Shared News Space

I just read of the Cosby indictment in the US while on vacation in Malaysia. The big news here is Japan’s acknowledgment and apology for its practice of providing female sex slaves for men in their military across fifteen years before and during WWII. Tens of thousands of women were victimized by Japan’s actions. Likely some the women came from villages along this northern shore of Borneo where my family and I have walked this week. This apology by Japan took 80 years. Only 46 victims are known to still be alive. One man’s and a country’s sexual sins share news space, and perhaps more.

News reports of Cosby’s arrest contain quotes of Mr. Cosby given in an earlier deposition from a civil suit. Mr. Cosby’s assumptions about sexual activity revealed in the deposition are appalling and debase, but those assumptions are older and broader than America’s rapist comic hero. For centuries men and the societies they controlled have held assumptions about sexual activity that advantage men. The abusive actions of the Japanese military and the abusive actions of countless other institutions, organizations, and individuals are based on these assumptions. Here are but a few:

— Women are the cause of male attraction and therefore women are to blame for male sexual behavior.

— The satisfaction of male needs for sexual behavior is important for the good of society and can sometimes be secured by societies.

— Forced male sexual behavior is at worst neutral for women.

I suspect that America’s reluctance to believe the woman who have accused Bill Cosby of rape and abuse is in part our reluctance to confront lingering assumptions about sexual activity that advantage men.

Bill Cosby has denied responsibility for his crimes likely dating back more than 40 years. In addition to the punishment to be delivered by our courts, the victims and America need an acknowledgement and apology from Mr. Cosby. And may we extract some meaning from this devastating betrayal by confronting lingering assumptions about sexual behavior that promote and cover abuse.