Here is my latest for Feminist Studies in Religion on Bill Cosby’s Sexual Allegations.
As I read the rape and sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby, I am disgusted to the point where I am nauseous. Why have the allegations gone uninvestigated for so long?
I grew up on The Cosby Show. When I introduce my oldest son, everyone in my generation thinks I named him after Theo Huxtable. That is how much Bill Cosby influenced my generation. I used to sit in front of the TV. and chuckle at all his jokes and thought he would be such a cool dad. He had an uncanny smile and he would always seem to make things right.
Now with these allegations coming out and at least 17 women coming forward, it is certainly time to take the women seriously and investigate fully their allegations. This is important because Bill Cosby’s story is not an isolated case. A number of men with power, stature, and wealth have been convicted of or accused of committing illegal sexual acts towards young, vulnerable women and men. We have heard the allegations against Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Penn State University Football coach Jerry Sandusky, and the list goes on.
When allegations of rape and sexual violation are made against powerful, respected men, however much we may admire them and their work, we must take the allegations seriously and have them investigated and brought to court if their actions are unlawful. We can only discourage similar acts by others if celebrity does not shield against criminal prosecution. As a society, we follow and accept celebrities as “role models,” or people we adore. As we get to know them, we need to recognize that many have “feet of clay,” namely that they have major character flaws or weaknesses. Therefore, for many, there will be a disconnect between one’s past experiences of Cosby as a T.V. dad and what the implications of these allegations might mean in how we relate to perceived or actual role models. As we recognize that Cosby has a dark side, we need to work towards some justice so such feeling of betrayal can be addressed.
I take these allegations against Bill Cosby of rape and sexual violation seriously. As a mom of a young impressionable girl who loves to dance and perform, I need to be constantly aware of men who may take advantage of young women and girls. Young girls like my daughter are eager to succeed and please and trust those with authority, power, and prestige. They may, without knowing, fall into the trap of doing whatever is asked of them. This is the vulnerability of young girls who fall victim to men of power. Religion has a long history of justifying the submission of women which has led to a culture of sexual oppression of women. We need to continuously address this long patriarchal aspect within Christianity and work towards dismantling it. When we address such issues of Cosby’s allegations, we are trying to address such subordination of women and the need to eliminate such injustices within our society, culture and religion.
In our society, which continues to shame the victim or blame the victim, as Don Lemon did recently with his interview with Joan Tarshis, it is crucial to teach our sons and daughters their value as human beings. We need to ask ourselves how much longer we can tolerate how our social systems make it normative that it is acceptable that those with power to take advantage of those more vulnerable than themselves. We cannot continue to allow women to be seen as only sexual objects to be used by men for their pleasure and then dismissed, that is, paid off, when they are raped or violated and they report their abuse.
As mothers, fathers, and human beings we need to be outraged at such sexually unbalanced societal claims and teachings which allow such felonious acts to be suppressed by hidden settlements and unjudged by a public court of law. Such heteropatriarchal underpinnings need to be dismantled and restructured. We need to move away from a culture with different standards for men and women and move towards an egalitarian and just society. We need to teach all people that sexual activity must be fully consensual. We need to develop a culture in which we take seriously those who make allegations of rape and sexual violation. We need to support those who come forward and to ensure that their allegations are fully, fairly, and transparently investigated. When appropriate, adjudication and punishment should follow.
Power, privilege, and prestige provide no exception to how we treat one another. They should not provide protection when allegations of violations are made. Each of us is entitled to safety, respect, and dignity. We are all God’s children.
Grace Ji-Sun Kim is Visiting Researcher at Georgetown University. She is the author of 7 books, Embracing the Other (forthcoming); Theological Reflections on “Gangnam Style” (Palgrave) co-written with Joseph Cheah; Reimagining with Christian Doctrines (Palgrave) co-edited with Jenny Daggers; Contemplations from the Heart (Wipf & Stock); Colonialism, Han and the Transformative Spirit (Palgrave); The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other (Palgrave); and The Grace of Sophia (Pilgrim Press). She is a co-editor with Dr. Joseph Cheah for the Palgrave Macmillan Book Series, “Asian Christianity in Diaspora”.