I said I was taking the week off for Thanksgiving and then I just couldn’t stop from writing this. It’s not holiday-themed. Sorry.
[trigger warning: rape and sexual assault]
Let’s not be to quick to dismiss Bill Cosby as an evil person. Let’s not put him in a box labeled ‘psychopath’. Let’s not cast him into the outer darkness just yet.
Let’s take a deep look in his eyes and see if there’s not a mirror there.
Not reflecting us directly. I’m not telling you you’re a rapist. No, what I’m saying is more insidious and possibly more disturbing.
I’m telling you the rape is all around you.
Someone I love was sexually abused in a hospital years ago. Lately, I’ve been digging around in the past, and it occurred to me that she wouldn’t be the only one. So I did a Google search of the hospital, along with the words “sexual abuse allegations.”
I didn’t find what I was looking for. No, what I found was worse:
Result after result after result of for that hospital. And in other hospitals in the city. Hospitals in Boston, in Philadelphia. Recent ones, old ones, page after page. Hospital administrators saying that it wouldn’t happen again. That “safety was a top concern.”
I had thought I was looking for a needle in a haystack, but instead I was looking for a needle in a towering pile of needles.
Another fun journey through the past: while I was writing, I decided to look up a theater camp I went to as a child. Mike, the man who ran it, also happened to direct two plays I was in, one when I was seven, the other when I was thirteen. He was a mentor and a bright spot in my childhood.
Imagine the jolt I felt when sexual allegations against him were in the first page of results for his name. Apparently this director went after boys, which means I wouldn’t have been a target. But when I thought about it, the profile fit: a man who seemed like Peter Pan, fun-loving and childlike. He connected as a cool peer to pre-teens and teenagers. They looked up to him with Messianic fervor. He was in charge of them at a camp, on a road trip, without their parents around.
I remember standing in a circle next to him before the curtain went up, in awe of someone who could make a whole fairy tale come real on stage. Who could bring me into the fantasy.
In the last three months, I’ve had these conversations: When I tell a writer I know about my high school youth group, she said the same thing happened in her youth group. A close friend from college? Her brother was in a different perp’s Bible study. The daughter of someone I know was sexually assaulted by a friend.
She was twelve.
What’s heartbreaking to me about Bill Cosby for me is not just the awfulness of what he did to these women, not just that he was a beloved figure, not just that it’s hard to see the cool show he created forever tarnished.
What feels awful to me is that I am no longer surprised.
What’s awful is I wonder why everyone else is surprised, why we act as though this is unusual, why we all think it could never happen to us. I scratch my head when people think that not walking alone at night, keeping our girls in ‘modest’ clothes, and preventing them from talking to strangers will keep the bogeyman from our door.
If you think this kind of shit is strange and unusual, you have not internalized the statistics.
What I’m telling you is that the problem is not just a few bad apples.
What I’m telling you is there’s something in the water.
What I’m telling you is that if we really want to take what Bill Cosby is accused of seriously, we have to look at how we’re raising our boys. At our culture of manhood. At the fact that it’s okay for commercials to depict women as marionettes or use their bodies to sell hamburgers. At the musicals that are rape apologies. At the culture that pats women on the head and assures them that men are just animals. At the church that trains women to not ruffle feathers. At the church that ignores abuse allegations because it would like to keep the past in the past.
We are going to have to seriously piss people off, we’re going to have to overturn tables, we’re going to have to make ourselves f-ing uncomfortable if any of this is going to change.
Because what Bill Cosby did is not strange or unusual or really that out of the ordinary.
This kind of shit, at least for me, is old, old news.
Image credit: Dauvit Alexander