We didn't want to believe it. Not him.
Politicians. Athletes. But not Dr. Huxtable. Please.
Bill Cosby meant a lot to so many of us, a big part of why we were so slow to pass judgement. For those growing up in the 1960s and 1970s he was a clean cut comedian doing things the right way, without resorting to schtick or crassness. For those raised in the 1980s and 1990s he was the ideal father figure, a sign of what could be, the last wholesome famous person left alive.
The other reasons for our delayed admission of his guilt were more subtle and more troubling. Some of it had to do with "innocent until proven guilty" and all that necessary paperwork, but most of it had to do with doubt. Not the Matlock or Perry Mason we've got to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt sort of doubt but a more insidious brand of skepticism saved for female accusers.
"Bitches be crazy" is a sentiment we've all heard before, from rap lyrics to that look on your father's face when your mom stormed out of the room. The exhausting existence of the classic irrational woman is the one thing Snoop Dogg and Don Draper would agree on, the lone bridge across cultures and generations, breaking the silence of that odd imaginary encounter and instantly bonding the two icons, bringing forth hilarious stories of female irrationality over old fashions and some gin and juice.
And so the slow coming around to Cosby's guilt was not solely legal or sentimental but was also influenced, to some degree, by the gender of the alleged victims. There is an inherent distrust. And the reason I know this is because somewhere down deep I thought it too.
Perhaps we just don't want to believe this terrible revelation and that's why we subconsciously delegitimize the accuser? Maybe it has nothing to do with male or female, maybe we would as innately doubt a male accuser of some beloved female figure -- maybe -- but our culture's long history of male dominance and female subjugation is likely to have layered us with some biases that only time can expunge.
This great piece by the always thoughtful Andrew O'Hehir looks at some of these questions from a cultural and historical perspective and the honesty of the inquiry helped sit me down to what I already knew.
I guess I'm a bit sexist.
Sure I like to consider myself a progressive supporter of civil rights, a feminist, a fellow soldier in the march towards a more equal society -- but still I did flinch. It was small, tiny even. But something was there.
In the Cosby case this hesitation was almost null, the sheer volume of firsthand accusations made it impossible to fall back on our biases. Had the number been any smaller we still would have held onto some squinting suspicion, a disturbing fact given the roomful of victims who came forward.
But this is not the first time a male has been given the benefit of the doubt -- that doubt being the potential/probable estrogenic overreaction or money-grab scheme of some silly chick. Over the years we've heard many accusations from many women against many men, some very damning and compelling, and yet something holds us back for a moment and instead of outright outrage my gut reaction is a mix of disgust, disappointment and doubt. And I'm concerned about where this doubt comes from.
Too many years of cultural misogyny, of accepted violence, of conquest, of boys telling stories about their crazy girlfriends, of men looking ever so slightly down.
O'Hehir writes "the whitewashing of Cosby's alleged crimes was a collective cultural phenomenon." His article entwines our long history of male power and dominance (ownership) of women with today's ever-changing cultural mores. Things are changing, culture is progressing, and morality is more evolving set of lessons than absolute right and wrong.
We indeed need to look in the mirror, and learn not only from these crimes but from our reactions to them.
And so thank you, Bill, your uncommon level of deviance and disregard is helping us grow as a people.
This piece originally appeared on HeadSpace
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