Bill Cosby has been sentenced to three to ten years in prison, which as I understand it means that he will serve a minimum of three years before becoming eligible for potential parole.
I have nothing to say about Cosby as a cultural phenomenon, as he never meant anything to me. This isn’t a criticism: it’s just that I never watched The Cosby Show, and frankly at the time — the 1980s for chrissakes — I had trouble understanding why it was considered such a big deal to portray a black couple on TV as “upper middle class” (in the Republican sense of the term, i.e., rich but not real rich) professionals. In retrospect that was probably pretty naive on my part, to put it mildly. In other words I had no real understanding at the time of how racist America still was and is.
Anyway I understand in the abstract that he was for various reasons a kind of breakthrough figure in the entertainment industry, but I’ll leave it to others who cared about his various careers to comment on that aspect of the matter.
What I would like to mention is the significance of this conviction for discussions of the general cultural reckoning surrounding sexual assault and sexual harassment. We’re hearing a lot now about how terrible it is that men can be falsely accused of such things. Iowa congressman and general blight on humanity Steve King puts it this way:
“You add all of that together and I’m thinking, is there any man in this room that wouldn’t be subjected to such an allegation? A false allegation?” King said. “How can you disprove something like that? Which means, if that’s the new standard, no man will ever qualify for the Supreme Court again.”
What’s striking about these sorts of claims is how the other side of the equation is never even acknowledged to exist. What do you suppose the ratio is between false allegations of sexual assault on the one hand, and on the other, unreported sexual assaults, reported sexual assaults that don’t get taken seriously, and sexual assaults that are taken seriously but fail to produce any punishment for the perpetrator? Obviously we don’t know the answer with any precision, but would anyone be surprised if the ratio were 1000 incidents in the latter categories for every one in the former?
This is loosely analogous to the right wing whinging about “voter fraud,” which in essence consists of a willingness to suppress 1000 legitimate voters to eliminate one illegitimate ballot.
In both cases, this otherwise bizarre calculus is easily explicable by the fact that Republicans think that falsely accusing a man of sexual assault is worse than 1000 actual sexual assaults against women, and that counting one illegitimate vote is worse than functionally eliminating the right to vote of 1000 voters — at least if they’re the kind of voters whose votes shouldn’t really count that much anyway.
“Urban” voters, women, immigrants — these are not people who actually count in the right wing’s lidless eye, so when you throw their interests on the scales of justice, those scales don’t move.