PHILADELPHIA – Women didn’t believe me, either.
I’ll skip the details to protect the innocent along with the guilty. But here’s the abridged version: It was supposed to be one of the best times of my life, and it mostly was — except for the "touchy-feely" guy who just wouldn’t let up.
I told the women around us, some who had even witnessed it. He made me "uncomfortable," I said.
Good lord — "touchy-feely," "uncomfortable" —we didn’t even have the language back then to call it what it was.
He was nice, harmless, many of the women insisted. The implication: Why was I making a big deal out of a little attention?
At one point it got so bad that a woman in a position of power to do something was alerted, only for me to get a phone call. He and I were scheduled to be at the same event, but he’d chivalrously sent word that if I was "uncomfortable," he’d skip it. I could hear the sympathy — for him — in her ask. I felt trapped — not believed — so I acquiesced. I’d deal.
I can taste the anger and disgust rising up in the back of my throat anytime I think about it.
So, I try not to think about it.
And then on Wednesday, Bill Cosby was released from prison after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his sexual assault conviction — the first high-profile celebrity conviction of the #MeToo era where we finally seemed to have the language to talk about sexual abuse and sexual harassment and a reason to hope that things might get better. Believe women became a rallying call, with an asterisk.
Let’s be very clear about what happened: Cosby is not innocent. He was not exonerated. He was set free on a technicality — a previous prosecutor’s promise not to criminally charge Cosby — despite 60 women courageously coming together to say yes, that beloved 83-year-old comedic legend once known as "America’s Dad" had drugged and sexually assaulted them.
An appalling reminder of our flawed justice system — and yet, it was the defense from actress Phylicia Rashad who played Cosby’s TV wife that brought back the stinging taste in my mouth.
"Finally!!!" Rashad tweeted. "A terrible wrong is being righted — a miscarriage of justice is corrected."
Cosby had already served more than two years of a three-to-10-year sentence after he was found guilty of drugging and assaulting Temple University employee Andrea Constand in 2004.
You know why Cosby’s imprisonment was such a big deal? Because women don’t report sexual misconduct over the very real fear that they won’t be believed, especially by men.
You want to know why apologists like Rashad should be loudly called out? Because we may not talk about it as much, but another reason that women don’t come forward is because of the women who don’t believe women — no matter the proof.
Because it didn’t happen to them. Because the men were too nice or harmless or old — or powerful. Because telling the truth comes at a cost, and not everyone is willing to pay the steep price.
Because, sisterhood! But only sometimes, and sorta.
Because even when we’ve been through it, and I include myself here, we still don’t always know how to do right by one another.
Because, because, because… the systems and institutions and industries built by men to protect men, especially the rich, famous and powerful ones, do not rise or survive without the implicit complicity of women.
Just look at white women’s roles in systemic racism.
Or the silence, by women, around sexism or bro culture in the workplace, any workplace. As if by keeping quiet, women will suddenly become one of the guys. Welcome to the boys club.
And it only gets worse, and more disappointing, when these women are in positions of power themselves, only to choose to add to the chorus of disbelieving women.
I can hear the defense of Rashad’s defense now: Disagree all you want, but Rashad is allowed to have her opinion! Sure — except she’s not just some random woman siding with a sexual predator.
She’s the new fine arts dean at Howard University, her alma mater.
Think about the message her defense of the indefensible sends to young women who might look to her as a role model, a potential powerful ally at a school where a lawsuit was filed by five female Howard students in 2017 that alleged the university had failed to "swiftly handle sexual assault reports."