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CNN host mansplains to Bill Cosby accuser how she could have avoided being raped

Today in victim-blaming wrapped up in an outrageous load of mansplaining: In an interview with Joan Tarshis, one of the latest women to come forward with rape allegations against Bill Cosby, CNN’s Don Lemon had some advice for how she could have avoided the whole thing: just use your teeth as a weapon. 

I thought that hearing a dude mansplain street harassment to a woman was the most infuriating thing ever, but I take it back — hearing a dude mansplain how a rape survivor should have responded to her own assault is worse.

In an article published on Hollywood Elsewhere this weekend, Tarshis describes how Cosby raped her twice in 1969 when she was a 19-year-old aspiring writer. The first time, he’d invited her over to work on some material with him. She came to with him undressing her, and despite her hazy state, tried to get him to stop by claiming she had an infection, but he just forced her to perform oral sex instead.

Lemon, though, felt compelled to ask Tarshis if she’d really done everything she could to avoid the assault. “You know, there are ways not to perform oral sex if you didn’t want to do it,” he informed her, noting that using the teeth as a weapon is always an option. Nevermind that, depending on the context, that could be just terrible advice — from my limited second-hand experience, it seems likely that a chompdown might provoke further violence. And that’s the thing: the person best equipped to make that call — to determine whether it’s best to try to diffuse the situation or fight back — is the person in it. (And sometimes it’s just an impossible call.)

It never fails to amaze me how many men refuse to accept that if there is one thing that living in this culture teaches women it is, as Mallory Ortberg wrote recently, “to have a finely tuned sense for their safety,” and we should be treated as the authorites on our own goddamn experiences. And it kills me that Tarshis, who described in her piece how she didn’t tell anyone what happened for years because, like so many survivors, she blamed herself, finds herself forced to agreed with this man who has no idea what he’s talking about.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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