On Monday, the Associated Press published unsealed Bill Cosby testimony from a 2005 case in which Cosby admitted to obtaining Quaaludes with the intent of giving them to women he wanted to have sex with. In light of this disturbing reveal, the Los Angeles Police Department is opening an investigation into any and all sexual assault accusations against Cosby, regardless of statute of limitations. More than 40 women have accused Cosby of rape so far. Although accusations have been surfacing for over a decade, Cosby’s Teflon reputation has allowed him to maintain his status as one of America’s most beloved comedians—a position of power and status that intimidated his victims, and often ensured that their accusations would be discredited and ignored. It took an incendiary stand-up routine from Hannibal Buress, a fellow male comedian, to finally ensure that the mounting chorus of female voices was heard.
While the 2005 testimony is undoubtedly the final nail in Cosby’s coffin, the Cosby Show legend has yet to face any jail time, and maintains the support of his wife, family, and a core group of inexplicably devoted fans. But more chilling than the Cosby diehards are the apathetic viewers and half-hearted rape apologists—average Americans who were content to watch the accusations pile up, all while sporting a sympathetic attitude, a flummoxed expression, and an “innocent until proven guilty” bumper sticker. This decades-long reluctance to indict a rapist, even in the court of public opinion, speaks to how we habitually render women’s voices inconsequential until we can hardly hear them at all. We chose Cosby Show nostalgia and moral lassitude over the mental and physical health of dozens of victims. And, in doing so, we reinforced the truism that being silent is easier than speaking up, and that violence against women can be easily erased in the service of powerful men.
While it’s easy to indict every American, it’s also necessary to hold public figures to a higher moral standard. In light of one in four statistics and Quaalude-toting, celebrity career rapists, it’s safe to say that we’ve reached a rape reckoning point. Anyone who isn’t part of the solution is part of the problem; and while we can’t mark rape apologists with Cosby sweaters and kick them off our college campuses, we can call out anyone who brings victim-blaming rhetoric into public forums. Raven-Symoné and Whoopi Goldberg, two View hosts, have defended Cosby even in light of the most damning evidence. And while controversy is a necessary ingredient for any chat show, Symoné and Goldberg’s ignorant attitudes have transcended acceptable zaniness and clickbait tactics. Despite posturing themselves as vigilantes, fighting against an unjustified current of anti-Cosby sentiment, these women are in fact playing into a system and a set of beliefs that is older than Barbara Walters and more inexplicably indestructible than The View itself.
Whoopi Goldberg joined The View in 2007 as a co-host and moderator. Goldberg immediately took to the scandal-friendly medium, raising lady-eyebrows across the country with her opinions on convicted dog murderer Michael Vick and her frequent squabbles with co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Goldberg’s politics have always leaned liberal. Speaking on legalized abortion, the pro-choice actress said, “One of the reasons we’ve had to make this decision is because so many women were found bleeding, dead, with hangers in their bodies because they were doing it themselves.” As a woman who has defended women’s bodies against violence and intrusion, Goldberg’s outdated opinions on rape are particularly problematic. In 2009, Goldberg defended Roman Polanski, who assaulted an intoxicated 13-year-old girl in 1977. Goldberg insisted that this assault was not “rape-rape”: “I know it wasn’t rape-rape...We’re a different kind of society, we see things differently ... would I want my 14-year-old having sex with somebody? Not necessarily, no.” Yes, Whoopi Goldberg is implying that three decades ago 13-year-olds were sexy sophisticates who were able to give inebriated consent to fully-grown, powerful men. Yes, Whoopi Goldberg apparently moonlights as a Todd Akin speechwriter.
Not content to rest on her rape-rape laurels, Goldberg decided to really sink her teeth into the Cosby case. After actress Barbara Bowman took her allegations to The Washington Post and ABC’s Good Morning America, the leading lady of The View made it clear that she doubted the victim’s story, saying, “I have a lot of questions for the lady.” By implying that there were holes or discrepancies within Bowman’s story (while refusing to name them), Goldberg exhibited her biased affection towards Cosby by assassinating the character of his victim. She continued to question Bowman’s reluctance to take criminal action against the powerful, beloved entertainment legend, insisting, “Perhaps the police might have believed it. Or the hospital. Don’t you do a kit when you say someone has raped you?”
Factual inaccuracies aside (access to rape kits wasn’t mandated prior to 2005, and wasn’t even a recommended course of action until 1999), Goldberg is insinuating that Bowman’s testimony is less valid because she didn’t go to the authorities or specifically request an invasive and time-consuming procedure. She is refusing to acknowledge the systems of power that would discourage Bowman from coming forward at the time, or a victim’s autonomy in pursuing a course of action regarding her body and her rights. It’s an ignorant line of logic, but it’s also a deeply entrenched one. Whoopi’s argument might be ill-informed and downright stupid, but it’s also stupidly convincing to millions of Americans who have been raised in a culture where victim blaming is the norm. Public figures, especially those who purport to protect and champion women, should know better. They should seek to elevate the conversation, not perpetuate toxic tropes.
When Raven-Symoné permanently joined The View in June, the bold decision was lauded by both ABC executives and cheetah girls. The 29-year-old That's So Raven star was clearly cast in an attempt to woo nostalgic millenials. With her intense Tweetability and her 4.4 million Facebook followers, Symoné and her haircut promised to spike The View’s long-term ratings free fall, and keep it competitive with younger-trending rivals like CBS’s The Talk.
Symoné, who got her start as a 3-year-old child star on The Cosby Show, Instagrammed in 2014 to refute rumors that she had been molested by the Cosby patriarch. After the 2005 testimony leaked on Monday, the actress spoke to the allegations for the first time on The View: “I don’t really like to talk about it that much because he’s the reason I’m on this panel in the first place. He gave me my first job...But at the same time, you need the proof, and then I’ll be able to give my judgment here or there. And now there are real facts. More people can come up.” Later, she asked a panelist of Cosby, “Guilty of what?!” While Symoné isn’t straight-up denying the veracity of the claims, she is positing that she doesn’t have enough proof to offer a definitive opinion—a shaky stance in light of the magnitude and depth of the anti-Cosby allegations.
The View earns its keep through women aged 18-49, a particularly advertiser-friendly demographic. These are the women who were wooed by Raven-Symoné’s stunt casting; they’re also the women who tuned in to a recent episode of The View to watch Goldberg insist that, despite his own admissions, Cosby “has not been proven a rapist.” Thank God we women have Whoopi Goldberg to remind us “you are still innocent until proven guilty.”
Goldberg claims that her defense of Cosby is based on the fact that she has been judged many times before, and therefore doesn’t like “snap judgments.” What she fails to realize is that her stubborn refusal to listen to women, and her insistence on invalidating their truths, isn’t a paean to impartiality. The View’s audience is full of women who have been ignored, who have had their motives and their facts questions, who have been victimized by powerful men and re-victimized by a system that protects those men at all costs. Of course, The View is famous for stirring up controversy, especially among women. Women’s groups have put both Goldberg and Symoné through the gauntlet in the past—Symoné most recently for her strange argument against putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. The talk show also drummed up drama by enlisting anti-vaccination activist Jenny McCarthy as a co-host.
But while controversy is good business, perpetuating irresponsible attitudes towards sexual assault allegations and female victims is unequivocally bad PR. It’s true that McCarthy’s anti-vaxx stance was as medically unsound as it was potentially harmful. That being said, McCarthy was preaching from a fringe position, one that has been more or less silenced by scientific evidence as well as lived history—vaccines have and will continue to protect children. McCarthy’s views arguably helped spike ABC’s ratings, and only hurt McCarthy’s credibility. The anti-vaxx movement isn’t particularly powerful and hardly threatens the status quo. Conversely, Goldberg and Symoné’s apologist campaign is notable not because it is strange or unheard of, but because it is so dishearteningly common. Somehow these two women have gotten a copy of a script that is widely used to subjugate and hurt women—and, in spite of vocal criticism from women’s groups and African-American activists—they are hitting their lines, hard.
Goldberg and Symoné’s job descriptions include starting debates and stirring up controversy. But there’s nothing bold or enlightening about their outdated take on the Cosby case. The millennial women who Symoné was hired to attract will role their eyes at ambiguous, side-stepping statements, and shudder while the women of The View appropriate the victim-blaming speeches and cowardly inactions of their college deans. In addition to alienating viewers, The View’s insistence on harboring rape apologists places the talk show firmly on the wrong side of history. Making survivors feel triggered and unsafe is the television purview of Game of Thrones and Fox News—not The View. While every woman is entitled to her own opinion, ABC shouldn’t provide Symoné and Goldberg with a public forum in which to silence and invalidate other women. It’s time for some new ladies to grab the mics.