Sunday, December 14, 2014

Bill Cosby, Social Media and Women’s Rights

Bill Cosby photo from Wikipedia
Bill Cosby has been a beloved role model since the sixties with his success as a comedian, an actor, a supporter of education, and a spokesperson for the African American community. He broke barriers for African Americans in television and his success coincided with the civil rights movement giving his rise a graced timeliness. Here was Bill Cosby, the perfect citizen, his wholesome image endearing him to the public, shedding a positive light on an entire community, and giving hope to those that would come after. His public image, until a decade ago was untouchable. What has changed? Social media and the effects of the women’s rights movement.
Coinciding with the civil rights’ movement was the women’s rights movement. A movement that fought for equal rights for women in society and against male privilege particularly when it came to sexual harassment, rape, and domestic abuse against women. There is still a long way to go, but the outing of Bill Cosby might be a barometer of how far the movement has come.

When Bill Cosby was busy allegedly drugging and raping teenage aspiring models and Playboy bunnies back in the sixties the women’s movement was just getting under way. As an African American male, but still a male, he was not unaware of the vulnerability of young women, particularly in the entertainment business. As he grew in power, his confidence grew. Who would believe his victims? Was it not common practice for powerful men to take advantage? Were these young girls not there for the picking? Many powerful men would have agreed and obviously did, since he had accomplices and people must have looked the other way. Perhaps many young women would have willingly allowed themselves to be seduced, such is the lure of money and power, but his particularly twisted psychosexual pathology demanded total vulnerability. Demanded that they be unconscious, under his complete control. They were objects to him. He turned them into voiceless, motionless, living dolls. Still, his particular kink was tolerated for decades for many reasons. The women were ashamed, traumatized, afraid no one would believe them, told to be quiet, and so on. There is also good old-fashioned misogyny to be blamed. It works as a force outside of women in society and inside their minds. It is a voice that demeans, that makes one doubt, that humiliates and weakens. That force was particularly strong in the sixties. It is still very much alive today, one only needs to read the comments on social media. These women are called bimbos, in it only for the money, liars, and worse. But not all voices are so spiteful. They are many voices that offer support, that believe, that feel the time has come for something to be done. 

Something has changed. Some progress is inevitable. Perhaps the first sign was eight years ago when Andrea Constand told the police about Cosby allegedly drugging and molesting her, albeit a year later. Could it be that the work the women’s movement had done in the sixties, seventies, and eighties was finally paying off? Here was a young woman standing up to a powerful legend. She later filed a civil suit and thirteen Jane Does came forward to support her. The case was settled out of court. Perhaps Cosby realized the mood of the times had changed and controlled his behavior from then on. Still, that case remained buried in the public consciousness and then comes another phenomenon that Bill would have never imagined in the sixties: social media.

Social media has made the world a village.  Gone are the days when only writers and public persona could have their say, now anyone can. Anything anyone does can be taped and put on the internet. Any blogger can post their opinion. Fewer misdeeds by public persona can be hidden. Any person can tweet their thoughts. No one knows what will go viral, what will flare up, whose tweet will be on a news channel. Social media has become the public consciousness, an ultimate vehicle of opinion and democracy; terribly honest, cruel, merciless, and ultimately a platform for social judgment. Comedian Hannibal Buress lit the fire by calling Bill Cosby a rapist in his comedy routine. Strangely enough, it was Cosby’s uppity moralizing towards the African American community and not his abuse of women that was the fuel for Buress’ attack. Someone taped it, put it on the internet and it went viral. That led his victims, sensing the moment was right, to slowly come out of the woodwork. Now a movement has been created. Tonight six of Bill Cosby’s victims were on CNN. Decades ago this would have been highly improbable. Social media with its pulse on public opinion has done the unthinkable. It has created the perfect storm that has brought a powerful and likely narcissist to light. In a few months, it has toppled a legend and in the process vindicated decades of suffering for many voiceless, faceless Jane Does.

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