I wouldn’t know Donna Karan if she came to my door with a sack full of designer jeans. My understanding is that she was unwise enough to say that Harvey Weinstein, a cofounder of Miramax accused of decades of sexual harassment, had done “some wonderful things.” I know nothing about Weinstein either, save that Miramax has done some interesting things under his co-leadership, and that news photos depict a poorly shaven individual who looks like an unsuccessful Mafia hit man. If the allegations are true, and there is no reason to believe they’re not, Weinstein is a horrid example of abuse of power.
Karan then added she thought that some women are “asking for it” by the way they dress and “presenting themselves the way they do.” It, we all assume, is sexual predation.
What bothers me here is that Karan, a 69-year-old woman with, I presume, some experience at life, voiced a private opinion that was picked up by the media. She was then forced to apologize. She did so, saying “sexual harassment is NOT acceptable and this is an issue that MUST be addressed once and for all regardless of the individual.” I suspect her perfectly politically correct statement was rehearsed and drafted by her attorney.
She added that she was “truly sorry to (sic) anyone that I offended and everyone that has ever been a victim.” That line probably came directly from her. Truisms followed by platitudes. Her apology meant nothing in either the grand or small scheme of things save, perhaps, that it may have curtailed the stock of DKVD from falling further. She never took back her assertions that Weinstein had done good things, or that she thinks some women dress provocatively and may suffer for it. Did her statement and apology matter? Are there people out there who will base their opinions on hers? Those who do agree with her–and certainly some do–formed their own opinions long before Karan stated hers. (There is, incidentally, an interesting correlation between the right to free speech and the right to free dress. Both are freedoms of expression, both are often criticized, both can incite violence, both can create victims.)
It’s odd to me that, increasingly, public figures whose opinions are of no import in the running of things are castigated for speaking their minds. This is a form of censure embraced by the people who not that long ago, themselves demonstrated for the right of free speech.
Are we even allowed to say people dress provocatively these days, or is this a statement that will provoke the ire of many?
In one of my writing groups, a debate raged thankfully briefly regarding the use of sensitivity readers, a breed of editors who according to the Chicago Tribune, “will scan a manuscript for racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive content.”
I find this difficult to accept; the word otherwise concerns me. While I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with offensive literature of any stripe (offensive is a totally subjective concept), I don’t feel it’s my right to say such literature shouldn’t be penned or that it must be edited to make it palatable to a few, or even to many. I have choices. I can opt not to read it; I can refute its allegations, castigate or shun its author, rant and rave and boycott the publisher, but I can’t stop others from reading it and forming their own impressions. The exception is with children’s literature, which often has as its audience impressionable minds too young to decide what is acceptable or not.
All this sensitivity has the smell of book burnings and libraries’ refusal to carry ‘offensive’ classics. It threatens art as a whole. I still have a tee-shirt ridiculing former Attorney General Ed Meese for throwing a blanket over a nude statue of Blind Justice because he found her unrobed breasts objectionable. The statue in question was at the entrance of the Justice Department.
Meese was rightly mocked and if I recall correctly, the statue was moved to a less visible space until the end of his tenure. I don’t think he ever apologized. (Meese was also responsible for the celebrated 900-page, two-volume government study on pornography. I bought it at the Government Printing Office just for the appendix which listed the titles of almost 1,000 publications, including the alliterative Big Brown Beautiful Bouncy Boobs.)
At one time or another, Catch 22 was banned, as were Candide, The Grapes of Wrath, Huckleberry Finn, Flowers for Algernon and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Each and every one of these books offended some citizens who decided the plots or opinions stated were so repugnant that others should not be allowed to form their own sentiments on the worthiness of the publication.
That’s plain wrong. I don’t need to be protected from words, no matter how obnoxious they may be. Let the idiots speak, I say. Or, to quote Groucho Marx, “He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot but don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot.”