Democratic congresswoman says women bear some responsibility for preventing assault

"I'm from the old school that you can have behaviors that appear to be inviting."

In this Jan. 5, 2011 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio participates in a ceremonial swearing in with Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, second from right, on Capitol Hill in Washington. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File
In this Jan. 5, 2011 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio participates in a ceremonial swearing in with Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, second from right, on Capitol Hill in Washington. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said Wednesday that women bear as much responsibility as men for preventing sexual assault and harassment.

“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,” Johnson told local media. “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.”

Her message, she insisted, was meant to empower women to prevent assault and harassment.

Johnson also told NBC DFW she was disappointed more women did not report movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment, assault, abuse, and rape earlier.

“I think we also need to start talking about the power that women have to control the situation. There’s law enforcement, you can refuse to cooperate with that kind of behavior. I think that, many times, men get away with this because they are allowed to get away with it by the women,” Johnson said.

While her comments ignited a firestorm of criticism, Johnson isn’t the only Democratic woman who has responded to the Weinstein allegations with faux feminism.

On Friday, The New York Times published an op-ed by actress Mayim Bialik which was headlined, “Being a Feminist in Harvey Weinstein’s World.”

“Nothing — absolutely nothing — excuses men for assaulting or abusing women,” Bialik wrote. “But we can’t be naive about the culture we live in.”

It’s naive, Bialik posited, to think women can’t make choices that are “self-protecting” and “wise” in an effort to protect themselves from sexual assault.

“I have decided that my sexual self is best reserved for private situations with those I am most intimate with. I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men as a policy,” she wrote. “I am entirely aware that these types of choices might feel oppressive to many young feminists. Women should be able to wear whatever they want. They should be able to flirt however they want with whomever they want.”

And that, Bialik wrote, is how it would be in a perfect world, “but our world isn’t perfect.”

Bialik and Johnson are making same mistake Republicans and conservative commentators have made when criticizing Weinstein as a Democrat rather than as a predator. They all fail to recognize that sexual assault has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with power dynamics and a culture of toxic masculinity.

As actress Gabrielle Union tweeted earlier in the week, “Reminder. I got raped at work at a Payless shoe store. I had on a long tunic & leggings so miss me w/ ‘dress modestly’ shit.”

Actress Patricia Arquette also responded directly to Bialik on Twitter this past Saturday, saying, “I have to say I was dressed non provocatively at 12 walking home from school when men masturbated at me. It’s not the clothes.”

Bialik, after first arguing parts of her column were taken out of context, has since apologized for the piece.

“Let me say very clearly and explicitly that I am very sorry,” she said on Twitter. “What you wear and how you behave does not provide any protection from assault, nor does the way you dress or act in any way make you responsible for being assaulted.”

The question now is whether Johnson, an elected official representing more than 750,000 people, will come to the same realization.