This morning, ABC News aired its interview with fashion designer Donna Karan, who’d previously told the Daily Mail that Harvey Weinstein was a “wonderful” person and that women needed to assess themselves and the way they dress in today’s society. “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?”
In the new interview, Karan said: “I heard a whisper, but there were whispers all over. It wasn’t until a day and a half after I truly heard about it. That’s my honest truth, I didn’t know.”
“I made a huge, huge mistake,” she continued. “What I said is so wrong and not who I am. I was exhausted. I had just come from a 14-hour plane trip. I walked into a situation that I wasn’t prepared for in any circumstances whatsoever.”
Okay, so let’s stop there. Far be it for me to condemn the apologies of a famous person, but we’ve already got a problem here: everything she just said.
To start, where there are whispers (for decades for literal fucking decades), there tend to be bankable accounts of harassment and assault. Most of us know this as a result of our own experiences with harassment and assault, and the rest of us know this because we know how the world works, and “open secrets” tend to be code for “everybody knows this to be true, but no one’s done anything about it yet.” (See: Jian Ghomeshi if we want to throw down a name, which I do, thank you very much.) Second, “I didn’t know” is the worst excuse for all things, ever. You remember that scene in Elf? When Will Ferrell is shopping and his manager gets angry because he thinks he’s shopping on company time? Right. It goes like this:
Manager: “You can shop on your break! You don’t–come on, get upstairs!”
Will Ferrell: “Okay, well I didn’t know!”
Manager: “Well you should know!”
“I didn’t know” is the excuse you issue in grade 12 English when you didn’t know that the book had to be finished today, you just thought you had to have read the first chapter and what do you mean there’s a final exam. “I didn’t know” was the way I have defended almost everything I totally knew I was doing. It is the nerf ball of excuses. It is weak.
And so is having come from a long flight, if we’re at it. Many of us are tired. Most of us, while maybe not on planes for 14 hours at a time, are exhausted in general. But when you’re apologizing for your apologist behaviour, you needn’t justify it by telling us why, out of everything to say on the earth, you opted for the “asking for it” narrative. Which maybe isn’t who Karan is (as she said), but even the realest “I’m sorry” seems insincere when it’s followed up with a “but I was tired.” Girl. No.
“I love women, I absolutely adore women,” Karan went on to say. “I care about them. I’m a mother. I’m a grandmother, you know? And I’ve never done this before and I will never ever do it again.”
Right. And I hope she — and anyone who followed her lead — never does. But if we’re about to wade into apology season (and believe me, we are), I don’t think any of us need to hear about how much being a mom/dad/grandpa/grandma/aunt/uncle/centaur has impacted your belief that the women you don’t know are still people. You can just say “I’m sorry.” You can literally say you fucked up, your comments were ignorant, you were part of the problem, you gave into shame culture, you didn’t want the news to be true and while none of it justifies what you said, it’s made you realize there is a shit-ton of work you need to do. You can just say that.
I’m sure that Karan is sorry. I’m sure she really, really wishes she’d never spoken at all. But when it comes to somebody saying something stupid and irresponsible, I don’t care if you’ve just come from space: you own up to what you’ve done, you acknowledge why it was bad, you leave your “I love women!” chorus out of it, and you do better. Because with the amount of apologies I’m sure we’re going to hear over the next little while, we don’t have time for anything else. We’ve wasted enough time dancing around the actual problem as is.