At first blush, the inclination is to brush off Angela Lansbury’s victim-blaming as the harmless, nonsensical natterings of a doddering, old fool who can hide her own Easter eggs.
I mean, hey, she’s 92 years old. So let’s cut the Murder, She Wrote star some slack, right?
But no. Lansbury didn’t say what she said because she’s 92 years old. Telling us that women “must sometimes take blame” for sexual assault and sexual harassment is not about the horse-and-buggy generation. It has nothing to do with the numbers on the award-winning actor’s birth certificate.
After all, didn’t fashion designer Donna Karan say much the same? Didn’t American gymnast Gabby Douglas?
Lansbury: “There are two sides to this coin. We have to own up to the fact that women, since time immemorial, have gone out of their way to make themselves attractive. And unfortunately it has backfired on us—and this is where we are today. We must sometimes take blame, women. I really do think that. Although it’s awful to say, we can’t make ourselves look as attractive as possible without being knocked down and raped.”
Karan: “To see (sexual harassment) 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? You look at everything all over the world today and how women are dressing and how women are acting by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble.”
Douglas: “It is our responsibility as women to dress modestly and be classy. Dressing in a provocative/sexual way entices the wrong crowd.”
So, don’t give Lansbury a free pass because of her birth certificate, not when a 69-year-old woman (Karan) and a 21-year-old woman (Douglas) are singing from the same sheet in the song book.
Stupid knows no age, and everything this menage-a-victim-blamers said was stupid. Also dangerous.
(It doesn’t matter that both Karan and Douglas were quick to beat a hasty retreat from their words. Karan’s comments were “taken out of context” and “not representative of how I feel and what I believe” and she was sleep deprived, don’t you know? Douglas’s comments, meanwhile, were “misunderstood.” Spare us the empty rhetoric, ladies. Once you’ve blamed sexual assault/harassment on the victim because she wore five-inch stilettos instead of flats, you don’t get a do-over.)
I know what it’s like to be sexually harassed and assaulted. I’ve been groped. In public. I’ve been subjected to lewd, crude comments about my body parts, in public and on social media. I’ve been hounded on the street. I’ve been stalked. I’ve been forcibly detained and confined.
I wish I could say that makes me an exception, but it doesn’t.
I haven’t asked all of my female friends, but I would submit that each of them has had similar experiences. Probably worse. And much, if not all of it, is likely locked away in a vault they keep hidden behind closed doors in the deepest recesses of their minds.
That’s why women who read and hear about the recent avalanche of sexual harassment/assault accusations in Hollywood and politics nod knowingly. Been there, had that done to them. They had their own Bill Cosby. Their own Jian Ghomeshi. Their own Harvey Weinstein.
If they didn’t put out for a work supervisor, chances are they lost a promotion. Or their job. If, out of paralyzing fear, they involuntarily surrendered to the advances of a sick, predatory father or another male relative, they were intimidated into silence with threats of dire consequences. Like abandonment or death.
The horror stories are plentiful, endless and ongoing. That’s why Angela Lansbury’s remarks are shameful. I don’t care how wrinkled she is. Shameful is shameful is shameful by any age. And whether we wear low-cut tops or button ourselves up to the neck, sexual assault/harassment isn’t our fault.
It’s as actor Cate Blanchett put it at the InStyle Awards in October: “We all like looking sexy but it doesn’t mean we want to fuck you.”