When a woman speaks, we should believe her. When someone shows you who they are, we should believe them. So, it seems illogical that, when over 50 women speak up about the same thing that some still find it difficult to see the larger issues at play.
Today, more than a decade after Bill Cosby was first accused of sexual assault, a Pennsylvania judge made the decision to finally proceed with a criminal case against Cosby. The case is only now being prosecuted after more than 50 women came forward and after Andrea Constand’s civil action against Cosby was settled in 2006. But why did it take another 50 women to corroborate the accusation of one for “justice” to step in?
In addition to the accusations against Cosby, new evidence has been brought to light, including Cosby’s own statements made during a 2005 deposition; which were previously sealed. In the deposition Cosby recalls that his agency sent him “five or six” models a week while he was filming his sitcoms and admitted that he was in the possession of sedatives that he never intended to take himself but to give to others. In addition, Cosby expressly admits giving drugs to women he wanted to have sex with.
Cosby’s statements under oath are shocking for more than just his singular actions, but are a clear sign of larger systematic issues relating to the value of the lives of these women. Even more concerning is the implicit condoning by those around Cosby of his actions. Without his agency “sending” women to his home, his doctor prescribing sedatives and the legal system failing to investigate allegations made against him, we would not be here today.
So I ask, how many allegations must be made for one women’s voice to be heard? How many more sealed depositions, cases settled, education funds established exist in a world where it takes more than 50 women for a case to be brought against one man? If we are to change this system, Cosby must not only stand as an example but we must also hold all the parties who took part in making his actions possible accountable; including ourselves. These things do not happen in a vacuum and the solutions cannot either.
As a society we are connected to our celebrities. Many of us, including myself, watched Cosby throughout his career. For over a decade the Cosby Show was America’s family. For many, the show embodied the family values and successes we all strived for but it also featured strong women leads that had a dominant role and voice throughout the run of the show. Nevertheless, those images do not and cannot erase the actions of Cosby the man.
Society is playing its own role by projecting “shame” on the victims. Many supporters of the positive images of women and family values portrayed on the Cosby Show have also participated in diminishing the voices of survivors; invalidating the claims against Cosby and questioning survivor’s motives. In addition, other women have been painted as fame hungry, as if they “should have known better” or that the actions of Cosby were “business as usual” in an industry that thrives on the objectification of women. These statements and tropes have been used to excuse behavior, as if they somehow validate society’s devaluation of what happened to these women. Why are these women any less worthy of safety than any other woman?
As the Cosby narrative continues to unfold, I know we have seen only a small snippet of what happens when women are brave enough to take a stand, to raise their voices, and dare to come forward. I know, that what we have seen in the last couple years is only part of the larger systematic issues that erase the lives, experiences, and power that women have over our bodies. But, what we all must acknowledge is that we have seen the voice of one man have more power than the voices of 50 women. One should have been enough.
Teresa Younger is President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women