The blame and shame game

July 31st, 2015

Women are justifiably outraged at the victim blaming and shaming following the sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby. Sadly, it’s an ancient — dare I say cherished? — tradition to use either or both when a man doesn’t want to be accountable for bad acts that involve a woman.

According to biblical tradition, it starts with Adam. While no rape or sexual assault was involved in the Old Testament story, Adam definitely blamed Eve when God confronted him about eating the forbidden fruit.

“The woman whom you gave me, she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it,” Adam said to God.

In the neighborhood where I grew up, we’d have called that a punk move. Adam looked absolutely spineless, blaming God for giving him “the woman” and suggesting he was powerlessness to resist when offered the fruit.

Really, Adam?

Some New Testament men weren’t much better. In John 8, the Pharisees brought Jesus a woman allegedly caught in adultery, demanding his opinion on whether or not she should be stoned. The plan to punish the woman reveals that they put the blame, and consequently the shame, on her — not the man. 

When I was growing up, the church would strip teenaged girls of their membership if they got pregnant. Sometimes that was a public process conducted before the board or the entire church. I never heard of the boys or men who got them pregnant being punished, assuming they were members.

I’m also not sure if there was ever any discussion about whether or not the young woman was a victim of a rape. In those days, it was usually assumed that pregnancy meant consent.

Some modern churches — though not all — have evolved in their thinking, addressing both parties in such cases, if punishing anyone at all. But it’s still not uncommon to hear preachers single out women in their sermons for the ways that they dress, implying that the morality of men is subject to the appearance of women — more blaming and shaming.

Granted, we live in a sexualized world where the clothing and posture of both genders can be provocative. Women are routinely objectified in all forms of media. Body parts are fetishized.

So yes, it can be challenge to keep sexual thoughts in check. But honest men know that our minds can drift into sexual territory without seeing a woman’s skin or the contours of her body. The onus is on us, not women, to manage our thoughts, urges and actions.

Cosby claimed to be a great interpreter of female desires in the 2005 deposition he gave in the Andrea Constand lawsuit. To me, that is nothing more than a brazen rationalization of actions that were at the least very disturbing and at the worst, criminal.

But it parallels the blame-and-shame tactic that he and his team have been using all along. It’s worked for millennia, protecting predators from punishment at the expense of their accusers.

Only this time, it appears that one man’s assumptions about what a woman wanted couldn’t have been more wrong. Constand’s attorney says that Cosby failed to interpret that Constand is gay and had a girlfriend when he allegedly assaulted her.

It’s long past time for blame, shame and male assumptions about female desires to be retired from the male psyche. Maybe one way the Cosby case will benefit all of us is that it will help end these bogus tactics for good.  

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