Below is a re-post of my essay from CultNoise online magazine.
...This past couple of weeks or so I have learned several things. I learned that Cosby is a rapist. I learned that victim-blaming is definitely still a thing. I learned that rape culture is alive and well. Not that these two last points were really a revelation… And finally I learned, of rather got a chance to further reflect on, the fact that people trying to achieve social justice are up against not individual wrongdoers, but the system.
I grew up outside of the US and heared about The Cosby Show only when I started my PhD program at Temple University, Philadelphia, where, incidentally, Cosby occupies an honorary position on the Board of Trustees. So I have no emotional attachment to Mr. Huxtable. First time I discu ssed this show was through the prism of an intriguing scholarly work, Enlightened Racism by Sut Jhally and Justin M. Lewis. According to the book, The Cosby Show portrayed the world where obstacles to upward mobility created by racial discrimination are no more, which might be the reason for the show’s popularity. Recently this argument was used in an article that explains some people’s inability to see Cosby as a rapist by the fuzzy warm feeling his show promoted, its wishful thinking that racial inequalities ceased to exist.
Victim-blaming is still with us. I’s amazing how much has been said and done, and it’s still there. Research shows that no other victims are questioned as much as victims of sexual assault. Does somebody really think that it is fun to admit your humiliation, and go through a very public procedure of discussing very personal and painful experiences? I like the explanation offered by Helen Benedict in her book Virgin or Vamp. We prefer to believe that bad things happen only to bad people. That allows us to feel safe (because we consider ourselves good!), and helps us to makes sense of the chaos that is our existence. This unfortunate assumption goes well with the idea that women attract rapists with their sexuality, that rape is sex and not violence. The whole bunch of rape myths are at play here, some of them as old as the Bible.
Rape culture. How many layers of meaning are hidden in these two words! A culture that still believes in rape myths, objectifies women, teaches men to prove their masculinity by subordinating female bodies, explains men’s aggression by hormones, is ignorant about the simple thing that is consent, values college athletes more than female students who were assaulted by them, inappropriately jokes about sexual crimes, leaves thousands of rape kits untested for decades, refuses to fund hotlines and shelters where victims can search for help, believes not accusers but accused… This is aculture, complex and pervasive, which makes it kind of difficult sometimes (oftentimes?) to connect the dots and see cause-and-effect relationships. It is around us, and that’s is probably why it can be so hard to notice and contest. But when things like the Cosby’s scandal happen this culture becomes so much more tangible, coming to the surface of our collective discourse in big nasty lumps. It is not fun to see.
Finally, the system. As a person who advocates for social justice, it is frustrating and even disheartening for me to see that bad people do not always get punished and good people do not necessarily enjoy their happily ever after. Quite the opposite is often true. And the reason for that is the system, or rather overlapping social institutions that we all are part of. Going after a wrongdoer does not mean just that, trying to reveal crimes of and punish this specific person. No, it is more like poking a giant slow apathetic thin-skinned monster with a stick and hoping that it will run away. Meaningful positive changes are so so so slow. Sometimes a step backward may seem to outsiders like an improvement, as members of the feminist movement have fully experienced. But it is not!
Am I contributing to a change by posting this essay, or by twitting a link to a page where people are collecting signatures to petition for removing Cosby from Temple’s Board of Trustees, or by talking with my students about gender and sexual violence? I don’t know how my actions may echo, whom they may inspire… or not. But I will keep on fighting against this system, today, tomorrow and always, because, as they say, if not me, who? And if not now, when? As you could have guessed, I am not a big fan of Bill Cosby, but thanks to him I realized this simple truth, yet again.