Angela Lansbury is 92 years old, beloved for her groundbreaking role as the feminist Jessica Fletcher on “Murder, She Wrote.” But don’t let the dame fool you: She’s a victim blamer.
Don’t give her a pass for her age or seven decades of fame. Let’s stop playing the generation gap as an excuse.
“There are two sides to this coin,” she said. “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.
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“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.”
This coming from a woman who played a hot dancehall girl working in a saloon in 1946’s “The Harvey Girls.” She was pinup girl perfection. And if her character were raped, she wouldn’t have been to blame any more than the prim and proper waitress played by Judy Garland would have.
It shouldn’t matter if you’re a former-stripper turned business-savvy reality TV star like Cardi B. or if you’re a poised, brilliant powerhouse first lady like Michelle Obama. No one should ever take that blame. That is rape culture.
Despite the much deserved backlash against Lansbury, let’s get it right. Our Mrs. Potts from “Beauty and the Beast” didn’t brew this tea. She didn’t author that culture. It’s a beast that transcends the generations.
This is no two-sided coin. It’s one where the head is so far up the tail that we’ve subscribed to the age-old “boys will be boys” tradition of teaching women to shoulder the responsibility for their safety. It starts when you are a little girl and forced to sit with your legs shut as not to invite anyone in. Then come the forced hugs, where you’re taught your body isn’t yours and that anyone is entitled to your affection. And by the time you’re a grown-up, it seems your full-time job is to be devalued and shamed for every injustice against you so the patriarchy can patriarchy.
We do it all just to see only 6 out of 1,000 rapists ever go to prison and watch a predator serve as president.
So, no, Lansbury’s brutal philosophy isn’t because she’s almost 100 years old. It’s because she’s been brainwashed. This is the system we live in. “Big Bang Theory” star Mayim Bialik, 42, learned to adhere to the handbook of acceptable behaviors when she was just a little girl on “Blossom.” In her misguided New York Times essay last month, she said her mama wouldn’t let her get manicures or wear make-up. She credited her lack of traditional beauty for keeping her safe. Stop this foolery. Rape isn’t about sexual attraction or beauty. It’s about power.
The kind of power that allowed former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar to assault over 125 women and girls and led Olympian Aly Raisman to share her story of survival and take a stand against victim blamers. “Just because a woman does a sexy photo shoot or wears a sexy outfit does not give a man the right to shame her or not believe her when she comes forward with sexual abuse,” she tweeted earlier this month. “AND when a women dresses sexy it does not give a man the right to sexually abuse her EVER.”
Her teammate, 21-year-old Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas, responded, “However it is our responsibility as women to dress modestly and be classy. Dressing in a provocative/sexual way entices the wrong crowd.”
Amidst backlash, Douglas backpedaled and disclosed she is also one of Nassar’s victims. This is how deep the rape culture rabbit hole goes. Victims shame and blame themselves and others, too.
Lansbury, like Bialik, like Douglas, like society as a whole, has been taught to believe the lie that we must bear the burden of sexism and brutality. We have been taught there is only one way to be a lady, and any other way makes you responsible for your brutalization. It’s exhausting. It’s tiring constantly canceling the careers of every celebrity who is complicit in rape culture when we need to cancel rape culture, period.
Women and girls should not be forced into the laborious task of living their lives according to the temptations of men and boys who have yet to understand the concept of consent.
“Sometimes I feel like they are all threatened by my sexuality and I’m sick of feeling like I have to make decisions based on the male gaze,” Nola Darling says in Spike Lee’s new Netflix series, a modern version of “She’s Gotta Have It.” Episode 3, “#LBD (Little Black Dress),” finds Nola (played by DeWanda Wise) trying to cope with sexual assault and harassment. She tells her therapist she feels she needs to cover up and hide.
Her therapist tells her the truth we all need to hear: It’s not her fault. She could have been dressed in a burqa and still been harassed.
“When you have been through some sort of trauma it’s easy to feel like you’re losing control in your life. But talking about it is one way we start to take back that power. … The solution isn’t covering up. It’s finding a way to assert your power and to move through the world with confidence.”
It’s taken me three hours to write this column. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), that means about 110 people have been sexually assaulted. Think about it: 1 out of every 6 women and 1 in 33 men have been assaulted. Rape culture crosses all genders, cultures, generations, orientations. It lives in families, in the military, the workplace, on college campuses and the White House.
So what’s it going to be? Will we change the narrative and quit believing the lie, or are we going to keeping rape culture alive as the tale as old as time?
Jeneé Osterheldt is Kansas City Star culture columnist. On Twitter: @jeneeinkc
▪ Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault: 816-531-0233 or 913-642-0233, www.mocsa.org
▪ Kansas City Anti-Violence Project: 816-561-0550 (help line for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender), www.kcavp.org
▪ Rose Brooks Center: 816-861-6100, www.rosebrooks.org
▪ Safehome: 913-262-2868, www.safehome-ks.org
▪ Hope House: 816-461-4673, www.hopehouse.net/
▪ RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network): 800-656-4673, www.rainn.org