Revisiting Me Too at The New School Centennial

        During the Festival of New, I attended a talk among Michelle Lee, the editor-in-chief of Allure, Kay Unger, and Donna Karan, both well known and successful Parsons alums. In fact, when I was 12, I found out about Parsons because I idolized Donna Karan, and I made it my mission to attend this school because she did. Fast forward seven years, and I am watching these women discuss the “Power of Reinvention”, detailing the successes and failures they faced throughout their careers. As Michelle Lee asked Kay and Donna thoughtful questions, they responded with engaging answers that reminded me of why I came to Parsons and why I wanted to study fashion design in the first place. However, I must note that, upon seeing my long-time idol speak in person, it was clear how I had changed and how my perception of her had changed over the years. I am no longer in fashion design, and though I am still passionate about fashion studies, I also have an increased interest in social justice. Because of this, when the floor was opened for questions, I had to ask Donna Karan how she has personally grown and “reinvented” herself after making egregious remarks about how women may be “asking for it” following the break of the Harvey Weinstein scandal in 2017. In Weinstein’s defense, Karan asked, “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?”, which understandably hurt her business and public image. I knew that asking her about this would make everyone in the room uncomfortable, especially myself, as I fumbled over my words and thought about how everyone in the room must have been staring, or rather, glaring at me. However, I knew I needed to ask this as a personal desire to have this incredible designer remain my idol, and also as a desire to combat “cancel culture” and allow for this woman to apologize for her remarks and show that she has grown and learned from her mistakes, and that others can too. Unfortunately, her answer did not seem to show a positive change or even a genuine understanding of why her remarks were so harmful in the first place. 


           In our society, sexual harassment and assault have been normalized through a prevalent rape culture. Rape culture has emerged from traditional stereotypes about gender and sexuality that are perpetuated on all scales, from major instances of sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein, to seemingly small comments about how women dress by Donna Karan. Karan responded to my question at the event by stating that she loves women and loves sensuality, suggesting that it is unbelievable that those comments came from her in the first place, but she failed to answer my question of whether or not she understands the magnitude and harmful impact of what she said. Statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN, show that 3 out of 4 cases of sexual assault go unreported, and for every 1,000 instances, only 230 are reported to the police. This huge disparity in reported cases is largely due to the prevalent rape culture that we are living in, which often includes victim shaming. Many victims of sexual assault and harassment are afraid to report what happened to them and get justice because we live in a broken system that questions victims, for instance by accusingly asking victims if they were “asking for it”, instead of looking out for them. Victim blaming is a huge part of rape culture, which consists of questioning victims of sexual assault by focusing on irrelevant aspects of their assault, such as “What were you wearing?” and, “Are you sure you weren’t ‘asking for it’?”. These questions are meant to discredit the victim and make it seem as though they are responsible for the assault or harassment that they have faced, but in fact, the only people to blame are the ones who carried out the harassment or assault. 


     Additional statistics from RAINN show that only 4 to 5 out of 1,000 sexual assault perpetrators will be sent to prison. This relates to a deeper problem with the American criminal justice system, but it also stems from this rape culture in which we tend not to believe victims and therefore do not take action to provide them with the proper justice. If people stopped doubting survivors of sexual assault and harassment for no reason, though sometimes it is justified to question an unreliable source, our society could become more uplifting and safe for victims. If we didn’t question irrelevant things like what the victim was wearing and we did not shame victims, they would feel more comfortable opening up about their attack, and they could get the proper care for their situation. Our criminal justice system could actually provide people with justice if they listened to survivors and did not try to discredit them. 


     Obviously, Donna Karan is not at the root of this issue and it is unfair to “cancel” her for her remarks, either by boycotting her business or trashing her as a person, but what she said about victims of sexual assault and harassment has certainly further contributed to a broken system that surrounds us and tends to favor those in power rather than actual victims of assault. I was disappointed when Karan first made these comments, and I was further disappointed when she failed to understand how comments like hers are detrimental to survivors of sexual assault and harassment everywhere.