A Reflection on Love and Feminism: On Janay Rice and Camille Cosby

by Valerie Jean-Charles

This year has been a great year for feminism. Whether it be the social justice movements led by Black women to protect and uplift Black lives in the midst of oppression, or simply Beyoncé standing righteously in front of the word “feminist” in bright, bold letters. Women—Black women—have been winning. Yet, we have also taken some major hits: Internet trolls, white feminists stealing and undermining our work, and controversies. Looking back two of the most major stories of the year in our community have twisted my insides with disgust, and have also led me to ponder the issues we face in our own community in moving the feminist/womanist movement forward.

Janay Rice’s story is one for the record books. It’s one thing to see the aftermath of abuse imprinted on a woman’s body, but it’s completely another to watch her attack on video, and clearly witness her become the living embodiment of battered women’s syndrome. But that is exactly what happened, and continues to happen with Janay Rice’s story. Since suffering the infamous attack by her now husband in an elevator, Mrs. Rice has embarked on a media tour to clear her husband’s name and promise the public that the same man who hit her so violently is not the man she calls her partner. While Mrs. Rice has every right to do as she pleases, her will (assuming that she is doing this with no coercion) doesn’t make her actions right nor healthy.

Following Mrs. Rice’s news story came comedian Hannibal Burress’ joke that unleashed a tidal wave of rape allegations against Bill Cosby. This is a story that has popped up a few times in the past, but this year the story planted itself firmly before the world and refused to die as more women came forward with eerily similar stories of being drugged and abused. Of course we cannot forget the awkward footage and audio of Bill choosing to not speak out on the matter during interviews with the press. As more people pressed for Bill to say something, anything to retain his legacy, it was an unexpected voice that tried to silence the growing chorus against him—his wife, Camille Cosby.

As someone who has known love, I understand why these women would choose to stand up and do their best to defend their husbands. However, as someone who has been loved I cannot overlook the fact that their husbands allowed them to do so, and catch the figurative bullet that is public scrutiny. Instead of coming out with their own statements to either take responsibility, apologize, or in Cosby’s case, deny what has been brought forth against them, these men have chosen to cowardly hide behind their wives and allow them, the victims in all of this (yes, I consider Camille a victim of sorts) to be the ones to put on the armour and lead the defense.

These women’s actions and stories have led me to wonder if we as feminists and womanists are fighting a battle that cannot completely be won. Now don’t get me wrong, we have made great strides and will continue to do so (as I admitted earlier). But, I’d be lying to you if I said there is not a part of me that feels dejected and worn when I see women putting nails in their own coffin by uplifting their men, men who have behaved badly and caused them harm, instead of ensuring their own safety, physically and emotionally. Are we doing ourselves a disservice by failing to admit that for many of us the ideals that we hold dear are left at the door once we get home? Are we not doing ourselves a disservice by refusing to admit that feminism is so much more easily carried out in the workplace, in the health sector, in education where the injustice can easily be seen and fought against as a collective, as opposed to our romantic relationships? Can we admit that so many of us have and continue to wear our feminism as outerwear, as something that is uncomfortable to be worn in the home because of our partners and our attachments to them?

I ask these questions because from my introspection I realize that women we may consider beautiful, strong, feminists leaders in their community may be involved in romantic relationships that chip away at the very core of their soul. In essence, we must ask ourselves: How can this hurt and undermine our mission of ensuring equality for women in all facets of life? Can we truly push this movement to the heights it can go, if so many of us within it are still emotionally bound to societal beliefs that are causing us harm in our personal lives? This year we sat and watched two beautiful, educated, intelligent women lower themselves to defend men who were too cowardly to stand up and defend themselves and their wives from the tarnish they brought forth.

Though I do not have answers to the very questions I have posed, I hope my presenting them can bring about at least one conversation on how we can promote and manifest our beliefs on equality and mutual respect in the romantic spheres of our lives.

Valerie Jean-Charles is a regular contributor at For Harriet.

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