In the case against Cosby, why do men still dominate the conversation?
First it was Hannibal Buress. Then it was Judd Apatow. Then Larry Wilmore. Now it’s Jay Leno. Every day more and more influential male comics are standing up for victims of sexual assault with regards to the Bill Cosby allegations and it’s truly incredible. Leno, an institution on the comedy circuit, broke his silence on the case yesterday:
“I don’t know why it’s so hard to believe women. You to go Saudi Arabia and you need two women to testify against a man. Here you need 25.”
Leno went on to commend comedian Hannibal Buress for kicking the dialogue into high gear with a stand-up bit Buress performed about Cosby in October of 2014 that went viral shortly thereafter.
Reflecting back on the video, which set events in motion, leading to almost two dozen women coming forward with sexual assault allegations, Leno applauds Buress, stating he “made a flat-out statement that reverberated around the world,” Leno adds “On any other media that would have been edited. People are getting news unfiltered now.”
Buress and Leno are by no means the only well-known men speaking out against Cosby. Director Judd Apatow has devoted a massive amount of time and energy on Twitter to denouncing Cosby and advocating for victims rights, while Larry Wilmore, host of Comedy Central’s brand-new The Nightly Show, spent the entirety of the show’s second episode reprehending the man who was once America’s favorite comedian. Leno also praised Wilmore for this ep, giving props to the Daily Show vet for bringing a “different perspective” to late-night.
For the record, each of these male comics have made incredibly brave, bold and direct statements. Their solidarity with women rather than a fellow male comic (in an industry notorious for being male-dominated) is deeply heartening.
At the same time, it’s hard to know why female comics aren’t getting similar recognition for speaking out about the issue. Margaret Cho gave a bold interview (in 2014, mind you) about the Cosby case explaining how “in America we’re taught to blame the victim or not believe the victim.” That didn’t exactly make international headlines. What did, was Lena Dunham’s defense of Judd Apatow’s stance on Cosby. Her sharp take on the issue was overshadowed by claims she used an improper Holocaust reference. Meanwhile, while hosting the Golden Globes, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler skewered Cosby, and the cameras cut to shocked celebrity faces. The joke was ultimately met with mixed reactions. Maybe it was the delivery, or maybe it was the deliverers.
The point, here, is that we praise the male comedians who speak out against Cosby as heroes and defenders, meanwhile, when female comedians speak out against Cosby, the critics come out or nobody notices much at all. It’s an eerie parallel to the women who, for the past few decades, have been trying to get the world to listen to their stories about the alleged assault they suffered at the hands of Bill Cosby, women who were only listened to once a man (Hannibal Buress) vouched for them in his routine.
Let me make it clear that I am SO grateful for male allies like Buress, Apatow, Wilmore, and Leno. Powerful men using their power for good is key in the fight against rape culture. As a powerful man, Cosby used his force and influence to keep his accusers silenced, whereas men like Buress, Apatow, Wilmore, and Leno have been using their power and reach to keep this conversation going.
My gratitude that we have powerful men passionately advocating for these sexual assault survivors doesn’t mean I don’t also desperately wish we had more women in power stepping forward and standing up for these alleged survivors. I want to hear more famous women speaking up on this issue and supporting those who speak up. Like Leno backed Buress and Wilmore, I want to see powerful women backing other powerful women, and backing victims. We need the voices of women we know in this conversation, they need to speak and we need to listen.