who have gone to the hospital and had to forfeit their clothing to the police with some fresh clothes so they aren’t forced to leave in a hospital gown. There are so many charitable organizations that need our support right now, but today, on International Day of Girl, may I suggest we send a powerful message to the next generation of strong women?

It’s time to pull together and do something. To all the women living with this trauma in silence and isolation, speak up. We’re listening.

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