Everyone loves Bill Cosby. As Joan Tarshis said in her Monday interview with CNN anchor Don Lemon, “He’s Mister America, Mister Jell-O.” Generations of Americans grew up watching him make us laugh, from “The Cosby Show” to his various stand-up comedy specials, he’s been a huge influence in many people’s lives, as well as in the entertainment industry.
Which is why new allegations that he raped and/or sexually assaulted numerous women over his long career seem to have given us all a pause. The women, no fewer than 15 and including model Janice Dickinson, have begun to share their stories. One of the most notable of these is the story of Joan Tarshis. She alleges that Cosby raped her at the age of 19, and then sexually assaulted her once more on a separate occasion by forcing her to perform oral sex.
The reason Tarshis’s allegations specifically seem to have drawn the most attention is thanks to the interview she granted to CNN anchor Don Lemon. During the interview, Tarshis gave her account of what happened with Cosby. Lemon listened, nodding understandingly. Then came the questions.
First, Lemon asked why Tarshis never said anything about the incident when it occurred. Then he went on to ask why she would allow herself to be in a position for a second attack to occur at all. Tarshis answered calmly that she, at the tender age of 19, was afraid to speak up, or even to tell her parents. She believed that no one would believe her because Cosby was so beloved. Then came the big comment, the one that has many modern females, this one included, typing furiously away on social media of all sorts with a type of rage usually reserved for very special occasions.
Don Lemon brought the conversation back to Tarshis’s account of the forced oral sex. He pointed out, his face set in that look that says come on now, that there are “ways not to perform oral sex.” Lemon also asked Tarshis whether the thought of “the using of the teeth” had occurred to her.
Tarshis paused, nodded and gave a small, awkward chuckle. She sadly and calmly explained that no, it hadn’t occurred to her at the time, and that she wishes now that it had. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a textbook example of victim blaming. A phenomena that, no matter how advanced and modern we believe our society to be, somehow manages to pervade every sex crime case, especially the high profile ones.
I know that nobody wants to believe that Bill Cosby, “Mister Jell-O,” could have committed these heinous crimes. However, that does not give us an excuse to put his alleged victims on trial. 15 women have come forward claiming that a man forced them into some form of sexual activity. It does not matter who that man is, or how charming his sweaters are. These women have the right to a full investigation and fair trial. They also have the right to come forward and report their experiences without being looked down upon and blamed for what they could have done to prevent them.
Don Lemon isn’t the only culprit here. However, he is the one to air his victim blaming most publicly. And for that, he has gained the scorn of an often overlooked, but tragically huge percentage of the female population. Women who have been in police interview rooms, holding ice packs to bruises, and answering questions like, “What were you wearing?” and “Do we really want to make a big thing about this?” and “The trial is going to be very hard for you, are you sure you want to press charges?” Then there are the women who have never been able to speak up about the things they have endured, and last but certainly not least ones who have never been attacked themselves, but stand with their sisters and understand that rape is never the woman’s fault. We are all very, very angry.
Don Lemon made a quick apology for his remarks on Wednesday. In a short, maybe 10-second clip, he said, “As I am a victim myself, I would never want to suggest that any victim could have prevented a rape. If my questions to her struck anyone as insensitive, I am sorry. It was not my intention.” It may not have been your intention sir, but it was your effect. It’s going to take a hell of a lot more than a 10-second half-apology to make it up to the millions of unheard women who have undergone similar experiences, and the scrutiny that comes with seeking justice for themselves. And as I am a victim myself, and as someone who has asked herself those same questions you put to Joan Tarshis on Monday night, all I can say is next time, why don’t you use your teeth—to shut your goddamn, insensitive, victim-blaming mouth.