In the wake of the sexual harassment claims levied against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, a Texas congresswoman suggested it’s just as much the woman’s responsibility to cover up and behave if she wants to prevent unwanted sexual advances.
“I grew up in a time when it was as much the woman’s responsibility as it was a man’s — how you were dressed, what your behavior was,” Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) told local station NBC 5 Thursday. “I’m from the old school, that you can have behaviors that appear to be inviting. It can be interpreted as such. That’s the responsibility, I think, of the female. I think that males have a responsibility to be professional themselves.”
The 81-year-old added she was angry and disappointed at news of Weinstein’s actions and said it was time to start talking about how women can take control in such situations.
“There’s law enforcement, you can refuse to cooperate with that kind of behavior,” Johnson said. “I think that many times, men get away with this because they’re allowed to get away with it by the women.”
Johnson’s comments sparked swift backlash, with critics blasting her excuse of being “from the old school” as a means for victim blaming. More disturbingly, this was the same excuse Weinstein used for why he continued his sexually predatory behavior in Hollywood.
“I know the impact of those words, and I know it keeps women from coming forward,” Jan Langbein, CEO of Genesis Women’s Shelter and Support in Dallas, told NBC 5. Other critics clapped back at the congresswoman on social media.
TX rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson… girl. 😒 you don’t get it, & that’s the sad part. Just tell men to stop sexually assaulting women.
— Ororo Munroe (@Haute2Trott) October 19, 2017
Eddie Bernice Johnson's remarks on sex assault are reprehensible. They are nothing more than victim shaming.
— Kevin 😷 (@SophiesGrandpa) October 19, 2017
The controversial remarks were all the more surprising coming from Johnson, an African- American female lawmaker who has a track record of speaking about the challenges faced by women in a society largely driven by men. The Washington Post reported that Johnson hosted the “A World of Women for World Peace” conference in her district just last year to shed light on the issues women and girls face worldwide, including sexual assault.
A statement about the event described it as one aimed at bringing “greater visibility to the women who are victims of war and aggression, and the women who facilitate peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities in their communities.”
“In fact, the real faces of war are torn and displaced communities, women suffering the ravages of rape and widowhood, children with missing limbs and orphans without the hope of education and healthcare,” it read.
The recent allegations against Weinstein have reignited discussions about sexual assault and harassment, prompting the viral #MeToo movement encouraging survivors to speak out about their experiences. The movement was originally launched by Black activist Tarana Burke in 2007, but revamped by actress Alyssa Milano.
Rep. Johnson has since walked back her comments in the wake of the backlash, saying her message was intended to empower women to prevent sexual harassment and assault. Despite her “old school” outlook, she insisted she does not condone men using their power to abuse women.
“At each turn of my professional life, I have made it my mission to fight for women’s rights,” she said in a statement. “… I will never condone those who feel they can abuse the power of their positions to sexually assault and harass women, and I will always encourage victims to come forward so that we can hold these criminals accountable.”
“Ultimately, we need to unequivocally support the victims of sexual assault and harassment as best we can while working to hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions,” she added. “And supporting all women in this fight will continue to be my life’s work.”