We all know that Bill Cosby is a rapist now, right? Like, twenty public accusers into this thing, I assume that we know all that it’s happening. But there are people who still blindly defend him and many of those people, maddeningly but unsurprisingly, are women. Since the Bill Cosby story broke there have been so many baffling variations of, “Well, how do we know these women aren’t just looking for [fame/money/attention/twitter followers/cake]?” I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that women who knew neither Cosby nor his accusers could be so sure that the women were lying. Recently clarity appeared on the subject from an unexpected place.
Last week, someone posted in an online forum that a teacher at a school where I take classes behaved inappropriately towards his students*. A woman posted in the comments section that the initial poster was brave because “no one wants to be that woman,” meaning (I think) the one who can’t be cool when people are just joking around, the one who always thinks that dudes want her, the one who ruins a good guy’s reputation by being an uptight bitch. “That woman” doesn’t get invited to parties. She is a person we can all universally hate, ladies included! She thinks she’s hot shit or she wants attention regardless of what collateral damage it might cause the victim of her inability to just roll with things. She can’t laugh at a joke or appreciate that attention is meant to be a compliment.
The impulse to not be labeled “that woman” is infinitely relatable. You hear a bunch of co-workers make a shitty joke about the war against women or your boyfriend’s friend says a bunch of shitty sexist crap about the cheerleaders during a football game or a shitty guy on a date calls you “sweetie” when you ask a question about current events. And you say nothing. It’s the same impulse that makes you smile when some asshole on the street tells you to as you walk by. We’re cool and please don’t single us out as anything else because God forbid we say something and someone doesn’t like it.
This isn’t a paranoid delusion of neurotic ladies. Women are ostracized daily for standing up to a man or a system because he or it mistreated her. It happens all over the world to every race, class, and creed. And the quickest way to avoid this exile is to show that you would never betray that man or that system by rocking the boat. The fear of being considered “that woman” keeps real victims from coming forward and allows predators to be seen as victims. It even obfuscates the vision of people who judge where they should only empathize.
*I don’t know what’s being done, but it’s nice to study at a school where a teacher being a dick to his students is a big deal both to the school and to the male and female members of the community around said school.