By Sharanya Gopinathan
Harvey Weinstein finally ran out of time. A nearly year-long investigation by The New Yorker and another by the New York Times into three decades of sexual abuse by the award winning movie producer and Miramax studio founder revealed to the public what several hundreds of people within Hollywood had known for years — that Weinstein was a sexual predator whose preferred MO was to call young actresses, upcoming models, assistants and employees into his hotel rooms, appear before them naked, and proposition them to watch him shower, give him a massage or have sex with him. It lays bare how powerful men can get away with so much abuse by virtue of their power and connections.
It’s also telling to see the ways in which women are reacting to Weinstein’s past abuse and the public allegations against him now. As in earlier cases, women have fiercely taken opposite sides. While several actresses have now come out with their stories of abuse at Weinstein’s hands, other celebrities like fashion designer Donna Karan and actress Lindsay Lohan, have supported him. It’s intriguing to see how quickly his supporters have been exposed and dismissed, and also telling that both Lohan and Karan have picked up on public opinion and since distanced themselves from their statements.
Lohan’s defence of Weinstein was particularly annoying. In a quickly deleted Instagram post, Lohan tried to deploy a common red herring — she said that she had never personally experienced any such behaviour from him, so it’s clear that everybody needs to stand up for him. It’s a classically misleading argument. Other women’s experiences with an attacker do not define the experiences a victim may have had with him. She also called out his wife, Georgina Chapman, for not supporting him (Chapman announced her intention to leave Weinstein hours after the allegations broke), which is probably the worst response one woman can give to another in this dreadful situation. Nobody seems to be taking Lohan too seriously, and are mostly just filing it away automatically as another bizarre statement from Lohan, which is unfair too. If this is what Lohan believes, we should engage with it meaningfully, because she’s clearly not alone.
Donna Karan’s comments, unlike Lohan’s, seem to have elicited more outrage. She gave a controversial interview in which she said that Weinstein was “wonderful”, that women should consider how they present themselves to men, and that they’re sometimes “asking for it” in the way they dress. She also mentioned that Weinstein and his wife have done “amazing things”, as though that fact would excuse his criminal behaviour over the decades.
The common knowledge of Weinstein’s behaviour that Karan hints at might have brought on jolly laughs at the 2013 Oscars, when Seth Macfarlane joked onstage about Weinstein’s reputation as he read out the names of nominees for Best Supporting Actress, and then said, “Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein!” But to the women who worked with and under him, it was serious business, and his habitual harassment forced them to band together in heartbreakingly creative ways.
The New York Times report mentions how so many women at Miramax were aware of their position as expendable employees and in turn of his powerful position as co-founder and Oscar winner, and so had to turn simply to each other for help and support in dealing with him. Women would actually advise others to wear parkas when visiting him privately to add a layer of defence, while others adopted the buddy system, where women would double up with another woman when called alone into his rooms. There are accounts from women who were afraid of losing their jobs, who couldn’t file official complaints but would instead cry to their colleagues, and one instance of harassment which Miramax’s internal complaints committee found out about from the colleagues the victim had helplessly turned to, not the fearful victim herself. The horror and the helplessness of the situation pushed some of these women even closer.
Now, a number of high-profile actresses, from Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan to Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow, have spoken about their own experiences of harassment at Weinstein’s hands, and expressed their support to the women coming forward with their stories. The general feeling seems to be that in this case, people have had enough. And then, of course, there’s Donna Karan. There’s always a Donna Karan or Lindsay Lohan in these situations — a woman happy to be the spokesperson of the patriarchy, the kind of people my brain reflexively hisses ‘gender traitor’ at — women who betray the feminist project, who sell out and put down other women by upholding and repeating patriarchal values and basically go play for the other team. When asked at a red carpet event in Hollywood about what she makes of the allegations, Karan began her spiel by referencing the charity work she does in “the country of Haiti, and Africa, where women really have a hard time.” She then said, “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? We have to look at our world […] and how women are dressing and what they’re asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble.”
It’s an alarmingly hypocritical and damaging statement coming from any woman, but more so from one who’s made her fortune sexualising young women (remember the time she dressed JLo for the 2014 Billboard Awards in a “gown” that basically featured some red floaty see-through material over a red bodysuit?). There’s no such thing as “asking for trouble” by dressing a certain way, and when it comes to sexual assault, how women “present themselves” is the last question any one should be asking. Least of all Donna Karan.
By beginning her remarks on Weinstein by referencing her own work in “countries like Haiti and Africa”, she makes it seem as though her charitable work with women who have “real problems” gives her the locus and moral right to smear the women who spoke out against Weinstein. It’s a diversionary tactic that does nothing but try chip away at the credibility and legitimacy of women who do speak out about the problems they face, so thank goodness no one took Karan seriously. This time.
Because women like Karan and Lohan are part of the reason why survivors of sexual assault are so afraid to speak out. Very often, the women who defend sexual criminals are taken seriously by the public — the fact that they’re a woman speaking for a sexual criminal lends some credence, and people are happy to listen.
Thankfully this time, Karan herself got smacked down for her statements with such immediacy by public figures like popular news anchor Megyn Kelly and actress Rose McGowan (one of his named victims) that instead of taking her seriously, she inspired celebrities like Mia Farrow to swear never to buy DKNY products again and to write her off as a victim-blaming misogynist. After all the backlash from the media and other celebrities, Karan was forced to distance herself from her remarks and issue a totally unconvincing apology and clarification by saying her comments were taken out of context. Except there’s really no context you can put them into where they become okay, and when you see the full interview, you know that it’s because her statements are just inexcusable everywhere.
No more Donna Karan for me https://t.co/QsflmGq7hz
— Mia Farrow (@MiaFarrow) October 10, 2017
Donna Karan you are a DEPLORABLE Aiding and abetting is a moral crime. You are scum in a fancy dress pic.twitter.com/Vze7lnpdvj
— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) October 10, 2017
There will be so many more cases like this. Weinstein’s lawyer, Lisa Bloom, who has been “advising Mr Weinstein over the last year on gender and power dynamics” called Weinstein “an old dinosaur learning new ways.” Which is supposed to make you feel like about 50 years ago, we lived in an ecosystem where sexual harassment and rape were accepted working conditions, and that poor Weinstein has suddenly and involuntarily found himself in a mean world where he can’t rape women with impunity anymore.
It says that Weinstein was not alone in his behaviour, but came from a whole generation where this was totally okay. Others, including Donna Karan herself in that now infamous red carpet interview, have said that this is not a Harvey Weinstein problem, but a Hollywood problem, and that there are many more like him. When the rest of them are exposed like Weinstein has been, they’ll have their own Karans and Lohans — women who feel the need to say that the men were excellent godfathers to their children, kind to them when they had pneumonia or that they’ve personally seen the survivor accept a drink from the accused at a party once. There’s always going to be a Donna Karan in sheep’s clothing, and it’s up to us to expose them too.
Co-published with Firstpost.
October 12, 2017 at 10:13 am
Spot on! Brilliant analysis and insight of why the crime of sexual harassment is to a large extent unreported and unexposed, be it in personal or professional life, because of the uncharitable and beguiling responses of the insensitive and often grossly calculating supporters (both male and female) of status quo and criminals such as these who are both powerful and rich!!