If you and I are friends and you have been assaulted or raped, whether it’s by a stranger who jumped out of the bushes at you or a date or a well-respected figure in your community, and you want to tell me about it for any reason, literally any reason at all, I will 100% believe you and not the rapist.
So I’ve been pondering the Bill Cosby thing as practically everybody who works in or adjacent to television has over the last few days, and I don’t want to make this too long because it’s been a bit of a beardstrokeathon already and most of what needs to be said has been said, but I do feel like maybe it’s worth briefly discussing the shock we feel when we learn that America’s dad, the guy who called Eddie Murphy to tell him not to cuss so much, appears to have poisoned and then violated at least a dozen women and probably many more.
And I think what’s maybe so nauseating about all this and what’s worth taking away from it and staring at right in the eyes is the total horror of every single man who has anything to say about this, and then the immediate acceptance demonstrated by at least a plurality if not a majority of the women who’ve opined publicly on the news. Men, I think, mostly do not understand this kind of crime very well and it just blows our minds that a guy who went to great lengths to style himself a fun, upbeat, kid-friendly moral mountain of an entertainer would turn out in reality to be the Hannibal Lecter of rape.
Women are just not even fazed.
The idea that a rapist or even a murderer is a dirty man in a trench coat who has no friends and lives under a bridge is the sort of indulgence only people who need never fear violence can afford, and perhaps our imaginative capital is better spent on other things. I have some suggestions, actually.
Men are eager to fetishize and grovel before victims; they’re fun to identify with. You get to feel aggrieved without having to suffer, and you get to avoid any real, awful understanding and instead craft fictions about revenge and last-minute rescue. But perhaps we have enough of those. Perhaps we have enough heroes in armor and damsels in distress.
It might be worth it, as dudes, to try to understand what a person who believes he’s always right is really capable of. It might be worth attempting, on some level, to develop sympathy for these devils, so that we can understand how and why they started to see unprotected women as opportunities.
Here’s a small sin of mine: When we moved into our current apartment, I noticed in the hallway underneath the unit a stain on the ceiling. I told myself every possible lie about what that stain could be, but I knew, somewhere in the back of my head, that it was a leak and would have to be dealt with. More than a year went by, and finally we had to have the kitchen disassembled and reassembled so a contractor could go into the wall and replace a pipe that had broken. Stupid, I know, but because the leak was inside the wall and not technically on our property as defined by the co-op, the financial burden didn’t fall on us. I’d refused to admit the obvious, unpleasant truth, but I thought it hasn’t cost me anything.
Then the contractor sank an eight-pound hammer into the drywall, and when he pulled it out of the hole, dozens upon dozens of huge, filthy cockroaches fled through the gap, abandoning the home I’d let them build there, inches away from the bread and coffee and boxes of cookies, for months.
If we, as men, fear that we’ll discover some latent evil in our own hearts by asking and answering frankly the question of what a bad person looks like, the asking and answering are that much more urgent. This isn’t because we owe the world some kind of group apology, but because we owe the women whose world we share an honest estimation of the possibility of evil, even if—especially if—the evil doesn’t look much different from the mirror. Evil, after all, is more often visited on them than us. We have inside information on the worst things of which people who look, act and think like us are capable. Let’s put it to better use next time.