Bill Cosby’s Release Should Remind Us All That The #MeToo Fight Is Far From Over
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone say that “so-and-so got #MeToo-ed” over the past few years. In fact, I’m probably guilty of deploying the flippant phrase myself. It’s a quick way to summarize the now-familiar chain of events that occurs when a powerful figure, usually male, is accused of sexual assault or misconduct—but it’s also an example of how many of us have become somewhat numb to a movement that was sparked by activist Tarana Burke as a way of finally bringing some measure of justice to survivors.
That numbness was at the top of my mind on Wednesday, when Bill Cosby was released from prison after a Pennsylvania court overturned his sexual assault conviction. More than 50 women accused Cosby of crimes including drugging and raping them, yet he only served three years of a three-to-ten-year sentence. “This is not justice,” said Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), in a statement.
While Cosby is just one in a wave of high-profile alleged predators—including Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and James Franco—whose transgressions were decried by #MeToo activists and allies, it can’t be denied that Cosby’s sentencing felt like a symbolic expression of the movement’s purpose: finally, a powerful and beloved man in the public eye was being forced to take responsibility for his bad actions. With Cosby’s release, though, comes an overdue reminder that the #MeToo movement’s goal of uprooting injustice and providing support to sexual-assault survivors everywhere hasn’t yet been reached.
RAINN estimates that one out of every six cisgender women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, and the numbers are even higher for transgender, genderqueer, and gender-nonconforming individuals. Even now, four years after the #MeToo hashtag began spreading like wildfire on social media, it’s still incalculably difficult for many survivors who don’t fit the white, cis, socioeconomically advantaged mold of the “perfect victim” to get justice (or even support). In a 2018 essay titled “What About #UsToo?: The Invisibility of Race in the #MeToo Movement,” Angela Onwuachi-Willig writes that “the recent resurgence of the #MeToo movement reflects the longstanding marginalization and exclusion that women of color experience within the larger feminist movement in U.S. society.”
To be clear, the white lens through which the #MeToo movement is often perceived can’t only be attributed to the leaders of the movement itself; a dominant media culture that still prizes privilege as a prerequisite to believability must also take the blame. It’s on us, as a society, to recognize that the #MeToo mission still has yet to pay dividends for many poor, LBGTQ+, Black, Latinx, Indigenous and other underrepresented survivors; and it’s also on us to fold that recognition into our daily lives, rather than wait for an alleged predator like Cosby to be exonerated before we remember how much work we still have to do. Right now, activists like Munroe Bergdorf, Chanel Miller, Wagatwe Wanjuki, and Deborah Parker are deeply involved in the fight for the rights of society’s most disenfranchised sexual-assault survivors, and it’s long past time for the rest of us to rejoin that fight.
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