Our culture expects women to apologize for a lot of things—from the way we talk to the way we dress. But why stop at apologizing for our own existence? Women are also held accountable for their husbands’ actions, from Puritanical Americans all the way up to Hillary Clinton, under the assumption that we are simply extensions of our partners rather than people in our own right.
Now American actress Amber Tamblyn is challenging this narrative. This week, comedian Charlyne Yi accused Tamblyn’s husband, stand-up comedian David Cross, of making racist jokes when Yi and Cross first met. Tamblyn responded by expressing her support for Yi—while also clarifying that she’s not responsible for her husband’s bad behavior.
As Hunter Harris reports in Vulture, “Earlier this week, Yi recalled the time she met Cross: He made fun of her pants and asked her if she spoke English, saying, ‘Ching-chong-ching-chong.’ Cross said that he remembered the encounter differently, and that he was simply doing a racist Southern character from his stand-up routine.”
Soon after Yi’s accusation, Tamblyn, who frequently speaks out against sexism and racism, received a slew of Twitter messages asking her to denounce her husband’s actions. Tamblyn took to Twitter to support Yi—while also criticizing the idea that women are responsible for their partners’ wrongdoings.
Having experienced sexual harassment on set throughout her career, Tamblyn is no stranger to being patronized and ignored by men in high places. As she writes in a recent New York Times op-ed, ”I’m Done With Being Not Believed”:
“For women in America who come forward with stories of harassment, abuse and sexual assault, there are not two sides to every story, however noble that principle might seem. Women do not get to have a side. They get to have an interrogation. Too often, they are questioned mercilessly about whether their side is legitimate. Especially if that side happens to accuse a man of stature, then that woman has to consider the scrutiny and repercussions she’ll be subjected to by sharing her side.”
Tamblyn’s response to Yi shows that she remains committed to supporting survivors of harassment and assault, and sets a strong example of how all of us ought to respond to such allegations. She reached out to listen to Yi rather than snapping to the defense of her husband, then clearly stated that she believes Yi and supports her. In this way, she’s demonstrating the importance of amplifying women’s stories about discrimination—even if the perpetrator is a loved one.
But Tamblyn is also pushing back on the impulse to deflect men’s responsibility for their actions by turning the spotlight on women. This is just another way of passing the buck—and part of a larger problem in which our culture constantly pushes women to second-guess their actions and instincts. As Tamblyn writes, “Disbelief is not just about men disbelieving us. It is about our own disbelief in ourselves.”