Women need to stop inviting sexual harassment against them, said a congresswoman who initially gained recognition for making historic strides for women.
“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-Tex.) told a Texas NBC affiliate when asked to weigh in on the sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. “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,” she added.
Weinstein also used being reared in the “old school” as one of the reasons he allegedly continued to force himself on women after they told him they had no interest in having sex with him.
“I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different,” he wrote in a pseudo-apology. “That was the culture then.”
I wasn't born in the 1960s and '70s, but despite fewer laws protecting women in the workplace, it seems even then that many men managed to avoid assaulting and harassing women at work.
For all of the takes coming out after the publicizing of Weinstein's behavior, Johnson's “women need to cover up and behave” was one of the more surprising, in part because the lawmaker, the first nurse elected to Congress, actually has a track record of speaking out about the challenges women face in a society where power is primarily held by men.
“Being a woman and being black is perhaps a double handicap,” she told the Chicago Tribune in 1990. “When you see who's in the important huddles, who's making the important decisions, it's men.”
Just last year, Johnson hosted the “A World of Women for World Peace” conference in her district to highlight the challenges women and girls face globally — including sexual assault.
“Congresswoman Johnson began 'A World of Women for World Peace' in 2001 to bring greater visibility to the women who are victims of war and aggression, and the women who facilitate peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace building activities in their communities,” a statement about the event said. “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 health care.”
The lawmaker reached out to the Post to share that despite her having an "old school perspective" that does not mean she condones men abusing women.
"I do not blame the victims of sexual assault for the actions of their assailants," she said. "I do acknowledge that my comments regarding behavior and attire come from an old school perspective that has shaped how some of us understand the issue, but that does not detract from the fact that criminals need to be held accountable for their actions."
"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," Johnson added.
Women in America may not be “suffering the ravages of rape” because of war, but they have said they are suffering at the hands of Hollywood moguls, media icons and politicians.
Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson sued her former boss Roger Ailes for sexual harassment after she allegedly was fired for avoiding his sexual advances. She wants men on Capitol Hill to take a more aggressive role in changing legislation related to sexual harassment.
“We need men like you in this fight,” she told CNN's Jake Tapper this week. “We need men to help us with this mission.”
Obviously women also have a role to play in the efforts to end sexual harassment. But that doesn't mean they should have to take preventive measures by dressing a certain way, or be made to feel that their choices contributed to the actions of predators.
This post has been updated.