In the throes of the #MeToo movement, the Women’s March, Larry Nassar’s crushing defeat, Oprah’s impassioned “Time’s Up” speech, numerous powerful men dropping like flies, and relentless news coverage about how this country will no longer tolerate sexual misconduct, Bill Cosby decided to do a comedy show.
Disproving the dopey suggestion that the #MeToo movement has gone too far, Cosby making jokes in public about any topic means #MeToo hasn’t made a dent. In fact, if a creature like Bill Cosby can attract a flea, much less an audience of humans, it’s fair to say this isn’t a movement at all.
Movements are supposed to affect society. Vocabulary.com defines cultural movement as “A group of people working together to advance certain cultural goals.”
The cultural goal of #MeToo and other initiatives is to make sexual misconduct unacceptable. While measuring lack of acceptance isn’t an exact science, if we haven’t reached the stage where people don’t want to hear jokes from a predator who systematically drugged and raped women, then we have nothing remotely resembling a movement.
We can’t force Bill Cosby to stop raping women unless he goes to prison, which would be nice. Nor can we forbid the jerk to perform comedy. But we can refuse to attend his shows, and we can hold signs that say “COSBY IS A REPULSIVE PIG/RAPIST” every time he shows his ugly face in public.
Public shame is an inadequate alternative to incarceration, but it’s not nothing. Harvey Weinstein will live in his unincarcerated version of social exile for the rest of his life, alongside Woody Allen and many others.
That Bill Cosby is black has afforded him undeserved slack, as if the suffering of persecuted black men entitles him to rape with impunity. And if being black is important, how come the race of his black victims isn’t equally or more important? They’ve suffered a lot more than he has. The obvious answer is that Cosby’s black victims are female, and women of color have never had enough value in this country to merit a serious public response when men of any color abuse them.
Hollywood speeches won’t make a difference until women come together across all lines and make this a realmovement, not against Trump or anyone else, but in favor of equality. Equality, not hashtags, will stop the violence.
Women have never had true equality in America. Equality was granted to black men in the Fourteenth Amendment, but not to women of any color. Hence, as the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly pointed out, women are not entitled to the fully equal protection of the laws because they are not, in fact, fully equal persons.
This ugly reality would change overnight if the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) were ratified. It has been pending for almost a hundred years, and is only two states away from ratification. Virginia, Utah, Illinois, Arizona, and Florida, among others, have yet to vote on the issue, and dedicated advocates are lobbying lawmakers every day, urging them to do the right thing by women once and for all. It’s funny that Oprah didn’t think this was worth mentioning while she was touting the benefits of #TimesUp.
Social media is a powerful tool that brings people together even when other forces in society are trying to keep them apart. But social media will never prevent sexual misconduct so long as the constitution protects male above female.
The Women’s March could have prioritized the ERA, but instead they made the march about everybody’s everything. Why is it OK for Black Lives Matters and pro-immigrant events not to address women’s rights, but women’s rights events must address the interests of all?
Until the ERA is ratified, women will continue to be abused in high numbers. And until women start demanding constitutional equality as their number one priority, they deserve their subjugation.
Professor of sexual violence law
Wendy Murphy is adjunct professor of sexual violence law at New England Law|Boston where she has taught for fifteen years. An impact litigator whose work in state and federal courts around the country has changed the law to improve protections for women’s and children’s constitutional rights, she developed and directs several projects in conjunction with the school’s Center for Law and Social Responsibility.