Advice for the Unraped, Before Your Next Press Appearance

[CN: rape culture, sexual assault]


I’ll get to Damon Wayans — and his recent, egregious comments on Bill Cosby — in a moment. I’d like to start with a dim memory of a personal essay I read almost two decades ago.

The essay’s author was a man whose girlfriend had been raped by a stranger in a violent assault and who decides to return with her to the scene of the attack so she can show him, step-by-step, blow-by-blow,  what she endured. He agrees to this, hoping a controlled reenactment will help in her recovery…and fearing what he will discover about himself in the process. In going to this dark place, he worries, will he feel what her rapist felt? Will he be confronted by his own capacity to be a rapist?

Yet during the reenactment, the author comes to understand not “I too could be a rapist” — but “I too could be a victim.”

I still remember this insight as a stunning moment of empathy and vulnerability, all these years later. I’m going to ask you to remember too, because I’ll be coming back to this in a moment.

But first I’m gonna talk about Mr. Wayans.

Sigh.

* * *

(youtube screen capture via)
Damon Wayans being interviewed on Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club (youtube screen capture via)

In the last five minutes or so of a half-hour interview Wayans did on Friday on Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club, he was asked to weigh in on Bill Cosby and the nearly 50 women alleging they were sexually assaulted by the comic. If you have seen any reporting on this interview — even if you didn’t read beyond the headline — chances are you have already seen the worst of Wayans’ rape denialism: how the victims are too ugly to be believed. They all look “unrapeable” to him.

Sigh.

Look, if you are filled with umbrage at this comment — if the very idea of using one’s mouth to form the syllables of “unrapeable” raises bile in your throat — I get it. Oh how I get it. If that’s where you’re at today, I’m fully sympathetic.

I’m also tired.

As Kirsten West Savali points out, this is Rape Culture 101-level bullshit, spewed by a “self-proclaimed funny-man in the last gasp of relevancy.” In fact, the whole five minutes could run as a Thought Catalog listicle: 12 Quick and Terrible Ways to Support the Rapists in Your Life — While Undermining Their Victims! 

Let’s see. We have:

  1. Women claim they have been raped as an extortion tactic: a “money hustle.” [Nothing says Jackpot! quite like the public reaction that follows being outed as a rape victim, amirite ladies?!]
  2. Women claim they have been raped when rejected by a man they desire. [Even lesbians, apparently.]
  3. Rape is about wanting sex. [NOPE to the nth degree. It’s about exercising power.]
  4. Famous men don’t rape.
  5. Good-looking men don’t rape.
  6. Only attractive people get raped. [So…rape is a compliment? I see. Gee. Thanks.]
  7. Real victims of sexual assault immediately make sure Damon Wayans hears their story come forward.
  8. Real victims of sexual assault never get raped more than once. [“Fool me once, shame on…well, it’s always ‘shame on me,’ I guess. Isn’t it.”]
  9. There is a perfect number of alleged victims who must come forward before any rape accusation is plausible. That perfect number is always more than one and less than also more than however many have already spoken out.
  10. “Innocent until proven guilty” is a legal principle applicable to all defendants in a court of law a magical phrase in the court of public opinion universally applied to shield alleged rapists. [Alternate wording for victims: “liars until proven innocent.”]
  11. Alcohol and drugs — including Quaaludes — are nothing more than a way men and women “get in the mood.” [Or, yknow, alcohol could also be one of the most readily-available and widely-used tools in the acquaintance-rapist’s arsenal. Tomato, tomahto.]
  12. Rape victims come in two flavors: “bitches,” who should just shut up — and a few select not-bitches[??], who deserve actual sympathy. Mostly because of their status as some man’s daughter.

So, yeah.

This is a thing that happened.

My thoughts exactly, Lisa.
My thoughts exactly, Lisa.

Don’t get me wrong: the fact that grotesque clichés repeated ad nauseum are Rape Culture’s favorite calling card does not render such statements any less harmful. Quite the opposite. The ideas tumbling out of Wayans’ mouth have been repeated for so long, in so many ways, that they can feel both obvious and inevitable.

Even Wayans himself seems confused about what he said:

Yup, Damon — I did. But thanks for checking!

In fact, only after listening to the whole thing did I decide to weigh in on what otherwise felt like garden-variety rape apologia from yet another nozzle with a mic. The interview starts with Wayans discussing his own life challenges, and how they relate to his comedy:

  • First, he’s got diabetes — and it could kill him. Not to be joked about.
  • Second, he was born with a club foot — and “only…people who weren’t crippled” ever had a problem with his jokes about the physical disabled. His own experience gives him the right to do characters like Handi-Man[So…I’ma just be TW’ing that video link for everyone now reading. In case you were wondering how persuasive I find this argument.]

The same personal experience-angle comes back up in the Cosby discussion. Turns out, the only way Wayans can consider believing any of the accusers is if he first imagines one of his own daughters as a victim: “If it was my daughter, I woulda killed Bill Cosby. But just sitting back looking at it? I don’t believe it.”

A few minutes later: “And they may be… For them — my heart goes out to them. For anyone who was raped by Bill Cosby? I’m sorry. And I hope you get justice.

“You other bitches?! LOOK.” [laughs mockingly]

Now, THIS is the crap that grates my cheese. When men refuse to recognize harm done to women unless they first see those women as belonging to them. “What if it happened to your daughter, your wife, your sister…?”

Screw that. What if it happened to a human being — just. like. you. 

(via)
(via)

Without such direct empathy, the harm done to actual victims completely slips from view. Rape becomes a crime perpetrated by men against other men, with girls and women as mere conduits. (Whereas male and nonbinary rape victims disappear from the conversation altogether.) This line of reasoning is so poisonous, we hear it not only from Cosby’s defenders — but from some of his loudest critics, as well.

Critics like Judd Apatow, whose “anti-Bill Cosby crusade” has continued unabated for months, apparently stoked by Apatow’s feeling of having been personally betrayed by the older comic.

[If I may borrow Melissa McEwan’s words for a moment: “You know what, Judd Apatow? I seriously do not want to hear a fucking thing about Cosby from the producer of Superbad, the entire premise of which is two losers fixing to get ladies drunk to “have sex with” them, not to mention the producer, director, and/or writer on a number of other projects that contain scenes of rape, rape culture tropes, and rape jokes. Fuck off, hypocrite.”]

And critics like Larry Wilmore, who not infrequently begins The Nightly Show with a Cosby joke — and a snarl of “I haven’t forgotten about you, m*****f*****!”

[In an interview marking TNS‘s 100th episode, Wilmore cites the Cosby issue as the turning point in realizing “how much I really cared about women’s issues” and the importance of being an ally to women. He also names Woody Allen — longtime comedian and incestuous pedophile — as a primary influence in his own comedy: “I was formed by Woody Allen.” So…I guess that ally-ship is still a work in progress, huh, Larry?]

I will give props to Damon Wayans on getting one thing almost right — though he drew absolutely the wrong conclusion from his facts — Woody Allen escaped the kind of vitriol currently being directed at Cosby. As did Stephen Collins, another once-popular TV dad-cum-sexual predator. The undeniable racial difference on display? Tells me that it ain’t outrage over sexual violence at the core of public reaction against Cosby. It’s racial outrage.^

And white supremacy has never notably cared about rape victims.

* * *

Here’s where I circle us back around to where we started: that essay I read so long ago — and a man who loved a woman enough to recognize his own profound (and profoundly human) vulnerability.

Realizing “I too could be a rape victim” does not mean thinking we all share the same risks. The further one gets from the privileged center of straight, white, male, cisgender, adult, financially secure, neurotypical, able-bodied, not-incarcerated identities, the greater risk one bears. Compassion does not, nor should it, elide recognition of these material differences.

Knowing “I too could be raped” means caring about victims and survivors from a space not of ownership, but of community. It means hearing the myriad voices that speak from the empty chair.

“I too” means understanding that no one is “unrapeable,” not even me, not even you — and letting that knowledge soften us into deeper compassion for all.

“I too” means we seek safety and justice together…

For only together can we all be found.

# # #


^With a heavy dose of some freaky father-posturing thrown in for good measure. Dr. Cliff Huxtable, Pastor Eric Camden, obsessive references to Farrow as Allen’s “adopted daughter” (as if adoption status mitigates the harm done to Dylan): if you don’t see the battles over white supremacist, cis-heteronormative, patriarchal capitalism [AKA: The Patriarchy] and the nuclear family playing out in these debates, well then…I’ve got another post to write. As well as some light bedtime reading to recommend to you, in the meantime.

17 thoughts on “Advice for the Unraped, Before Your Next Press Appearance

  1. There was something like this the other day in Cardiff (UK, I don’t know where you’re located) where there were lots of varying ‘sex attacks’ on women yet it was a man that spoke out about how victimised he felt. He said something like ‘I was walking home from work at midnight and the woman in front walked very quickly away from me as if I was going to hurt her. I feel belittled and misjudged, I was walking quickly simply to get home quicker and want an apology’ like WHAT. This isn’t about YOU. That shows how scared woman are to walk alone at night or sometimes in general, but after watching interviews (or verbal pisstakes I don’t even want to take them seriously) like these you can’t wonder why.

    Like

    1. It is an unfortunate fact of living in a rape culture that getting one’s feelings hurt over being perceived as a potential assailant is seen by some as an equal or greater injury to actually being assaulted.

      I don’t know if you are familiar with the concept of Schrödinger’s Rapist? This is one of my favorite posts anywhere on the Internet; I’ve sent it to countless people because it’s such a great tool for explaining the perspective of women in public spaces. I think every young feminist needs this essay in her toolbox.

      And so [DRUM ROLL PLEASE] now I’ma send it to you too! http://bit.ly/1egpHAl

      Like

    1. Thanks! I hadn’t intended to write about him — “random D-list celebrity turns out to be a rape denier” hardly strikes me as big news — but that “if it was my [daughter/sister/wife/mother]” garbage bothers me deeply every time I hear it. Wayans’ comments opened the door to raising that broader issue.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I think it’s important, when a public figure says something so terrible, to point out not only why their statements are awful — but also when the same logic can be found underpinning even the ideas of ostensible allies. Rape culture and misogyny permeate everything, and only staying woke will change that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wayans comments pissed me off too. I’m still trying to process my feelings I was really sick to my stomach about what he said about the women being “unrapeable”- insult to injury. It’s amazing how clueless he is in terms of not getting why people are upset.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah — and accompanying his “don’t twist my words!” response with a 7-second soundbite utterly devoid of context neither helps his case…nor bolsters my opinion of Mr. Wayans’ basic reasoning skills.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for tackling a tough topic. I recognize the pervasiveness of ‘rape culture’ when I caught myself thinking about someone posting a very graphic, personal experience on Facebook. At first I thought, “How horrible, but is this really the right place/way to express your pain?” Then I kicked myself because it takes guts to put a face to such violations and to stand up and say, “This happened to me. Please don’t ignore it.” Maybe we need to have this kind of acknowledgement so that women and men can come forward without fearing judgment or worse when they tell their story.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, kirizar! And you’ve identified a very real problem — the social discomfort with these stories, and the attendant taboos that often attach shame to the victim rather than the rapist, can further traumatize and silence survivors. One thing we know about trauma recovery is that the ability to own and tell one’s own story (admittedly, not necessarily on Facebook!) is absolutely critical.

      Liked by 4 people

  4. FYI: I saw the post title, and was almost going to bypass it because I had no energy available for Wayans’ apologia. But then I realized you had written it, so I knew it’d be worth reading. I was right. Thank you!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks! And I totally get the “no energy for this” feeling. I was feeling Absolute Zero Energy about Wayans, myself. Only a deep need to scratch a deep masochistic itch led me to listen to the interview at all — and then the whole “if it was MY daughter” thing…

      Which is not only offensive in the extreme (women as merely human-adjacent) — it’s also a patent lie. Young women’s rape narratives tend not to feature “my father’s immediate belief and total support when I told him” as a wildly common trope, in my experience.

      Liked by 1 person

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