Monday, November 24, 2014

Off a Cliff

Trigger Warning: Sexual assault and rape culture discussion follows.

What do we value more than women’s [fill in the blank]? Sadly, in our culture the blank in question has far too many options. Opinions. Bodies. Lives. Of late, our cultural discourse has turned to what we value above women’s accusations in regards to rape. The catalyst for this discussion has been the resurfaced and renewed allegations of sexual assault by once revered comedy icon Bill Cosby.

No one needs any introduction of who Bill Cosby is. We named ugly sweaters after him and ate Jell-O because of him and felt a little better about race relations in 80s America because of him. He was Cliff Huxtable and everyone loved Cliff Huxtable.

But the man is always so much more complex than the myth. At this point, I’ve honestly lost track of the number of women who have come forward to share their all-too similar stories of unwanted sexual encounters with this man. Yet we clung to the myth until their chorus of accusations became an impossible-to-ignore din.

For decades, his positive public persona was more important than the women who dare to crack its highly polished veneer with the truth.

I’ve mused over the difference between the art and the artist more times than I wish I had to here in the past. Powerful men getting a pass on past misdeeds against women is a sad theme in our society. Roman Polanski. Woody Allen. Terry Richardson.

These men all still have careers and work with respected colleagues and companies because we choose to believe their reputations over women’s voices.

The he/said (or whatever configuration) of sexual assault is almost always weighed against the victim. The shame and the disbelief are the burdens the victim alone must carry. What was she wearing? What did she do? Why didn’t she go to police? The question is almost always why she didn’t do something. It is very rarely why didn’t he not rape her.

It’s the strangest thing, how we think about rape accusations. If I walked out of a building declaring I was robbed, people would gasp and help me call the cops. But if I walk about of a building and declared I was raped, well, is there proof? Were charges filed? Was he convicted? Did he go to jail?

As such, the evolution of public perception of Bill Cosby has been grimly fascinating to watch. The truth is these rape allegations are nothing new. They’ve been around for decades. But until the last few weeks, they’ve only been badgering whispers around the dark edges of what everyone assumed was a great man. They never took hold because of who was accusing him. A bunch of unknown women? Pshaw.

No, we didn’t pay attention until a male comic, Hannibal Buress, dared to utter the allegations out loud. And a clip of his talking about Cosby’s rape accusations went viral. Oh, wait, now a man said it? Hold on. And then, things went even farther still after a famous woman, Janice Dickinson, added her accusation into the chorus. Well, OK, this is a female celebrity – guess we can’t blow her off like the others. Netflix hold his comedy special. NBC cancels his show. TV Land pulls his reruns.

The simple fact is one woman’s voice was not enough. Nor were two. Nor were three. Nor were fourteen.

But what we have to ask ourselves, what we must change, is why. Why wasn’t it enough? Because we value so many other things – fame, entitlement, power, respect, male voices – more than women’s accusations. And until that changes the Woody and Roman and Terry and Bills of the world will keep getting away with it.


Rachelle said...

Never stop writing these posts, never stop writing period...

Anonymous said...

in the 70's there was a great piece called "The rape of Mr. Smith" that essentially makes the same point you do - that if you are mugged or robbed,if you are asked the same kinds of questions that are asked of a rape victim, it would be frankly ridiculous. Here are some iterations of that classic piece.


Anonymous said...

Bill Cosby doesn't seem to be getting a pass at all actually. The media is raking him over the coals with wall to wall coverage on all the news channels(when they are covering Ferguson). And his shows are getting pulled. But this same media are remaining quiet about Woody Allen, Polanski, Richardson and few other known rapists and celebrities have no problem continuing to work with them. Hmm, wonder why?

Helena said...

Thank you for this informative blog. I agree with a previous comment - please never stop informing us and never stop writing.

Kristan Hoffman said...

Thank you. I found out about Cosby a few months ago but no one in my circles paid attention to my outrage. Now suddenly everyone's on about him. Better late than never, but your post helped me pinpoint exactly why I was so irritated: because it took a man speaking out about this for it to matter to the masses. Sigh...

Urban Jointz said...

It's funny, I've heard whispers about Cosby since back in the early 90's. An acquaintance of mines, who's family managed a hotel chain in New York State, spoke of him and his proclivities for sexual assault. Nothing ever came of it until now. My question is, why did he feel the need to do this? Especially when his star was on the rise, you would think that he would be able to pick and choose who ever he wanted to be with without having to resort to raping them.

Carmen SanDiego said...

Sad that these posts still need to be written but at least we get to read your take on it.
You are an amazing writer

maya said...

Hear, hear. Thank you for taking the time to address this Ms. Snarker.