In the wake of revelations in the New York Times about Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long sexual harassment of women (from actresses to assistants) famous voices have been raised in support of the allegations. Additional reports are being published, adding more victims and detailing the increasingly disturbing frequency and intensity of sexual assaults that Weinstein has allegedly committed consistently throughout his career.
On the other hand, some prominent figures continue to defend Weinstein. Powerhouse fashion designer Donna Karan, a longtime friend of Weinstein, was asked by a reporter what she thought about these allegations as she attended the CinéFashion Film Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday evening. The exchange was captured in a video released by the the Daily Mail on Monday morning:
“I think we have to look at ourselves. Obviously, the treatment of women all over the world is something that has always had to be identified. Certainly in the country of Haiti where I work, in Africa, in the developing world, it’s been a hard time for women,” Karan said in the 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?”
These comments are as disturbingly degrading towards the female victims involved as they are diminishing of the seriousness of Harvey Weinstein’s acts of sexual harassment.
Furthermore, Donna Karan has built an entire fashion empire on empowering women, by dressing them in feminine cuts and silhouettes for almost 30 years. She has dressed several of the famous women who have been sexually harassed and abused by Harvey Weinstein – including Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow, who came forward on Tuesday – and has specifically made herself known for dressing the modern woman, providing her with, as she states on her own website, “a dynamic system of modern dressing.”
This “modern dressing” seems to be synonymous with sexism and the longstanding misogynist school of blaming the female victim, instead of holding the man in question accountable for his wrongful and illegal actions. Similar rhetoric has been used in police offices and courtrooms, as well as in mainstream media. All too often, women are asked how “we display ourselves,” instead of men being asked why they use and abuse their power to harass and attack us.
"What they are asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble,” she continued.
Karan’s comments are not new or unique, but they are coming from a woman who has built a brand on empowering women through providing us with ways to “present ourselves” to the world. That is the role of fashion, at its best. When the woman who was once credited in Vogue as having "always been a tireless champion of stylish working women" and has "created clothes to help navigate the world of Wall Street — or the White House," now asks women, "What are they asking for?" with the implication being sexual harrassment, the culture of misogyny we live in is glaringly obvious. Karan is suggesting that what we wear is to blame for whatever "trouble" might happen to us, no matter if that "trouble" is caused by a fully grown, and in this case very powerful, man.
In these comments, Donna Karan not only trivializes Weinstein’s actions and the victims’ experiences, she also trivializes her own legacy and reveals the hypocrisy of her role in the fashion industry.
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Amanda Brohman is a 23-year old editorial intern at BUST, a freelance writer, blogger and fashion journalism student at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. She loves everything that glitters, taking long walks in and around her SoHo neighborhood, and drinking Chardonnay on her fire escape at midnight whilst listening to Halsey.