Don Lemon, whose reputation for obtuseness generated the only light moment to come out of the Ferguson protests, has struck again. Tuesday night, in an interview with Joan Tarshis, the fifth named woman to accuse Bill Cosby of drugging and raping her, Lemon decided to Monday-morning quarterback her self-defense when Cosby allegedly forced himself on her. He found her performance inadequate. Media Matters transcribed the exchange:
Lemon: Can I ask you this, because—and please, I don't mean to be crude, OK?
Lemon: Because I know some of you—and you said this last night, that he—you lied to him and said, "I have an infection, and if you rape me, or if you do—if you have intercourse with me, then you will probably get it and give it to your wife."
Lemon: And you said he made you perform oral sex.
Lemon: You—you know, there are ways not to perform oral sex if you didn't want to do it.
Tarshis: Oh. Um, I was kind of stoned at the time, and quite honestly, that didn't even enter my mind. Now I wish it would have.
Lemon: Right. Meaning the using of the teeth, right?
Tarshis: Yes, that's what I'm thinking you're ...
Lemon: As a weapon.
Tarshis: Yeah, I didn't even think of it.
You really have to watch the video to get the full idea of how awful the entire exchange was. I can't believe this needs to be said, but it's a lot easier to tell someone to bite a penis from the comfort of a CNN studio than it is to actually bite a penis that is currently in your mouth. It's not just that it would be incredibly hard for most people to do something so violent as to bite someone on the genitals. Or that it would be even harder if that person had been drugged. It's also that the victim of oral rape would have to consider what happens after you bite someone's penis. What are the odds that the man who is forcing you to have oral sex with him is going to react calmly and gently to someone biting his penis?
It's worth reading Tarshis's description of the alleged rape in an interview with Philadelphia to get a full idea of the situation she's describing:
Yes. He was holding me down. He's much bigger than I am. He's very big. I couldn't resist. He was forceful. He definitely used force. There was nothing I could do except wait for it to be over. I was in shock.
Sure, you may size up 77-year-old Cosby now and think, "I could take him." But in 1969, he was a 32-year-old man who was more than 6 feet tall. Under the circumstances, it's entirely understandable how someone would just submit quietly in the hope of getting it over with quickly and getting the hell out of there.
Twitter, naturally, responded to this exchange by creating a hashtag: #DonLemonRapePreventionTips.
#DonLemònRapePreventionTips when your attacker pulls your hair, just pull out a spare set of scissors to cut your hair off so you can escape— Goddess. (@NewKhaos) November 19, 2014
This is hardly the first time that Lemon has victim-blamed. When Bill O'Reilly tried to hijack the story of the Trayvon Martin murder to lecture young black people on how to dress and what kind of music to listen to, Lemon actually defended O'Reilly. "He’s got a point. In fact, he’s got more than a point. … In my estimation, he doesn’t go far enough," Lemon said, and then whipped out the pull-up-your-pants-son card.
Because time is a flat circle, Rahiel Tesfamariam, writing for the Washington Post at the time, compared Lemon's condescending comments with those that are regularly given by none other than Bill Cosby, calling these "bootstrap lectures," which she describes as "brutally-dished-out Band-Aid fixes to systemic ills." As my colleague Hanna Rosin wrote Tuesday, more than a dozen women have come forward to accuse Cosby of sexual assault—and that was before Janice Dickinson spoke up. Even if Tarshis had followed Lemon's advice, it sure doesn't sound like that would have stopped him.