Rethinking Cosby

It isn't only victims who suffer from society's macho chokehold

The brouhaha over comedian Bill Cosby’s sex offenses was a predictably shallow, shameful exhibition, trashing yet another celebrity caught with his pants down—and worse.

But as abhorrent as Cosby’s sins are, we miss the mark by failing to grasp the context in which they take place: a society that sanctions violence to get one’s needs met and is blind to a patriarchal order that gives men little room to admit to, or seek help for, insecurities around their sexual prowess or need for closeness and nurturing.

I’ve been privy to the intimate secrets of famous men. Some were interviewees for a national songwriters’ newsletter I published in Los Angeles for 16 years. Some came from those distressing casting couches hopeful actor-writers encounter. Most of these fearful confessions spilled from clients in my private counseling practice.Male clients would confess sexual anxieties or indiscretions only to a trustworthy female, which lowered their fear of losing face or stature. Celebrities were especially wary.

Therapy also revealed that “victims” and “perpetrators” alike are suffering from society’s macho chokehold. Heavy reliance on women to provide nurturing and validation, coupled with the traditional male privilege of simply taking what one “needs” (while never seeming needy), can become 50 shades of dysfunctional, violent gray. And as long as women depend on troubled men for protection and survival, they’ll keep looking for love in all the wrong—and even dangerous—places. They’ll keep trying to please, appease, seduce and steal some power for themselves, perpetuating the cycle.

My late mentor, Marshall Rosenberg, defined violence as any act that suppresses, injures or kills life. The “Cos” is guilty, but he’s also a fellow victim of our twisted, stifling, confounding cultural mores. The family-values guy and the dirty old man are intimately conjoined. Drive basic needs and feelings underground far enough and long enough, while providing no apparent healthy alternatives for fulfillment, and watch out. Restitution and healing require a willingness to court understanding, compassion and forgiveness. Might we stop the counter-violence of condemning and shaming one another? There, but for grace go you or I.

Marcia Singer, MSW, CHt, offers compassionate counseling and creative healing services through the Love Arts Foundation in Santa Rosa.

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