In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade or so, Bill Cosby – comedian, former Jell-O spokesman and television’s favorite dad – has been periodically accused of drugging and sexually assaulting multiple women over the course of his famed career. In case you’ve still been living under that rock for the last month, these periodic accusations are now becoming more permanent.
Earlier this week, while tuning into The Tom Joyner Morning Show, I listened to the 1969 clip of Cosby recounting the wonders of Spanish Fly, “a substance that, legend has it, would make women feel amorous” (FiveThirtyEight.com). In the bit, Cosby observes that Spanish Fly was one of the main topics of conversation among boys in his day and that the idea of slipping the substance into a girl’s drink so that you can then have sex with her was common knowledge–that is, “common knowledge” among boys. The audience in this clip seemingly acknowledges the commonness – and fondness – of this idea with roars of laughter. As the clip played on and the laughter continued, I felt my body go numb.
Of course he did it, I thought, as Tom, Sybil and Jay returned to the airwaves in hushed tones. While they murmured about the mounting (circumstantial) evidence against Cosby, I had already pronounced his verdict. After listening to that clip, I knew right then and there that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted those women–not just because he made a joke about it, but because people laughed.
“The tragedy here is three-fold: 1) the occurrence of the sexual assaults, 2) the unreported and allegedly mishandled sexual assault cases, and 3) the rape culture that is fostered on campuses due to unreported and allegedly mishandled sexual assault cases.”
The previous statement is from my October 2014 op-ed for the University of Richmond’s Collegian newspaper titled “Let’s have the talk–yes, that talk.” In that piece, I address the massive sexual assault issue that is plaguing many U.S. colleges and universities. A key part of that issue is rape culture, which I define as a system of people who directly and/or indirectly enable rape and sexual assault.
Much like mishandling and not reporting sexual assault cases fosters rape culture on college and university campuses, an audience of thousands laughing with Cosby as he outlines the sexual assault of “Crazy Mary” fosters rape culture in our greater society. (No, I’m not the fun police; I’m a member of Team Obvious.) Yet, as I type this post, I can’t help but wonder if what is so obvious to many of us today was as obvious in Cosby’s and his boys’ day.
Those were the days
In Cosby’s day, boys liked blue and played with trucks; girls liked pink and played with dolls. Doctors were men and nurses were women. Parents beat children within an inch of their lives to teach them discipline. Husbands beat wives to teach them respect. And boys and men drugged girls’ and women’s drinks in order to have sex with them. (Cue Archie and Edith Bunker.)
Today, we have words for the preceding scenarios, including but not limited to: Stereotyping, sexism, child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault. However, I wonder if, in Cosby’s day, these scenarios were labeled with different vocabulary. For instance, did people in Cosby’s day label stereotyping and sexism “life”? Did they label child abuse “parenting” and domestic violence “marriage”? And did they label drugging and sexually assaulting a girl “a good time”? Well, if the following snippet of Cosby’s 1991 interview with CNN’s Larry King – about Cosby’s book, Childhood – is any indication, that’s exactly what they called it.
COSBY: There’s a thing about Spanish Fly. Do you know anything about Spanish Fly?”
KING: When we were kids we used to-
COSBY: There you go. There you go. That’s all. I just wanted the recognition.
COSBY: Spanish Fly.
KING: We knew what it was.
COSBY: Spanish Fly was the thing that all boys from age 11 on up to death — We will still be searching for Spanish Fly.
KING: [laughs] That’s right.
COSBY: And what was the old- The old story was, if you took a little drop — It was on the head of a-
COSBY: -pin! And you put it in a drink-
KING: That’s right. Drop it in her Coca-Cola — It don’t matter.
COSBY: It doesn’t make any difference. And the girl would drink it and-
KING: And she’s yours.
COSBY: -’Hello, America!’ And there’s a story in there about Spanish Fly. So I think that everybody — any guy picking it up will just have a ball reading about that.
“…any guy picking it up will just have a ball reading about that.” Hmm. I wonder how many guys in college today are having a ball acting out Cosby’s – and King’s – Childhood reminiscence.
If a tree falls in the forest…
Despite differences in the times and terminology, wrong was and is wrong.
If a person sexually assaults another person, but the abiding culture considers it humorous and harmless fun, is it still sexual assault?
If one person or 15 people come forward and claim to have been sexually assaulted by another person, should their claims be thoroughly investigated, despite the celebrity, power and charisma of the alleged sexual assault aggressor?
If a person has been sexually assaulted, but does not come forward for fear that he or she won’t be believed or that people will say that he or she was ‘asking for it’ or cast him or her in some other disparaging light, is it still important for the person to come forward anyway?
The key to ending rape culture is to dismantle it one person at a time. And as the author of these words, I will now do my part in dismantling it by coming forward with my own experience with sexual assault. I, Stephanie Rochelle Redd, have been sexually assaulted multiple times. These incidents included unwanted fondling and sexual behavior directed toward me that was nonconsensual, and they were perpetrated by people in school – starting in the second grade – summer programs and in life, in general. (Whew.)
Like many who have experienced sexual assault, I didn’t tell anyone about these incidents – until now – because I was ashamed that they happened in the first place and I was afraid of what others would think of me. (Fast forward to 31 years of age, and I am giving less and less of a damn what others think about me.) Nevertheless, the more that you and I and others remain silent and aloof about sexual assault, the more we enable rape culture to assault another generation. And that’s no laughing matter.
Copyright © 2014-2015 Stephanie Rochelle Redd. All rights reserved.