I Write Letters

[Content Note: Sexual violence; rape culture.]

Dear Dudes:

By now, surely you've heard that superstar Bill Cosby has been accused of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault by around 35 women. And maybe you've also read the number of defense of Cosby which have been offered by his family, friends, and colleagues, the latest of whom to weigh in was Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who played his son on The Cosby Show for many years:
"I can't really speak on any of the allegations because obviously, I was not there. The Bill Cosby I know has been great to me and great for a lot of people," he said.

"What he's done for comedy and television has been legendary and history-making. What he's done for the black community and education has been invaluable. That's the Bill Cosby I know. I can't speak on the other stuff."
Dudes, we need to talk about this, because this response is a textbook example of What Not to Do, even though dudes do it all the time.

If you really care about sexual assault, and victims of sexual assault:

1. Don't pretend like you're not "speaking on the allegations" when you are defending the accused. This is a real tricksy bit of bullshit that I see men doing all the time: "I can't really say, but Bill is a great guy who has accomplished a lot!" You are really saying. You are taking a position. There is no neutral in rape culture. Being silent is not neutral, and talking about what a great guy an accused rapist is sure as shit isn't neutral, either.

2. Don't give life to the garbage lie that "nice guys" aren't rapists.

3. Don't offer as implicit evidence of innocence that an accused rapist was always great to you. Who fucking cares. If a man who has been accused by 35 women (or one woman) of sexual assault was always great to you, that should chill you to the bone, not serve as some sort of defense of his character. It's not evidence of his innocence; it's evidence of misogyny and deceit.

4. Don't think you can have it both ways. Either you believe women, or you want to defend your pal or your hero. And if you want to defend your pal or your hero, then you go right ahead and make that choice—but do us all the favor of not obliging us to act like you're not making that choice. If you want to defend an accused rapist, then own it. And stop trying to make it look like something else with mealy lies about not being able to "speak on the allegations."

If that feels uncomfortable to you, well, no one ever said being on the side of a rapist should feel good. But if that's the team you pick, you don't get to pretend like you're on mine.


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