The news broke today that actor and comedian Bill Cosby had been found guilty of sexual assault against ex-basketball player Andrea Constand. At 80 years of age, and after a long life in the spot-light, Bill Cosby’s final years will be spent behind bars.
Over 60 other women have come forward over the years to describe abuses that span over several decades, but due to statute of limitations, only one of those cases has been brought to trial. Several of these women were in the courtroom today. They openly wept and cheered when the verdict was read. They finally had justice.
This news has saddened me deeply. Not because Bill Cosby is “America’s Dad”, the man who made us laugh and cry on a weekly basis during the 80’s and early 90’s. But because while he was in front of the camera, accepting accolades and adoration from his millions of fans around the world, there were 60 different women living with the unbearable trauma of what he had done to them; the violation of their body and their will, and knowing that they may never convince a world that the man adored for selling Pudding Pops and Jello-O was actually a sexual predator. The cost of our entertainment was far too great, and I fear it is the very thing that blinded us.
I grew up with Bill Cosby. My father loved reading his books and listening to his comedy tapes. There are very few good memories of my childhood that aren’t linked to Bill Cosby. He was a fantastic actor that played his part so well– he had the world fooled that his on-screen and on-stage persona was his true self–but the art is in his duplicity. The mark of a great thespian is the ability to become someone you aren’t, and the verdict this week proved that he gave an award winning performance his entire life. His trophy is now a 6×6 cell. His final bow is a tragic end in a comedy of errors.
But then I contemplated about the impact of the verdict and why it was so significant. There is little question the entertainment industry has consumed pop culture. We define our lives around the television shows and movies we watch. The portrayers of the characters we adore are played by flawed men and women, and never has that been more apparent than this past year. Each new accusation brought to public attention has spawned further discussion about sexual misconduct and who to believe. Women who have previously been afraid to speak up or point fingers are finding camaraderie among the countless others who suffered just as they have. But as a public, we contribute to the stigma preventing women from coming forward. We resist believing these women because we are so attached to the body of work these men were a part of, and to admit their guilt tarnishes the craft they helped create. Will anyone be able to sit and watch The Cosby Show ever again without thinking of the allegations levied against its largest star? Its doubtful.
But the bravery of the women who have been stepping forward is remarkable. Even in the face of continual pushback when they try to speak their truth from people who refuse to believe their idols are capable of such horrendous crimes, they are making their voices heard. And the momentum is continually building. And it was necessary, especially after the outcry from women all across the world when the verdict for the Brock Turner case was announced. The victim impact statement was the plea for justice heard around the world, and it was the plea that was ignored and dismissed by a judge who only saw a young man’s talent.
If you don’t remember her statement, here is a reminder of what no one should ever forget:
You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.
A deputy explained I had been assaulted. I still remained calm, assured he was speaking to the wrong person…When I was finally allowed to use the restroom, I pulled down the hospital pants they had given me, went to pull down my underwear, and felt nothing.
On that morning, all that I was told was that I had been found behind a dumpster, potentially penetrated by a stranger, and that I should get retested for HIV because results don’t always show up immediately.
One day, I was at work, scrolling through the news on my phone, and came across an article. In it, I read and learned for the first time about how I was found unconscious, with my hair disheveled, long necklace wrapped around my neck, bra pulled out of my dress, dress pulled off over my shoulders and pulled up above my waist, that I was butt naked all the way down to my boots, legs spread apart, and had been penetrated by a foreign object by someone I did not recognize. This was how I learned what happened to me, sitting at my desk reading the news at work. I learned what happened to me the same time everyone else in the world learned what happened to me.
The rest can be heard here. (Her words still haunt me. She had a legal system that believed her, and still she received little justice for her ordeal.)
Brock Turner was sentenced to only 6 months in jail, and only served 3 of those 6 months. The woman he assaulted will have to spend the rest of her life trying to cope with the trauma he inflicted on her when she was unconscious and vulnerable. But because he was a young man with potential and talent, he was excused and his crime was minimized by a lighter sentence.
There is still a public outrage concerning that trial, and I suspect it is precisely one of the reasons why there is such a movement among women to take back the power and the dignity these men robbed from them. Talent and power and wealth is no longer a protector of the guilty against facing their accusers. Whether it be a loss of status, a loss of employment, a loss of respect or a loss of freedom. Some argue that the price of a tarnished reputation is too great, that simply the whisper of inappropriate behaviour is enough to sink a career for any of these men. Some have even said that the women were asking for it, they wanted it, what did they expect when they pursued a famous person in such a way. All of these statements are inherently wrong because it places a greater value on talent then it does on a person’s right to have autonomy over their own body.
Women have worked tirelessly to break barriers for a hundred years in order to even the playing field in terms of rights, professions and status. Women were fed the lie by men in powerful positions that in order to get a head they had to put out and shut up, but therein lied the deception, because the men were never going to allow the women to get ahead. And so long as the men could control and manipulate with sex, they could keep the power. So now the men are having to pay their due. And sadly, the largest one to fall is the one who broke the most barriers within his career. But his success is not enough to keep him from facing the consequences of his crimes, not anymore.
The price of our entertainment should never be at the expense of someone else’s denied consent. Not anymore.
The tragic and the comic lie inseparably close, like light and shadow.