Blame, Fall 2017 … by Donna Karan

Donna Karan defends Harvey Weinstein: ‘Are women asking for it?’ (The Guardian)

The headline caught me off-guard. As a man who teaches fashion studies at an acclaimed arts institution, I witness the diverse future of the industry daily. My students learn to see fashion as a viable platform for social and cultural discourse. They aspire to position themselves as pro-active agents of change within and beyond the fashion system. Now,  a major designer – who also happens to be a woman – explicitly blames sexual assault victims and survivors on their style choices… What do I tell my students now?! #EpicFail won’t do. Let me five-piece this together:


1. Harvey Weinstein stands accused of sexual harassment. The responsibility (legal, economic, moral and karmic) for any abuse rests with the perpetrator. Full stop. He would have to fully answer for his alleged history of predatory conduct. It’s on him. And yes, it’s on men to exorcise rape culture from society.

2. Then, amid social media outcry, designer Donna Karan walked the red carpet at CinéFashion Awards past the point of no return. “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?” Wait, but isn’t all the sensuality and all the sexuality the marketing cornerstone of the Karan brand?! OMG, were these women wearing Donna Karan at the time? Is the designer now liable for endangering women with her irresponsible designs? Flippancy aside, the cognitive gap revealed by these comments is stunning. There is no such thing as “asking for it”. There is no presumption of consent, no due circumstance. Sexual violation of any person is unwarranted and unwelcome and justly, a crime.

3. I miss Joan Rivers and her iconic, acerbic “who are you wearing?!” … However, the question of clothing (or any other signifiers of gender and sexuality expression) is irrelevant to the sexual violence discourse as proven heartbreakingly countless times in court depositions and creative testimonies such as “What Were They Wearing” at the University of Kansas. It’s a powerful exhibition of garments and items that were on the person’s body when they were assaulted. For Donna Karan – someone who’s built a personal fortune on women’s relationship with the idea(s) of desirability – to blame the victim is … I just can’t with this. The DKPR machine took the predictable “out of context” route, but in the actual interview video she spends two whole minutes repeatedly making her point clear… Meanwhile, what was Harvey Weinstein wearing? That’s right: “no one has ever asked.”

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4. Side note. Just to quickly acknowledge Donna Karan’s subtle colonial-racist reference to “the country of Haiti and Africa and the developing world” as places where treatment of women is something that still needs to be “identified“. Thanks for the heads up, American businesslady! As a white man in academia and activism, I am wary of such wholesale oppositional framing when it comes to (mis)representing people’s experiences. This all-too-common deflection of focus was misguided, yet squarely on message with the worldview wherein victims should ask themselves what have they done to deserve their fate. Substitute “asking for it” with  white racial superiority complex and you get the big picture.

5. In conclusion… Donna Karan knows what she’s talking about and she knows the weight of her words, in gold. She is worth half a billion dollars made from selling goods targeted at women. Including, Cashmere Mist fragrance which had been previously discussed in my Fashion Iconography class in a module on controversial perfume imagery. I wonder if Donna Karan would side with the students who found the product campaign too suggestive, why with all that skin and disrobing?! … Not to dismiss Donna Karan’s legacy as a business pioneer and philanthropist. She has co-founded Urban Zen Foundation that “creates, connects, and collaborates to raise awareness and inspire change by integrating mind, body and spirit in healthcare and education while we preserve our cultures.” … Oh, f***ing ****. In two minutes, in her own words, she’d thrown this mission statement right under the bus, too! #DoneDonna (?)

P.S. Harvey Weinstein is the perpetrator in question. Let’s not conflate immediate matters. We can hold different people accountable on different issues. Onward.

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