“Only after a man” called Bill Cosby a rapist did anyone listen: on rape, history, and epistemology

Barbara Bowman says that Bill Cosby raped her in the 1980s, when she was seventeen years old. When she told people about the assaults at the time, she was told that she was crazy, or a liar:

Back then, the incident was so horrifying that I had trouble admitting it to myself, let alone to others. But I first told my agent, who did nothing. (Cosby sometimes came to her office to interview people for “The Cosby Show” and other acting jobs.) A girlfriend took me to a lawyer, but he accused me of making the story up. Their dismissive responses crushed any hope I had of getting help; I was convinced no one would listen to me. That feeling of futility is what ultimately kept me from going to the police. . . .

I didn’t stay entirely quiet, though: I’ve been telling my story publicly for nearly 10 years. When Constand brought her lawsuit, I found renewed confidence. I was determined to not be silent any more. In 2006, I was interviewed by Robert Huber for Philadelphia Magazine, and Alycia Lane for KYW-TV news in Philadelphia. A reporter wrote about my experience in the December 2006 issue of People Magazine. And last February, Katie Baker interviewed me for Newsweek. Bloggers and columnists wrote about that story for several months after it was published. Still, my complaint didn’t seem to take hold.

Only after a man, Hannibal Buress, called Bill Cosby a rapist in a comedy act last month did the public outcry begin in earnest. The original video of Buress’s performance went viral. This week, Twitter turned against him, too, with a meme that emblazoned rape scenarios across pictures of his face.

While I am grateful for the new attention to Cosby’s crimes, I must ask my own questions: Why wasn’t I believed? Why didn’t I get the same reaction of shock and revulsion when I originally reported it? Why was I, a victim of sexual assault, further wronged by victim blaming when I came forward? The women victimized by Bill Cosby have been talking about his crimes for more than a decade. Why didn’t our stories go viral?

Unfortunately, our experience isn’t unique. The entertainment world is rife with famous men who use their power to victimize and then silence young women who look up to them. Even when their victims speak out, the industry and the public turn blind eyes; these men’s celebrity, careers, and public adulation continue to thrive.

So little changes in the history of sexual assault that it’s almost like it’s impervious to change over time, and it’s not just in the entertainment industry of course.  Powerful men exploit their access to young, powerless women, girls, and boys.  On the rare occasion that a young, powerless person speaks up, she’s told that she’s crazy, she misunderstood, she’s to blame, and omigod do you know what this might do to his career?  Continue reading

Thursday round-up: the death becomes us edition

elvgrenhalloween

Scary stuff!

Friends, it’s a never-ending round of seminars, walks through the garden, curator-led tours of both the Huntington and the Getty Museums, and lunch and dinner invitations that I have barely a moment to myself on this “sabbatical!”  My apologies for the light posting these days, but sometimes a scholar just has to sit down once in a while and write something for peer-reviewed publications.

Here are a few interesting things I’ve found while haunting the interwebs over the past week:

  • Should we bring back formal mourning clothes? This review of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibit, “Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire” by Hillary Kelly is nostalgic for the value of public mourning.  Maybe this is on my mind, because I’m of the age now that my peers are coping with the deaths of their parents.  I had a colleague whose father died a few years ago, and when I invited him out for dinner following a seminar  several months later, I was a little surprised that he said, “no thanks, I’m just not up to socializing yet.”  Of course it made perfect sense–but it struck me at the time that we make grief so invisible and so unknowable to others in modern U.S. culture.  Recent widows and widowers complain that after a month or two, even close friends sometimes express exasperation with their grief!  We expect people to “get over it” so we aren’t threatened by the memory of our own losses, or by fears of our impending losses. 
  • There’s a new book coming out with Yale University Press next year which I’m dying to read:  Fashion Victims:  Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell.  (Isn’t that a great title?  Who wouldn’t want to read that book?)  She was the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Curatorial Fellow in French Art at the Huntington from 2003 to 2007, and is an independent scholar.
  • Speaking of mourning, what about graves, and specifically, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act?  There’s an open position in the Anthropology Department at the University of Massachusetts for a Repatriation Coordinator.  Public historians or anyone else with NAGPRA knowledge and experience should apply.  This position does not require a Ph.D., but rather just an M.A. in Anthropology, Native/Indigenous Studies/Museum Studies or related fields.  This is a three-year lectureship.
  • The bane of my existence is now the elaborate software systems through which we must all submit journal articles and letters of recommendation.  Do I really need a unique I.D. and secure password for every.  Freakin’.  system?  (If someone wants to write an article, revise it, and get it published under my name, I’d be happy to take credit for it!)  Also:  it seems unfair to ask an author to revise and resubmit an article, but still hold her to the first-round 10,000 word limit.  Just sayin’.  Now I’m off to eliminate 388 words from my polished, jewel-like, prose.
  • Well, not yet.  I forgot to say that tomorrow night is Halloween.  Tips for candy thieves:  only eat the candy out of your kids’ buckets until they can reliably count, or you’ll get busted.

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Free joke of the day

Hi-larious Benjamin Hart mansplains why mansplaining must be retired as a word in the English language. Apparently, some people misunderstand or misuse the term, so none of us can use it ever again. The evidence he furnishes for these crimes against language are the eminent, peer-reviewed scholars known as “some random a-holes on Twitter.”

If only this were true of other words people misuse all of the time! Like, for example, “irony.” Or my pet peeve, the nearly universal misuse of “flaunt” when “flout” is usually the appropriate word. Or people who say “based off” rather than “based on,” because they misunderstand the function of a base. You can think of others, I am sure. Yet I hear no choruses for striking irony, flaunt, flout, or off. Continue reading

“Christmas won’t be Christmas if there isn’t any Orchard House,” grumbled Historiann: forget the sausages–send cabbage now!

ANOTHER ANOTHER UPDATE, Wednesday October 22, 2014: YAY! They–and you–did it; the goal was met yesterday afternoon, and the project has collected another $5,670 on top of the goal of $150,000 as of 9:47 a.m. PDT. So, the movie will be funded!

ANOTHER UPDATE, Tuesday October 21, 2014: Friends, with 35 hours to go we still need $3,801 to make the movie, or they get zero, zilch, nada bucks. Make it happen by the end of the day today!

UPDATE, Monday October 20, 2014: With just 54 hours to go, the Orchard House movie needs only $6,057!!! Yes, that’s just over six thousand bucks. Can you help make it happen? Friends, I’m going to have to throw away all of my pickled limes if this effort falls short after getting so close.

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House is raising funds via Kickstarter to make a movie documenting the history of the house itself, because “many who wish to experience Orchard House may never be able to visit in person, and there are millions more that do not realize the house exists.”  For more than a century, Orchard House has been preserved with little more than spit, Kleenex, and volunteer labor.  They’re trying to make a documentary film about the house itself and the story of its preservation as a means to publicize its needs and gain more support, but at this point–4 days short of their October 22 goal–they’re still nearly $30,000 shy of their $150,000 goal.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/632439913/orchard-house/widget/video.html
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Death threats plus liberal gun laws = no feminist speech allowed

kevlar vestMany of you are probably following this story, an offshoot of the insane outpouring of misogyny known as GamerGate.  The latest news is that Anita Sarkeesian decided to cancel her speech at Utah State University yesterday.  A news article from the Salt Lake Tribune explains:

A nationally known feminist media critic said Wednesday that “it would be irresponsible” to give a lecture amidst mass shooting threats at Utah State University, knowing that police would not screen for weapons at the door.

In a phone interview from San Francisco, Anita Sarkeesian said she canceled Wednesday’s lecture not because of three death threats — one of which promised “the deadliest school shooting in American history” — but because firearms would be allowed in spite of the threats.

“That was it for me,” said Sarkeesian, who has kept multiple speaking engagements in the face of death threats, including one last week at Geek Girl Con in Seattle. “If they allowed weapons into the auditorium, that was too big a risk.”

She also pledged never to speak at a Utah school until firearms are prohibited on Utah’s campuses and called for other lecturers to join her in boycotting the state.

Wait–why would any sane polity or university let guns into a university lecture hall?   Continue reading

Mothers’ compulsory little helpers

wehelpmommyI have a new intellectual crush on LA Times TV critic Mary McNamara. She’s a feminist who’s not afraid to bring the sass and the cheek like a blogger.  Check out the analysis she published today, inspired by her irritation at two television shows, Homeland and Jane the Virgin, headlined “The Tyranny of Maternity on TV.”  

Although two very different shows with different audiences, “they share a troubling and unexpected theme: Socially Enforced Motherhood.”  In other words, “despite their contrasting tone, form and intent, both shows insist that, deep down, every woman wants a child no matter the conditions, even when the woman in question has made it very clear that she does not feel this way at all.”

First, we have Homeland‘s Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes,

For months, she denied the existence of the pregnancy, and then did not abort due mostly to psychological inertia and the writers’ need for her to have something nice to tell Brody just before his death. But Carrie never wanted the baby and, in fact, planned to put him or her up for adoption, a decision that shocked her sister, who then convinced her not to do this.

The same sister who, at the opening of Season 4, expressed intense frustration over the fact that Carrie still doesn’t want to be a mother. “You bring a child into this world, you take responsibility,” she says in the premiere, referring to the child Carrie, you know, wanted to put up for adoption. “There isn’t even a diagnosis for what’s wrong with you,” she adds, when Carrie fails to bond with baby Franny.

Yes, there is, it’s called Not Wanting to Have a Child. Something that might have been synonymous with insanity during the Inquisition but should not be so now.

Not that anyone told the writers, who could not resist throwing in a tempest-provoking scene in which Carrie contemplated drowning the baby. See? Insane.

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Historiann: The New York Times Book Review Interview

cowgirl3a

Giddyup!

Today’s post is was inspired by the interview with James McPherson in the New York Times book review last weekend.  I reviewed that interview in yesterday’s post.  Today, I’ve interviewed myself, and I encourage you to interview yourself too, either in the comments below, on your own blog, and/or on Twitter.  (Be sure to tag me @Historiann and #historiannchallenge.)

What books are currently on your night stand?

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, and some travel guides for southern California.

What was the last truly great book you read?

If you mean a work of history, I’d say Foul Bodies:  Cleanliness in Early America by Kathleen Brown. That’s a book that makes a powerful argument about status and cleanliness, and how women became responsible for both of these things in their families and in the wider world. It’s a book that has tremendous implications about the ways in which body care became intensely gendered over the longue durée, which is something I think about whenever I see a housekeeper, a janitor, an employee of a nursing home or rehab facility, or a home health aide.

Who are the best historians writing today?

In no particular order: Lynn Hunt, Jill Lepore, Annette Gordon-Reed, Natalie Zemon Davis, and Judith Bennett. I could go on, but just reading those authors will keep anyone busy for a few years.

What’s the best book ever written about American history?

That’s a ridiculous question. What the hell is a “best book ever?” What do you think I’m going to say–France and England in North America by Francis Parkman?  Best book in the last century? Best book since 1776? Doesn’t the answer vary according to the fashion of the times and our own tastes? History is constantly being revised and updated by each succeeding generation of historians, so no book can ever be a “best book ever” for more than a few years. Continue reading