In the past two weeks, the tide of support for Bill Cosby has begun to turn dramatically. Many of those who stood by him have recanted or gone quiet, and with this weekend's detailed revelation, that silence seems louder than ever. After reading Cosby describe the means by which he used quaaludes to seduce women, more and more people are struggling to believe his innocence. Of course, Cosby himself seems to be in denial about how many people see his actions; his deposition reveals only an admission of what he did, not feelings of guilt. But, what about the person closest to him — who's still standing in resolute silence? Camille Cosby has issued only one statement since the allegations first resurfaced in November, 2014, saying: "The man I met, and fell in love with, and whom I continue to love, is the man you all knew through his work. He is a kind man, a generous man, a funny man, and a wonderful husband, father, and friend. He is the man you thought you knew. A different man has been portrayed in the media over the last two months. It is the portrait of a man I do not know." Choosing her words carefully, she alluded to the accusers' stories as fabricated and concluded that, "None of us will ever want to be in the position of attacking a victim. But, the question should be asked — who is the victim?" The answer she seemed to be looking for is, "Bill Cosby is the victim," though she wouldn't say it herself. It was an artfully crafted statement, side-stepping anything inflammatory or even direct, and instead guiding the reader to fill in the blanks. In this way, Camille maintained her dignified ground, neither stepping in the mud nor slinging it. It is easy and tempting to make assumptions about Camille Cosby. "That poor woman," some say. "That idiot," say others. And, to some, she is "that monster." Pity or vilification are the textbook responses to spouses in these cases. Watching and waiting for Camille's next move, I'm reminded of last year's TODAY interview with Dottie Sandusky (wife of Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who in 2012 was found guilty of sexually abusing 10 boys).
'That poor woman,' some say. 'That idiot,' say others. And, to some, she is, 'that monster.'
The interview was an endless, brutal hour of discussion wherein in Dottie clung to her belief in Jerry's innocence. "I believe he showered with kids," she offered. "And, that's the generation that Jerry grew up in... That's who Jerry was." On camera, Dottie is red-eyed and shaky-voiced; she looks like a suburban grandmother being held at gunpoint — a capital-V Victim. She stumbles and contradicts herself, fumbling around for facts. She appears as a fragile woman hanging onto delusion for dear life. In practice, Dottie is the opposite of Camille, what with the latter's brief, tidy statement and refusal to engage further. The more Cosby's story unravels, the more Camille comes off as an iron-jawed ally, or even a collaborator. Last week, The New York Post shared a widely reported story that Camille (also her husband's business manager) had held a crisis meeting with Bill's team to discuss damage control. "I created him. I knew what I was getting, and we’ll fix this," she was quoted by a source as having said. It was also alleged that she referred to the "infidelities" as an embarrassment she'd long since reconciled herself with, and emphasized them as just that — affairs, and not assaults. Of course, reports like this should be taken with a hefty handful of salt, but it's worth noting that Camille's supposed remarks are certainly in keeping with Cosby's own in the deposition. Both reveal the kind of psychological gymnastics that allow someone to leap over the evidence at hand — to find acceptable, ordinary dalliances where many would see something much more sinister.
One crucial fact has fallen through the cracks: You can be both victim and enabler at the same time.
But, in all the narratives we've created for women like Dottie Sandusky or Camille Cosby, one crucial fact has fallen through the cracks: You can be both victim and enabler at the same time. To believe that Camille Cosby is an evil, calculating accomplice to the crimes her husband's been accused of would be to ignore the possibility that she's just another victim of those same alleged crimes. Conversely, to believe that Dottie Sandusky is merely a naive grandma would be to ignore the magnificent power of deliberate denial. We know nothing of the internal lives of these women, nor can we speak to the dynamic of their marriages. Is it likely they knew of their husbands' actions? Certainly. It is just as likely that they were subject to manipulation and abuse themselves. The point being: One does not cancel out the other. It's a cognitive dissonance that neither mainstream media nor its consumers can seem to resolve. We want clear answers and archetypes, and instead we're stuck with real people, none of whom are entirely good or entirely monstrous. Even Lady Macbeth had a conscience. Though every inkling is to pass judgement on Camille one way or the other, the responsible choice is, as ever, the uncomfortable one: to admit we just don't know. For if we decide she was in on whatever occurred, we may be maligning an abused woman. And, if we claim she is a victim, then we may be letting her off the hook for reprehensible actions. But, we don't have the backstory, so writing one ourselves would be unjust to her — and to Bill Cosby's alleged victims, too.