Angela Lansbury is victim-blaming 'attractive' women for sexual harassment

Angela Lansbury said women’s efforts to be attractive have “backfired”.
Angela Lansbury said women’s efforts to be attractive have “backfired”.

Angela Lansbury is a national treasure but her latest comments may find herself in the country’s bargain bin.

That’s because the Murder She Wrote star – who will appear in the BBC’s Little Women adaptation this Christmas – has offered a victim-blaming opinion on the topic of sexual harassment which is currently dominating the cultural conversation.

Numerous high-powered figures in the entertainment industry have been outed as alleged sexual predators and harassers – including Harvey Weinstein, Brett Ratner and James Toback – and more and more women are coming forward with their #MeToo stories of abuse.

In the latest issue of the Radio Times, Lansbury, 92, claims women, attractive women, need to share some of the blame for the sexual harassment they suffer from men.

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. Should women be prepared for this? No, they shouldn’t have to be.

“There’s no excuse for that. And I think it will stop now – it will have to. I think a lot of men must be very worried at this point.”

You can probably hear the collective groan as women across the country take in her misguided statement. Sexual harassment and assault has little to do with a woman’s attractiveness, as many women of different appearances can testify to.

It doesn’t matter if you’re fat or thin, black or white, choose to wear miniskirts or a burqa; a man’s prerogative for raping, assaulting or harassing women is about exerting their sexual power and dominance over their victim(s). It’s about sexual gratification at the expense of their victim’s feelings and self-worth.

To suggest that a woman who wants to look attractive is “asking for it” only feeds into the abuser mentality to make the victim feel as though they are responsible for their own abuse.

In the same interview, Angela Lansbury said she had never experienced sexual harassment as a young actress, so it seems even more misguided for her to make a such a strong statement on the subject. But some people have argued that the veteran actress is “of a generation” who still have an old-fashioned attitude to gender politics. That’s not good enough.

Lansbury isn’t the grandma living in an old mining town, who has been watching Coronation Street since it first came on air. She’s a well-educated international star who has probably experienced more of the evolving world than most people of her age. Angela should know better. Just because she has gone her whole career without being uncontroversial it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t question or confront her when she does make a harmful comment. And, as Rape Crisis England & Wales pointed out to The Daily Telegraph, her comments about sexual harassment are harmful.

“It is a deeply unhelpful myth that rape and other forms of sexual violence are caused or ‘provoked’ by women’s sexuality or ‘attractiveness’. There is no excuse or mitigation for sexual violence and there is no circumstance in which it’s even partially the victim’s or survivor’s fault. Until we accept and acknowledge that, it will be very difficult for us as a society to reduce or prevent rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment or sexual abuse.”

When Donna Karan and Mayim Bialik made similar victim-blaming comments in terms of women’s appearance they were rightly called out and they changed their opinion. One can only hope that by making these statements publicly, Angela Lansbury can learn from the public just why her views are incorrect, because it’s never too late to educate people on gender equality.

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