[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.
* * *
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.
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:
- 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?!]
- Women claim they have been raped when rejected by a man they desire. [Even lesbians, apparently.]
- Rape is about wanting sex. [NOPE to the nth degree. It’s about exercising power.]
- Famous men don’t rape.
- Good-looking men don’t rape.
- Only attractive people get raped. [So…rape is a compliment? I see. Gee. Thanks.]
- Real victims of sexual assault immediately
make sure Damon Wayans hears their storycome forward.
- 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.”]
- 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 thanalso more than however many have already spoken out.
- “Innocent until proven guilty” is
a legal principle applicable to all defendants in a court of lawa magical phrase in the court of public opinion universally applied to shield alleged rapists. [Alternate wording for victims: “liars until proven innocent.”]
- 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.]
- 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.
This is a thing that happened.
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.
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.