AN OPEN LETTER TO DONNA KARAN

Ms. Karan,

I am going to print your exact quote here before responding to it — the quote you gave when you were asked about Harvey Weinstein and the accusations of sexual assault:

“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 sexuality?”

Let me address your first two questions directly. Women by  and large present themselves as human beings deserving of respect and propriety. We expect to be listened to, especially when we say ‘No.’ We expect to be treated, not simply as repositories for a man’s eager penis, but as complex, multifaceted people who have important contributions to make — to a conversation, to an interaction, and to the world. As far as how we “display” ourselves, I find that word to be slightly insulting, but let’s go with it since you used it. We try — most of us — to walk out the door feeling like we look good. We blow dry our hair, we choose clothes that we hope are flattering. In fact, many women have obviously chosen your clothes with that end in mind, although I predict your sales will dwindle now.

As far as asking for it — by which you apparently mean sexual assault — by opting for a look that emphasizes sensuality and sexuality, even a woman in skimpy barely-there clothing has a right to say no to a man. And that man is required, legally as well as morally, to put his eager penis away and leave her alone. If he doesn’t, it’s called rape. I’m not sure why, in 2017, you need a tutorial in this, but apparently you do.

Here is the real damage of your words. You have gone straight into one of the worst fears that women who have been assaulted are haunted by — the fear that maybe it was, somehow, their fault. I know something about this. Over 40 years ago, when I was a struggling songwriter I got a meeting with a prominent record executive who said he’d listen to some of my songs. He represented some big names in music, so I went to the meeting even though it was an evening meeting and the building was nearly empty. After listening to my tape, he took some cocaine out of his desk and began snorting lines. He offered me some; I said no, even though in those years I was no stranger to drugs. But I was starting to feel frightened. Why didn’t I leave then? I don’t know. I remained on the leather couch as he came over to me, as he started fondling me. I said no, I didn’t want to, but I didn’t fight him off. He was aggressive, he was high, and I was scared. I remember the ugliness of him pushing himself inside me. I remember pulling my clothes up, the ones he’d scraped down around my knees, and I remember driving home in the dark crying. This is the first time I have ever spoken about it. In 40 years, I have never told a friend, a lover, a partner, because what haunts me is the fear that maybe it was somehow my fault. That fear has been instilled in women by a society that, for years, wouldn’t acknowledge that a woman had been raped unless she had visible defensive wounds on her. That fear still remains because people like you make harmful, judgmental statements about women’s clothing inviting sexual assault.

Your follow-up statement that your remarks were taken out of context was equally as harmful. There was only one context, Ms. Karan — Harvey Weinstein and his disgusting, abusive, predatory behavior with women.

Maybe you’ve been lucky in your life. Maybe you’ve never had a man force himself on you. Maybe the idea of feeling helpless and scared, and later guilty even though you know you’re not, is foreign to you. Well, now is your chance to stretch your mind beyond your fortunate life and gain some insight into the experiences of far too many women. You obviously figured out how to dress woman. Maybe now you could work on understanding them.

25 Responses to AN OPEN LETTER TO DONNA KARAN

  1. Linda Williams says:

    I am so sorry this happened to you.

    • Deborah Frost says:

      That this happened to you is only an example of the utter lack of respect any sexual predator has- whether pouncing in any alleyway, fancy office or ritziest hotel- for any victim,as well as an even greater lack of concern for any possible consequence.We must make it very clear that sexual assault-like any criminal attack on another human being- is completely unacceptable in our society. Thank you for sharing your experience- as painful as it is to tell-or to learn of, as anyone who has been subjected to anything remotely similar is well aware. And thank you for your very wise words.

    • You are awesome. I’m sorry you have been going through this. Stay strong. We’re with you!

  2. Robert DuPont says:

    Thank you Patti
    And I’m so sorry what you and many woman have gone through
    These PiGs need to be Stopped

  3. David Marks says:

    Brilliant and on target, Patti. I am utterly dismayed to hear a powerful woman demean women with such callous ignorance, social stupidity, and hurtful directives. In one day’s work, she has comported herself in a manner complementing the very behaviors that culture permitted for centuries, and all of us need revolt and resist. Donna Karan should be shamed of herself, and perhaps your column, along with the generous public outcry against her words, will remind her that women fought and yes, died, for her great successes in life. She sounded more like a proponent of 1950’s Maytag Mom’s, made for nothing more enlightened than being barefoot, pregnant, or ready to be sexually enslaved by men. This is 2017, and men, for the most part, simply don’t agree with her kind of thinking, nor Weinstein’s kinds of predatory behaviors. Thank you, Patti. I simply wanted to add my thoughts here.

  4. Ruth Thomas says:

    Bravo…sad that you have to reveal such a dark hour in your life to make people understand. But thank you for doing it!

  5. Robyn Ringler says:

    Patti, thank you for sharing your terrible experience. I am so sorry you went through this, but not at all surprised. At 60, I look back at the several sexual assaults I endured when I was younger and the pain never goes away. Neither does the guilt, even when you go to therapy and practice ways to ingrain in your brain that IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT. We all relive these attacks for the rest of our lives, and this is a whole other aspect of sexual assault. This absolute crap that Donna Karan spouted must be denounced, so thank you for doing that. I wholeheartedly join you. Robyn Ringler

  6. Brian Teeter says:

    Thank you so very much for being courageous and frank. It’s very difficult to share, a difficulty borne by the shame of being a victim.

    I grew up the child of alcoholic parents. I remember hiding in my bed at night as a child, terrified of the dysfunctional rage I head downstairs. In a dysfunctional home, victims adopt roles of enablers, fearful of retribution. Hollywood, a place you know all too well, can be like the dysfunctional home of my childhood. Many in the film industry remained silent for years about the hideous behavior of Harvey Weinstein, fearful of the wrath that he or his lieutenants could lash out, destroying careers and reputations with impunity.

    You know all too well that the powerful are protected by a phalanx of enablers and syncopants, and the ugly words of Donna Karan (not to mention her denials) are testament to that.

    As a man, I am ashamed about what I have read. I think if the many women whose lives have been broken by vile men like Weinstein. Speaking up takes courage and brings with it having to relive painful memories. It hardly feels satisfying for any woman victimized by these monsters to come forward

    I can only hope justice will be served and the victims can finally heal. Thank you again for your eloquence.

  7. frankie stein says:

    Amazingly well said, bravo for your insight and accurate assessment of Harvey Weinstein.
    I am sorry that you had to endure such an experience in your life, but proud of you for speaking out.
    .

  8. Chuck Adams says:

    Patti, since I first met you, what, 20, 25 years ago, I have known you always to be a brave and outspoken advocate for individual rights. Sexual abuse is something way too many have experienced. Acknowledging that abuse takes strength, and I applaud you–as I do all the women speaking up about Harvey Weinstein. You have always been fearless, and I love that about you. Bravo. Your parents probably would be shocked by what you say, but I believe they would support you wholeheartedly; certainly I do.

  9. Chet Rhodes says:

    Well written and well said, Patti. This post should be required reading for every male and femalle everywhere.

  10. David Deutsch says:

    I have admired your writing for a long time and for a long time considered it powerful, but few revelations have struck me as powerful as this, your personal experience with sexual assault. You and I have both been around the entertainment industry most of our lives, and we often learn of disreputable if not amoral behavior via colleagues or persistent rumor. Unfortunately, you had a traumatizing first-hand encounter with a predator. It saddens me. I expect more stories about Harvey Weinstein to emerge as the smoke clears and more brave women come forward. I only met Harvey Weinstein once with a friend of mine who worked closely with him and for a number of years. I know he was emotionally abusive to my friend. When I shook Harvey Weinstein’s hand he gave me the creeps and I couldn’t wait to leave the room. There was so much that was reptilian about his demeanor that I expected to hear a snake hissing behind me as I turned and stepped out the door into the clean night air. Brava to you for writing this, Patti.

  11. Alexandra Gordon says:

    We have to change the view that women are somehow “less than” in a civilized society. Your essay is the best example of abuse of power I’ve read. So moving. Thanks.

  12. Linda McCandless says:

    Patti, your words were eloquent and right on target. Thank you from my heart and doubtless many hundreds of others. You succinctly and directly addressed the horror felt by so many women in the country and the world. Your response was all the more wonderful because you took care not to attack the woman; simply offer a heartfelt explanation of how damaging her words are for those of our generation and more importantly, the young women who are learning about acceptable behavior and the qualities it takes to earn respect from others, so that they have role models as we did at their age. Love and hugs, with sadness for your personal nightmare, which made your comments even more touching. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  13. JAIRO JIMENEZ says:

    I would like to let everyone know. Donna Karan’s words , comments didn’t just affect women. I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse and horrific brainwashing by a priest, to me it was Christ. I was being taught at the time in my catholic school that priest were Christ on earth. I have been dealing with this torture for over forty years. I’m currently in therapy and still fighting my feelings to want to die daily. I am telling you this because Donna Karan’s comments threw me right back into that horror . Supporting the Evil abuser and suggesting that a victm had been ” looking for it ” is almost inhumane to me. My being was pierced again by these horrible words. Thoughtless and uncarring people like her need to know. Not only women are victims . We male victims are the forgotten. But I would like anyone and everyone to know the horror that is triggered by such insensitivities. This Harvey Wienstien abuse is horrific for any Victim , female or male. Wrong has no gender.All this publicity in the media is both helpful if it brings light to these monsters and that people understand or know there are millions of males who have been victims as well. Still what we have to deal with is as horrific. We don’t have the sisterhood that women so brilliantly have established. Men hide and hide. My case was particularly more horrible because. He brainwashed me to believing that if I told in words , dreams , thoughts or wrote about sex. My family would go to hell. Which he would discribe to the last detail while my head was on the desk with my eyes closed. So at that age and for tge rest of my life practically. Fearing that I was responsible for my family dying and going to hell!
    These feelings of torturous pain has been rehiehtened by DK’s comments. Thank you for listening to me. I have only told this very few times now. These memories started to come back openly since last May 9 , 2016. Excuse my grammar and anything else that is not correct. But I am very upset over this entire ordeal…

  14. Jenn Elischer says:

    Patti, first let me say how sorry I am that this happened to you. It happened to me, too. I was young and scared to death. I had read that fighting back could get you killed. When the pregnancy was discovered, my parents refused to believe I’d been raped,”because you didn’t have any bruises or marks on you.” I was so shocked it never occurred to me to march down to the cellar and retrieve the ripped clothing that I’d thown into the corner of the cellar. They raised me. They instilled their ethics, their moral code, their standards of behavior. An angel I was not; but for them to choose to believe I was a promiscuous whore hurt me more than all the other trauma combined. I loved them dearly, but to this day I still hurt about that remark. To see an almost exact quote in your article made me wish they were still alive,so I could email them the link to your article. That phrase was like a slap in the face. I was 18, back in the early ’70’s. My parents stood by me in the end, but oh, how those words still hurt….

  15. White men with power. As women in the arts (especially music), we knew them our whole careers. Greedy misogynists. They talk about “fight or flight,” but they never mention FREEZE. That moment when the couch becomes the scene of the crime. Shared yr article to FB. Love you. Thanks.

  16. Gregory Harrison says:

    Wonderful letter, Patti. I recall our time together filming FOR LADIES ONLY in ’81, which must have been just a couple of years after the horrific experience you recounted here. You were still writing songs, which we shared. We had several deep and what felt like intimate conversations during our weeks together, but you gave me no hint of this trauma you were hiding. I’m so sorry it happened to you, and I’m so glad you’ve come to a place where you can bring it out to help make such a profound point. Congratulations and thank you.

  17. Anne Hurley says:

    I’m so sorry this happened, but grateful you have spoken up. Now, in my early 60s, I feel as though the number of women I know this has not happened to is much smaller and more easily counted than those to whom it has happened. And when I hear of a new case, it’s amazing how quickly that feeling of terror, helplessness and dread comes flooding back. All I can think is that Donna Karan must live in a strange bubble of denial. For the rest of us living in the real world, I can only say, shame on her, and thank you to everyone else who has spoken up. xo

  18. Emotionally difficult as it is to share something so personal and dreadful, it will make an impression on so many. This abhorrent behavior has gone on so long because it’s been tolerated by those who enabled these vile people. It had to end – now. Thank you for writing this.

  19. Many years ago as a young aspiring actress/model, I went to an audition for a movie being produced by Tom Laughlin,who had recently gained fame through his Billy Jack movie. it was 6pm beginning to get dark. Tom told me he had hidden a straight pin in the curtain of his office before I arrived and asked me to find it. I went to the window and began feeling and shaking the curtain.

    At some point from behind me, Tom said, “You are not even looking for it.” I turned around and to my horror he was standing there stark buck naked. I had the good sense to realise if I ran he could not follow me since he was naked. I wish I had outed him during his lifetime for the sexual predator he was.

    Another incident was an agent who told me he’d sign me if I performed oral sex on him. I wish I had reported him to SAG. It is our silence that permits these sexual predators, these perverts, to continue their attacks on women.

    If you are ever sexually harassed or assaulted by anyone REPORT IT IMMEDIATELY! You might save the next victim.

  20. Kimberly says:

    Wow, what a powerful statement. I am sorry this happened to you and sad for all women that you felt shame and kept it a secret. Your words are powerful and true. Keep writing and keep fighting.

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