Women, Cosby and the Hazards of Identity Politics
Horrible conflicts between men and women have recently dominated the news. A torrent of rape allegations have been leveled against comedian Bill Cosby, the latest of which stems from model Beverly Johnson. According to Ms. Johnson in the 1980’s the entertainer invited her to his home and attempted to sexually assault her via a rape drug. Other accusers have voiced similar stories and Mr. Cosby’s social standing now rivals that of O. J. Simpson.
Mere days ago there was the murder/suicide of professional dancer and actress Stephanie Mosley, shot and killed by her estranged husband Earl Hayes who then turned the gun on himself. In an age where nothing is private, not even murder/suicide, the tragedy was witnessed in real-time on Face Time by professional boxer, Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
Former Oklahoma running back Brennan Clay exposed his wife’s affair with professional Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray by posting the lovers explicit text messages on social media. Clay has subsequently filed for divorce.
Then there is the Rolling Stone article of a 2012, gang rape, allegedly occurring in a University of Virginia frat house. Since then the truth of the incident has been hotly debated. And who can forget the violent elevator scene in the Ray Rice matter?
No evidence has been presented nor verdict reached in the Cosby affair. That some of the accusers took decades to come forward while others accepted money from Mr. Cosby is troubling. Nevertheless, these are disturbing allegations.
But as always, we urge caution as to how we approach these and similar controversies. This admonition is especially relevant given our love affair with identity politics.
When incidents like these occur we tend to focus on the identity of the participants rather than their conduct. The individual(s) we identify with we support. The parties we do not identify with we castigate; the facts be damn. This approach while understandable leads to real and material problems.
First, there is the issue of oversimplification. Few things are as clear-cut as they first appear and gender, racial and religious conflicts are multi-faceted, poly layered and trans-generational. Google ‘women who kill men” for example and discover a shocking yet growing world of female murderers and their male victims.
This reality does not lessen the impact of domestic violence on women. Both the Ray Rice and the Mosley/Hays murder/suicide are difficult to absorb. We further realize that women, like many others, have faced historic abuse.
It is important however to place gender violence in much-needed perspective. It is further necessary to move the discussion from the simplistic ‘man bad, women good’ dialogue to which it usually succumbs.
Do female executioners posit a reason for targeting and killing men; absolutely. Are these reasons anymore persuasive than those offered by male abusers; absolutely not. Evil is evil regardless the gender of the evildoer.
Identity politics also creates an ‘us versus them’ scenario, facilitates the rush to judgment and politicizes conflicts to the point where productive dialogue and reasonable compromise are impossible. In all social contests there are those who would destroy rather than build, divide instead of unite and intentionally or recklessly pit one side against the other. More interested in being right than resolving problems; more comfortable in bunkers of righteous indignation rather than havens of peaceful coexistence, their goal is pay back; their desire is to settle old scores.
We saw this in the Ray Rice case; we witnessed it in the Ferguson incident. The last thing we need is to further polarize an already divided nation.
At times, identity may be a legitimate issue and we do not suggest that targeted discrimination be ignored. But even then, context is crucial. Race, gender, sexual identification and preference, political affiliation, religion and/or national origin may indeed matter. But what matters most is behavior.
Would the Cosby conduct be any less objectionable if his victims were males as opposed to females? Would it matter if a woman drug rapped males or other females? The same applies to any incident regarding gender, race or any other flashpoint issue. In all of the above referenced situations the bottom line is that one person abused another. With few exceptions, this and this alone should be the basis of our consideration.
In summary, neither the identity of the victim or the victimizer controls. The identity of the parties does not entitle us to sink to the level of that we oppose. Nor can we jeopardize the virtuous in order to advance a narrow political interest. No matter the conflict; regardless the issue, the goal is to advance all rather than to represent the few.
Thus, we should not make the Cosby matter, the Gardner situation or and other incident a war between men and women, blacks and whites, Americans and immigrants or Christians and Muslims. The way to move beyond these or any other social conflict is to rise above the situation and to focus on conduct rather than identity.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum