So, the big news this week is, Bill Cosby got off. Not because he was innocent of three charges of aggravated indecent assault, but because the jury members deciding his fate were hopelessly deadlocked, which resulted in a mistrial.
One CNN article that I read said the language of the charges was a major cause of concern. A juror, who chose to remain anonymous, spoke to the press, and it seems serendipitous that this man stepped forward because his comments embody the reason Cosby went free – a woman’s voice is a subjective thing. Sometimes it matters. But if there is a male voice in opposition, not so much.
For instance, the juror said, “It’s questionable that she asked for help from Mr. Cosby and she shows up wearing a bare midriff and she has incense with her and bath salts with her, and no matter who gave her the bath salts, that’s questionable.” So, her clothes and accessories – and your judgment over their suitability – were more important than her testimony.
Hmmm. I think I’ve heard that narrative before. “But look what she was wearing! She was asking for it.”
But let’s get back to the jurors’ confusion over the wording of the charges. According to that same CNN article, words like “reckless,” “unconscious,” “severely impaired” and “unreasonable doubt” were problematic. Jurors said, “We spent a lot of time trying to figure these words out that were in these charges, which made them so much more severe than what all the testimony, or I heard closing arguments was. We never heard those words, and that’s where the problem was.”
That wasn’t the best quote, but we’ll go with it. Here’s why this trial sucks. It says to the world – and all the men who run it – even if a woman says no, even if she makes a legal complaint about your treatment of her, it doesn’t matter if the language used to make that complaint is at all debatable. And frankly, isn’t all language debatable?
This trial says, a man can admit that he bought powerful drugs to give to women with whom he wants to have sex with – which Cosby did – and simplistically, it’s okay – even if women say they were given those drugs without their knowledge and then assaulted.
The result of this trial also says that when a powerful man denies wrongdoing, despite a plethora of female voices who say otherwise, the case is ultimately all about the man. The women become incidental. Nitpicking over the wording in the charges – “‘Reckless’ was one word that we spent a whole day on trying to figure out whether he was reckless going upstairs and getting pills,” the juror said.” – means debate over whether his actions were deemed wrong matters more than the victims’ testimony.
The whole trial seems like an elaborate he said-she said, and Cosby won. Further, don’t bother trying again with another jury. Prosecutors have said they plan to re-try Cosby, “But the juror who spoke to CNN said that would just be a “waste of money” because he thought another jury would have the same problem coming to a conclusion as well.” Sadly, I suspect many would echo this.
Women everywhere should be extremely concerned about this trial’s implications. But I’d wager many of us aren’t terribly shocked at the outcome. In the workplace, for instance, we’ve always known that our word doesn’t hold as much weight as a man’s, especially if that man is powerful.
It’s why we just grit our teeth and deal with sexist jokes, crude propositions and being made to feel uncomfortable in our own skins because certain bits of our anatomy may be larger than what is considered elegant or proper. Hell, your lady parts don’t even have to be big. Sometimes just being a woman is enough to earn you unwanted attention.
It’s why most of us don’t bother to report sexual harassment at work, we just find new jobs. Why fight when the powers that be will put you under the microscope as though your actions – you know, breathing, walking around with breasts, laughing, stuff like that – are a rude and inconsiderate catalyst for questionable male behavior?
Why risk ruining your reputation when your male boss will brush off your attempts to assert yourself as hysterics the way former Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller did Kamala Harris’ work in the recent hearings for Attorney General Jeff Sessions? It’s better to roll your eyes, gripe to your girlfriends, and let boys be boys.
I really wish I could say that cliché is fading. That the narrative of woman as guilty seducer of the poor, weak and hapless man is no longer valid. But it is.
It’s tough to be a woman. Our voices are certainly being heard more, but in situations like this trial, where it really counts, when it could send a strong message about what’s okay and what isn’t when it comes to a woman’s body, sadly, it’s still a man’s world.