Kiran Manral on Donna Karan, Women and Dressing Provocatively

Donna Karan

A slight detour from the men and women and marriage circuit that this column normally deals with this time round. What has got me granny knickers all in a twist today is Donna Karan. For those of you who haven’t been following the news, this is about the spirited defense fashion designer Donna Karan put up for movie mogul Harvey Weinstein who has been accused by a number of women for sexual inappropriateness and outright abuse. Weinstein and his wife also happen to be dear friends of Donna Karan, for the record.

Kiran Manral The Married Feminist SheThePeople

To quote from the Daily Mail, “During a red carpet interview at the CinéFashion Film Awards on Sunday, the DKNY creator was asked to weigh in on the scandal hours after the disgraced film mogul was fired from his company. Unlike many Hollywood stars and celebs, Karan did not condemn the 65-year-old, who has been accused of sexually harassing multiple women over the span of decades, and instead pointed the finger at his accusers.”

“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.

“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?”

“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.” she said.

This inexplicable show of support to the abuser and the level of victim shaming, given that she is part of an industry that has been built on commoditization of women as fashion plates, is astounding.

Donna Karan was slammed, rightly so, for those remarks. She apologised a day later, saying her remarks were taken out of context, but the damage was done.  In that one statement Karan had undone decades of exemplary work dressing women in fashion that was powerful yet feminine, a strong line of fashion she brought into the forefront that was powerful, confident, and yes, occasionally provocative. Some of them very provocative indeed. Did she intend, when she designed those garments, that women who would buy them and wear them were asking to be sexually assaulted?

What Karan undermined in her one statement that sought to shift the blame from Weinstein to the women themselves was the years of taking back agency from the patriarchy which sought to control every aspect of a woman including the way she dressed and presented herself.

This was nothing but a reiteration of that shitty victim blaming premise that keeps getting flung back at women. What did you do to provoke it, what were you wearing, why were you out so late at night, why did you speak to him, why did you not insulate yourself in a space suit and remain sealed inside a cryogenic chamber so no male would ever have access to you, and thus feel tempted to sexually assault you. You asked for it.  Yes, you did. It was your fault.

But these remarks are the tip of the iceberg that is now begging the question, why didn’t these women who were abused by Weinstein speak about it earlier. Those who ask this question fail to realise the sheer inordinate amount of courage it takes even in this time and age to speak up against sexual abuse and assault, especially against men in positions of power. Weinstein was in a position of great power as a man who could make or break movie careers in an industry that is cut throat and pernicious in its machinations.

As any woman with talent and ambition knows, the old boys club is all-powerful. There is an omerta which will have you out on your behind and out of work in a trice if you speak up or protest.

We’ve had our own Harvey Weinsteins in India. R K Pachauri’s accuser was sacked from her job. There are more. Some who’ve had the accusations against them brought out into the public space. Some who have got away with what they’ve been doing all through these years, because the women they’ve assaulted choose not to speak about it, for their own reasons. And it isn’t always the powerful who get away with it. Even after a woman goes to court, we get stymied by the various levels of consent, ‘feeble nos’ being part of the new lexicon implying tacit consent in sexual assault.

The control exercised over a woman’s dressing isn’t just by watchdogs of public morality, but within the home too, the instances of men controlling what their wives and daughters, sisters wear is perhaps not the aberration but the norm in India.

The number of dictats against girls wearing jeans across small-town India is perhaps indicative of how the mere premise of the shape of a leg showing is considered provocative even when the leg is completely covered. Never is the thought that the gaze is what needs to be cleansed rather than the woman being made to feel she is provoking unacceptable behavior simply by wearing something that might be ‘asking for it.’

While Donna Karan might have toppled in head first into the hole she dug herself into when she made those statements (on camera, mind you), the fact remains that women themselves are still bracketing women into virgins and whores. Never mind that they themselves might be women  who’ve spent all their professional lives dressing up other women. Provocatively at times.

Pic Credit: jezebel.com

Also Read: Stop asking ‘Why didn’t she leave?’ says Kiran Manral on Silicon Valley Domestic Violence Case