By Claire Zillman
November 28, 2017

Angela Lansbury, British actress best known as sleuth Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote, found herself in a real-life pickle on Tuesday, this one of her own making.

The 92-year-old, who voiced Mrs. Potts in the 1991 Disney animated film Beauty and the Beast, faced fierce criticism for statements she made on sexual harassment and blaming victims.

But people on social media have made much of her starring roll in a 1944 mystery-thriller, Gaslight.

Gaslighting has gained new, modern day prominence as a term for manipulating an aggrieved party into doubting his or her own memory, perception, or reality.

“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,” Lansbury told Radio Times in an interview. “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,” she said. “Although it’s awful to say we can’t make ourselves look as attractive as possible without being knocked down and raped.”

At the same time, she acknowledged that the current conversation about sexual harassment and assault marked a turning point.

Lansbury has just completed work on Disney's 'Mary Poppins Returns'
Amanda Edwards WireImage

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

 

The responses on Twitter have been swift, with many users referencing her past work as they level criticism at the actress.

Lansbury’s remarks echoed a similar statement by fashion designer Donna Karan, who responded to the bombshell sexual misconduct accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in October by citing women’s appearance.

“I also think how do we display ourselves? How do we present ourselves as women? What are we asking? Are we asking for it by presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality?” she said. She later backpedaled, saying her remarks were taken out of context, and then blamed her comments on being “absolutely in a state of shock.”

Similarly, U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–Texas), last month said it’s up to “the female” to ensure she’s not sending the wrong message to would-be harassers.

Such comments clash harshly with the on-going #MeToo movement that’s led to a more widespread recognition that women’s claims of sexual assault and harassment are legitimate. The social reckoning initiated by the Weinstein saga—in which claims of sexual misconduct have toppled powerful men from their perches in film, comedy, and media—has shifted responsibility for such abuse away from the victim and—rightfully—onto the perpetrators. Lansbury’s remarks, meanwhile, signaled an effort to shift the blame right back.

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