Women and Children First

Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

Yesterday was a hard day. I was acquainted with one of the sixty women who came forward about Bill Cosby and have some idea how difficult it was for her and how much it cost her physically, mentally, and emotionally. Before the trial but after a news conference with the other women, I saw her in person. She burst into tears when I told her I believed her. I thought about her and the others yesterday. I’m writing this in the middle of the night. I can’t sleep because I’m still thinking about them, whether all of them will survive this. And I am so very angry. The trial brought back a memory of when a man tried to drug me. It didn’t work out for him and I was lucky: lucky his friends left, taking him with them when they did, lucky to make it home in one piece wondering why I felt so weird after the drink he bought me, lucky to not wake up to….

Yesterday after the news, now in the middle of the night, I don’t feel particularly lucky. I’ve endured other assaults. Has #MeToo all been for nothing? Will they find a way to release Weinstein as well? Louis CK is still performing, Kevin Spacey has a new film, someone has taken over for Epstein. Busine$$ as usual.

Years ago, a therapist told me our society doesn’t actually care about women and children. “Women and children first” sailed into our lexicon most famously from the Titanic, but historically, that’s rarely the case. For kids, we’ll do the easy stuff like car seats (“see! we’re protecting them”), but we refuse to take on the really hard damaging stuff like pedophilia. Even now, you can find “religious leaders” spouting conspiracy theories about child sex rings in Hollywood and DC. I’m not going to link to that garbage. I would like to send Child Protective Services to their homes or interview their adult children to check on them because the ones who scream the loudest with that kind of deflection? Well.

We refuse to see the real problem, primarily in families. I’m an incest survivor. It’s very common. So is domestic violence. Women and children first. We can’t even enact common sense gun regulations or do much of anything to stop mass shootings. “School shootings” should not be a common phrase, but here we are. Those shootings only went down in a pandemic lockdown. Instead of ending them, we teach students and teachers how to hide. We make bulletproof backpacks. “Women and children first” in the line of fire. And while the shootings went down, we’re already seeing stories that all kinds of domestic abuse went up during lockdown. Women and children first.

Yesterday was not a good day for justice. Throughout his career, Cosby told us what he was doing. My mother took me to one of his live shows when I was a kid, too young to understand what Spanish Fly was, much less his obsession with it. As Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” We didn’t. They were just jokes, until they weren’t. There was nothing in his release that exonerated him — this was about a technicality. And in many ways, my grief and outrage aren’t about this one case. Or only about men — my mother was my primary abuser. Some of Cosby’s most vocal defenders are women. It’s about the system kept in place by wealthy people who want to do whatever they want to do, to go on with business as usual. It’s anger over lip service about saving hypothetical women and children while ignoring the ones actually enduring horrors. It’s the nausea over one party trying to codify discrimination, particularly on the basis of race and gender, and make it nearly impossible to ever change things. It’s about famous women calling men who have confessed innocent. It’s the outrage over how incredibly difficult it is to bring these cases to trial, let alone get a conviction, only to see it vanish over a technicality many seasoned attorneys find flimsy.

I don’t have answers, but I do know how awful incest and sexual assault are to endure. I know how those events change your brain, biochemistry, and strip away any sense of safety. I know how they impact every facet of your life. I don’t want any one else to go through that kind of pain. So I wrote a trauma memoir, including some of the science. It was an agonizing process to write it and it took six years. I broke the cycle for my kids, but that was only the beginning. Now the book is out to agents and nearly every day I hear from another who doesn’t want to deal with the material even while they compliment my writing, insisting it’s an important topic, and some express the hope I find the right person. It’s hard being that right person though. It’s hard and it’s upsetting and it’s uncomfortable just as it’s hard and upsetting and uncomfortable to change laws or confront an abuser, let alone bring one to justice, or any of the other work to protect the vulnerable. It’s incredibly messy to acknowledge that many abusers have been abused and need treatment as well. But it is still damned necessary to break these cycles, this predatory behavior, and if we will not take it on, if we do not fight business as usual, in American parlance, the bad guys win. Maybe they already have.