Last night, Camille Cosby issued a statement, first reported by CBS News, in support of her husband, whom she calls “a kind man, a generous man, a wonderful husband, father and friend.” She says the Bill Cosby portrayed in the media over the last two months is a “different man,” a man she does not know. She strongly implies that the numerous allegations of drugging and sexually assaulting women made against her husband will be found to be false, pointing to how the recent Rolling Stone UVA “A Rape on Campus” story fell apart under scrutiny as a relevant comparison. She also suggests that her husband’s accusers are not actually victims, posing the rhetorical question: “Who is the victim?”
Bill Cosby has been accused of drugging and/or sexually assaulting many women over a span of decades, including supermodels Beverly Johnson and Janice Dickinson. The latest allegation came yesterday, when a 24-year-old Las Vegas woman told the Daily Mail that Cosby spiked her cocktail during a 2008 visit to Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion, and she woke up in a bedroom, nude, to find him licking her toes. Camille’s Rolling Stone analogy, using a story reported by one journalist where the parts that have turned out to be not true as written were attributed to a single source, is fairly specious. The allegations against Bill Cosby are sourced from many women interviewed by many media outlets, none of which have found evidence of a mass conspiracy or an epidemic of lies yet.
People have been waiting to hear from Camille since she appeared alongside her husband in the November NPR interview at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African Art to discuss the loan of their private African art collection for an exhibit and remained silent alongside Cosby’s telling dead-air silence when Weekend Edition’s Scott Simon asked him to comment on allegations of sexual abuse that had recently resurfaced. In a video of an interview during the same press event released by the Associated Press, Camille is shown smiling next to Cosby, enigmatic in her dutiful silence, as he chides the AP team for even daring to broach the subject.
Camille’s defense of her husband doesn’t really come as a surprise. They’ve been married for 50 years, through the civil lawsuit that Cosby settled in 2006 with Andrea Constand, the then-director of operations for the Temple University women’s basketball team who says Cosby drugged and raped her in 2004. Camille played the role of the so-called “good wife” then, standing by her powerful husband as he and his lawyers deal with the public and legal fall-out of the accusations. But her statement comes just days after Bill Cosby spoke with Page Six reporter Stacy Brown last Friday and said Camille was coping under the scrutiny and stress of the allegations through “love and the strength of womanhood.”
“Love and the strength of womanhood” is a powerful cultural trope, and it feeds the legitimacy of the “good wife” who does not leave her scandal-torn powerful husband. Few actually blame the women who don’t stand by her man in a scenario like that—just add a quiet divorce to his list of legal entanglements—but a woman who continues to serve the marriage above herself fulfills an underlying cultural expectation that for women, being good requires a certain measure of self-sacrifice.
What’s most telling about Camille Cosby’s statement is that she never comes right out and says, “Bill did not do any of these terrible things.” She simply says that the portrait painted now of her husband is not of a man she recognizes. It's not the good wife's job to defend her husband, after all. It's her job to telegraph to the world that nothing has really changed about her husband and how we should perceive him, despite what we've read and seen.