Why can’t we accept what Bill Cosby is being accused of?

When I read that Bill Cosby, our collective ’80s dad and goofy mentor, allegedly raped thirteen women, I didn’t want to believe it. How could I? Bill Cosby, who played the lovable family man Dr. Cliff Huxtable in The Cosby Show, hosted the adorable Kids Say the Darndest Things, and donated countless hours and funds to charities (among many, many other things), seems like the last man who could ever senselessly violate so many young women.  But with the amount of substantially incriminating (and consistent) evidence that all points to the same type of repeated (horrific) crime, it’s time we take these accusations seriously. (For the record, Cosby has repeatedly denied any and all allegations.) Still, what happens next? How are we supposed to feel about the situation? And after years of serious allegations, why did it take a male comedian to bring public outrage for this alleged pattern of violent behavior?

Barbara Browman, one of Bill Cosby’s alleged victims, was only 17-years-old when she says the star took her under his wing, earned her trust, and then drugged and sexually assaulted her multiple times. The young actress told her agent, but her agent did nothing. Browman then went to a lawyer, who accused her of lying. Browman didn’t keep quiet —she publicly shared her story for ten years, and in 2006, she was interviewed for Philadelphia Magazine, and KYW-TV News. In 2006, a reporter took interest in her story, and profiled her in an issue of People Magazine. Still, even though multiple  other women beside Browman have come forward (one in a court case, which Cosby settled out of), Cosby continues to deny these allegations. And thus, we’ve continued to look the other way, cherishing our beloved sitcom grandpa, and covering our ears, for years, as though we didn’t hear a single word.

However, now it’s time to listen up. In October of this year, comedian Hannibal Buress publicly called Cosby a rapist. “ ‘I was TV in the ‘80s! I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom!’ Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches,” Buress said to his audience. This “joke” was apparently the necessary catalyst to force the public to finally look at what Cosby’s alleged victims have long been saying: According the reports of more than a dozen women, Bill Cosby allegedly drugged and violently sexually assaulted young women over several decades. How that tracks with our idealization of Cliff Huxtable, I don’t know. How it makes sense with the silly Jello Pudding Pop guy, I have no idea. How a man could seem like a perfect dad and husband, who could inspire a generation to be better dads and husbands, and then turn out to be an alleged gross monster who allegedly rapes teenagers, I can’t fully wrap my head around. But that doesn’t mean I can turn the other way and just pretend this isn’t happening, as if by covering my ears and saying NAH NAH NAH NAH loudly enough it will go away. These accusations have been circulating for over 20 years, we’re grownups now, we can be forced to listen to—and really hear—them.

Because of Buress’s comment, larger news outlets and social media platforms began to take notice. Cosby, who was supposed to appear on The Queen Latifah Show as well as David Letterman to promote his new show, did not not appear on either program. And in response to an ill-planned rebranding/marketing technique, hundreds of Twitter users created Bill Cosby memes that referred to him as a rapist.

Are we finally starting to accept that one of our most cherished male icons has been accused of drugging and sexually assaulting many women? Why does it take a man to call attention to the alleged victims? And while we may not know the full story, is there something to be learned from what we do know?

If these allegations prove true, it’s a reminder that men no matter how beloved they are or how altruistic they may act, cannot be allowed to use the goodwill of their celebrity to protect them. They shouldn’t be rewarded with more shows, awards, and fandom. If a woman is abused by a man, no matter who that man is, his actions cannot be undone, and he should have to face the consequences.

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