An otherwise obscure Arizona woman named Barbara Bowman was widely ridiculed a few weeks ago, after the Washington Post published her Bill-Cosby-raped-me claims. Bowman at the time of the alleged assaults had been a pretty, blonde, aspiring actress, still in her teens—prime bait for a libidinous male TV star, and probably well aware of that fact. Though strategically abbreviated to omit some of the more damning details (which appear in another first-person story in the Mail Online), her account in the Post made clear that she had willingly put herself in Cosby’s way.
In one case, I blacked out after having dinner and one glass of wine at his New York City brownstone, where he had offered to mentor me and discuss the entertainment industry. When I came to, I was in my panties and a man’s t-shirt, and Cosby was looming over me. I’m certain now that he drugged and raped me. But as a teenager, I tried to convince myself I had imagined it. I even tried to rationalize it: Bill Cosby was going to make me a star and this was part of the deal.
The final incident [after months and months of these “assaults”] was in Atlantic City, where we had traveled for an industry event. I was staying in a separate bedroom of Cosby’s hotel suite, but he pinned me down in his own bed while I screamed for help.
She offered no explanation of how she had got into Cosby’s bed. The Post commenters ran heavily against her, scolding and mocking:
Still, the Post and other feminist-oriented media sites kept the story going—to grab more clicks, of course, but also because they seemed to want to take Cosby down, and in so doing put another notch on the feminist crossbow. Here’s Jenny Kutner, who writes about “sex, gender and feminism” at Salon:
Because of the statute of limitations on rape cases, Bowman says Cosby will likely never suffer legal consequences for raping her. And while she and other survivors are working to change the legal system so it will no longer “silence [victims] a second time,” it is also up to the public to ensure that men such as Cosby do not walk away without any consequences. We do not have to continue to turn a blind eye. [link]
(Note how smoothly Bowman’s voice segues into Kuttner’s.)
Eventually the keep-the-story-alive strategy worked. A woman named Janice Dickinson came forward with her own allegations.
Dickinson says she [then a twentysomething model] went to Lake Tahoe in 1982 to see Cosby perform. She says the comedian told her to come to the hotel and he’d help her with her career . . . after dinner he gave her a pill and some wine, and the last thing she remembered was Cosby “in a patchwork robe, dropping his robe and getting on top of me.” She says the next morning she was naked with semen between her legs.
Dickinson describes herself as a supermodel. Possibly a better description would be: D-list reality-TV celeb with a history of odd behavior, including running up huge debts and shamelessly seeking attention. However her story, coming right after Bowman’s, allowed the media to write sentences that began “A growing number of women are coming forward.” There was much talk now about that growing number; in some accounts there were six, in others seven, in others thirteen. NBC, developing a Cosby sitcom, and Netflix, about to air a Cosby comedy special, suddenly found him radioactive.
The new consensus, even among many men, seemed to be: These women can’t all be lying. Why would they embarrass themselves by coming forward like this? Where there’s smoke, there must be fire.
But this is all wrong. Whether or not Cosby drugged those women just isn’t something we can fairly judge, based on self-serving accounts in the media, and decades after the events in question. In pursuit of their own narrow interests, feminists want us to believe otherwise, but we should resist that tendency forcefully.
Modern societies have evolved legal systems that, ideally anyway, treat defendants as innocent until proven guilty—and also protect them with statutes of limitations and other restrictions on evidence, such as hearsay evidence. Moreover, judgments are to be made after a trial in a controlled courtroom setting, where witnesses can be cross-examined, and can be charged with perjury if they lie.
These protections are already too weak in the modern world, where the “court of public opinion” is presided over by feminist media and routinely ruins people’s careers for ludicrously inadequate reasons. In any case, we should remember that these protections were put in place specifically to minimize miscarriages of justice based on false claims—including quite a few episodes in which women produced false claims by the dozen.
A very brief history of hysteria
The contagion of false claims that began at Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 is an example that comes easily to mind. Unfortunately, what really happened at Salem tends to be obscured nowadays—no prizes for guessing why. The acceptable version of the story blames a tense socio-religious environment. But in fact the Salem case is just one of many social contagions throughout history that have been triggered and mostly driven by the competitive histrionics of girls and women.
The Aix-en-Provence case of the early 1600s bears an even closer resemblance to cases like Cosby’s. It centered around a teenage nun, Madeleine Demandolx de la Palud, who on a visit home from her remote convent at Aix apparently developed an infatuation with a young, handsome priest, Louis Gaufridi, a friend of her parents. Madeleine later claimed that they had been intimate, and for that she was kept well away from Gaufridi.
After two more years in the convent (bored out of her mind, no doubt) she smashed a crucifix one day, and thereafter began acting out the symptoms of demonic possession. Soon other girls in the convent at Aix, including one Louise Capeau, were competing to top her antics. Sexual themes predominated—and the stories and acting-out were so lurid that observers were convinced that these girls, all from good families, could only be possessed by demons. Gaufridi, of course, was the target of their hysterical claims, and eventually was brought to trial by a fanatical Inquisitor.
Madeleine and Louise were the star witnesses against the priest, recounting in graphic detail their possessions and going into fits before the court. Madeleine alternated this daily display with assertions that she was making everything up. She claimed great love for Gaufridi and actually writhed on the floor imitating the sexual acts they had done. Physicians examined her and agreed she was not a virgin. She displayed the devil’s marks on the bottom of her feet and under her left breast. When pricked with a pin, the marks did not bleed or cause her pain. The marks mysteriously disappeared and reappeared repeatedly. [link]
Gaufridi was tortured into confessing, not just to having had sex with Madeleine, but to having signed a blood pact with the devil, etc. He later recanted, but it was too late, and he was tortured and executed in April 1611. As soon as he died, Madeleine’s long possession ended, although some of her competitors continued their performances and their behaviors spread to other convents until the authorities locked the ringleaders away.
These bizarre contagions are often said to have ended in the 17th century, as western legal systems improved and the Enlightenment reduced official enthusiasm for witchcraft and demon-possession stories. But they eventually resurfaced in the medical world, late in the 1800s, in the “hysterias” that preoccupied Charcot, Freud, Breuer, Jung and others, and that basically kicked off modern psychiatry.
Hysterics, so-called because they were mostly women (the name is derived from the ancient Greek word for uterus), had what we would now call psychosomatic ailments, and often seemed to switch personalities suddenly—just as women supposedly possessed by demons had done in centuries past. And once again, sexual themes were frequent.
Breuer’s famous patient “Anna O.” (real name: Bertha Pappenheim) writhed on a bed in front of him and claimed to be having his baby. Jung accepted a patient with masochistic fantasies, one Sabina Spielrein, and risked his career by having sex with her—a story that was dramatized in the recent movie A Dangerous Method.
Then there was Freud, a guy who, as the saying goes, heard hoofbeats and looked for zebras. He theorized that hysterics’ inordinate interest in sex while on therapists’ couches must be due not to the obvious possibility, sexual frustration, but instead to repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse. Like the gullible onlookers at Aix, he could not believe that these young women could make up sex stories on their own—someone had to have forced them into such experiences.
He eventually set the sex abuse idea aside, but later psychiatrists took it up again in the 1970s and 80s, in the face of an epidemic of “multiple personality disorder” (MPD)—a full-blown spirit-possession version of hysteria, once again dominated by women. The MPD epidemic had followed the success of the 1973 book Sybil, whose protagonist and her female psychoanalyst had claimed—falsely, it is now asserted—that “Sibyl” had multiple personalities and had been sexually abused as a child.
The MPD-caused-by-sexual-abuse industry grew rapidly in the 80s and early 90s. Driven by the competitive claims of MPD “victims,” it eventually branched out into the even more ridiculous MPD-caused-by-satanic-ritual-abuse hysteria. Esteemed doctors who knew much about modern psychiatry, but apparently nothing about the lurid histrionics at Aix and Salem, were completely taken in. Like the Inquisitor at Aix and the Puritans at Salem, they ended up orchestrating and promoting the epidemic, which damaged and destroyed many lives.
There was also, around this time, an epidemic of an MPD-like syndrome in which people—again, mostly young women—claimed to have been abducted and abused by aliens in flying saucers. In that and in all the other cases, the media of the time, and especially the book-publishing industry, helped foment the hysteria, but conveniently developed amnesia about its role when the contagion had burned itself out.
What guise does female hysteria take nowadays? I would guess mostly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—which is epidemic, and is diagnosed three times more often in women than in men—although 21st century psychiatry affords women almost limitless opportunities for fantasy role-playing in a non-judgmental medical setting. You wondered why Obamacare made mental health coverage mandatory? Now you know.
But my main point here is that there are clear historical precedents in which multiple women, encouraged by the media, have made false claims against men. Note that the central feature of these contagions, even more central than the “spirit possession” or “multiple personality” aspect, is the need to get attention or influence by acting out the role of victim. And for every victim there must be a perpetrator.
Thus it is not just wrong but dangerous for us to judge Bill Cosby based on the current set of claims, which are made years and years after the supposed events, and apparently are accompanied by no corroborating evidence.
A behavioral program?
Another point is that this history of female hysteria suggests the existence of a “program” coding for such behavior in the brain. This program, it seems, is mostly latent but can emerge in some, especially women, under the right circumstances: it is all about playing the victim, in a way that draws attention and otherwise empowers the person, and it includes an impressive set of histrionic tools to convince the unwary. Four hundred years after two randy, unstable nuns sent a man to the stake for crimes he did not commit, we are still easy to fool.
Note that this behavioral program is probably ancient and global—not limited to the Christianized, medicalized west. Anthropologists have detailed many possession cases in the third world, and the social groups that form around them (possession cults), which, again, tend to be women’s domains. They have proposed that women tend to predominate in this area of behavior because, in these traditional, patriarchal societies, being possessed (often by authoritative male spirits) gives women a voice, gives them something interesting to do, in ways that ordinary behavior couldn’t.
That all may be true, but even if this peculiar predisposition arose as a secret weapon of female empowerment, its utility over hundreds and perhaps thousands of years would have driven it into the human genome, where it presumably persists. Certainly hysteria hasn’t disappeared with the rise of feminism and mass female empowerment—far from it.