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On Camille Cosby’s coping mechanisms: I blame the patriarchy

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As more and more allegations against Bill Cosby come out, I’ve been thinking about his wife. Until recently, I had actually assumed he wasn’t married, before a quick Google search showed Cosby has been with his wife, Camille, for 50 years. They have four daughters.

My initial reaction to this was “God, how awful.” I felt terribly sorry for her — sorrier for Cosby’s victims, to be sure, but I couldn’t imagine what Camille must have had to put up with, ignore, push aside, in all those years married to a man we really cannot pretend is innocent. We don’t know what all she knew but she must have known enough. Women aren’t stupid. Allegations against Bill Cosby have been public since 2004 and I don’t doubt there were victims who came forward, in one way or another, long before then. He has been assaulting women (allegedly, I suppose we are obligated to say…) since at least 1969. I find it extremely hard to believe that, in all that time, no one mentioned a thing to Camille. Men — especially abusive men — are great liars, but there must have been at least an inkling — if not several big inklings.

I’ve been told things about my partners they convinced me were not true. We never want to believe terrible things about those we love (or are otherwise enmeshed with — abusive relationships do not constitute loving relationships, despite our confused feelings…). Men who have no remorse or who feel entitled to do whatever they wish, despite negative-to-devastating impacts on those around them, also feel no remorse about lying to protect themselves.

But when I read that, on Monday, Camille issued a statement responding to the numerous sexual assault allegations that have come out against her husband, I didn’t know quite how to feel. Except gross.

I read it to my boyfriend and said, “I feel bad for her.” He responded, “I don’t feel bad for her. I feel bad for the victims.”

He was right. The number of women Bill Cosby has been accused of assaulting is appalling. There are at least 27 of them now. And Camille essentially says she believes her husband is the real victim in all of this, dredging up the controversy around the recent Rolling Stone gang-rape story that became a gift to every MRA and rape-apologist around, who now have even more ammo in their “women are constantly inventing rape allegations for fun and kicks” narrative (despite the fact that “discrepancies” in Jackie’s story and a journalistic error do not prove she wasn’t sexually assaulted), in order to show that we should never trust women who accuse men of rape.

Camille may be telling the truth. She likely does feel she knows “a different man” than the one we all “know” now — the sexual predator one. It’s rare that abused women see their partners as abusers all of the time. I mean, that’s how and why we stay… Because those men are charming and doting and loving at times. They abuse, apologize, there is the “honeymoon period,” and then the cycle begins again. My point is not to say that Bill Cosby physically abused his wife (I have no idea what his behaviour is like within his marriage, aside from his “womanizing,” which I’d argue constitutes emotional abuse….), but it is to say that, often, rapists, abusers, molesters, etc. seem like “regular, nice guys” — that’s part of the reason why people don’t believe victims. Because society seems to think that abusive men are monsters in every aspect of their lives. My abusive ex donated money to the local anti-domestic violence group and volunteered his time to build fences and gave people rides to the grocery store and babysat kids. Like, he could be a nice, charming guy. That’s part of the reason I ended up in a relationship with him (among other, more pernicious reasons) and huge part of the reason so few people believed me when I came out and told my story to my then-community.

I get how and why women want to believe their male partners. That doesn’t make what Camille said in her statement ok. It doesn’t make her efforts to publicly discredit, essentially, all female victims of male violence, excusable. That is all gross and wrong and contributes to rape culture and makes it even harder for victims to come forward and be believed. But I can’t help but feel bad for her… I can’t help but feel bad for all women stuck in marriages with horrible men who have been socialized to “stand by their man” no matter what. Women don’t learn to side with other women. We learn that we will fare better if we side with men. We learn to blame the woman our boyfriend cheated on us with instead of hold him accountable — all those conniving bitches out to seduce our men are to blame, amirite? Men can hardly be expected to control their own dicks!

We have long been forced to be dependent on men — it’s not so long ago that women everywhere really couldn’t survive without a husband’s or father’s support. We weren’t allowed to work, to have credit cards, or to get a university education. Some women still aren’t permitted to drive or shop alone. There are numerous ways women have been forced to choose men over women and even more ways that we are made to believe we should choose men over women. So despite feeling sickened by her statement, there is a noticeable part of me that can’t help but feel sad for her as well… I certainly don’t envy her predicament. In many ways, I understand what drove her response. It’s patriarchy.

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