By learning to discount my feelings, I was learning to trust others more than I trusted myself.
I’m standing in the kitchen stirring my coffee, contemplating the article I’m about to write – there’s a sinking feeling in my chest and a knot in my belly. My attention is drawn to my mouth; I can feel it’s twisted, contorted. I stop stirring.
I really don’t want to write this.
Earlier, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I ran across this headline from Ebony: Lisa Bonet Speaks on Bill Cosby’s Sinister Energy.
“I knew it!” was my immediate response: “I fucking knew it!”
Cosby had always had a bit of an “ick factor” for me – something I rarely, if ever talked about (the man was a national hero beloved by millions. No one wants be the, “I-told-you-so”-er).
I’d been waiting for Bonet to break her silence for a while now. Unlike Keisha Knight-Pulliam (a.k.a. Rudy Huxtable), Bonet was a teenager turned young woman while working on The Cosby Show. And unlike Keisha who has stood beside Cosby (even accompanying him to court), Bonet has maintained her distance and “no comment” policy; sometimes offering glimpses of a what sounds like an often contentious working relationship.
But in a recent interview with PORTEREdit, the actor spoke up about Cosby’s “sinister” energy, saying she often sensed a negative vibe from the fatherly figure:
“There was no knowledge on my part about his specific actions, but…There was just energy. And that type of sinister, shadow energy cannot be concealed.”
When asked if Cosby’s recent controversy has tainted her memories of working with him, she replied, “No, it’s exactly as I remember it.”
Exactly as I remember it.
For Bonet, learning that Cosby was a predator didn’t come as a shock. It wasn’t a shock for me either. I also sensed an unpleasant energy while watching re-runs of the show as a teenager – and energy that was strong enough to reach through my TV screen. If you had asked me back then would I feel comfortable being left alone in a room with the man, my response would have undoubtedly been “no.”
Of course, I would never be left alone in a room with Bill Cosby. He was just another famous entitled man on TV – thousands of miles away from the small Idaho town I lived in. I had the power – I could change the channel.
But I couldn’t change who was around me growing up. I couldn’t “click” away the men in my life who made me uncomfortable.
Most of them were family members but some of them were parents of friends. They were the ones who leaned in too close, who stared too long, who touched me in ways that made me uncomfortable. I could feel their breath on me, their eyes on me. Couldn’t they see I didn’t want to be around them? How I pulled away when they insisted on hugging me too long?
I never told anyone. The feelings were mine to keep; mine to bury. After all; they were just feelings. And what were feelings but deceitful things?
Sometimes I even wondered if it was I who had the darkness inside.
Like many girls, I was taught to doubt myself from a young age. Logic was king in my household. And logic was male. Emotions, on the other hand, were often the Devil’s handiwork – inherently untrustworthy and deceitful (apparently, it’s in the Bible). And, of course, emotions were female.
My parents, like any parents, wanted to protect me; wanted me to be safe. But what they didn’t realize was that they, along with the rest of society, were teaching me to defer to others – adults, men, authority figures, family members – all the while doubting myself. After all, I was just a kid. And by learning to discount my feelings, I was learning to trust others more than I trusted myself.
My experience isn’t unique. As author Dr. Michelle Martin points out in her article for HuffPo, undervaluing “feminine” things like intuition and instinct while overvaluing logic is an American tradition:
“As women, we are taught at an early age to ignore our intuition, and trust in the wisdom of others instead. We’re also likely to be criticized for being too sensitive, too emotional, too dramatic, and too illogical when we’re operating off of our intuition. This constant barrage of criticism can cloud our judgment and make us doubt ourselves, and our instincts.”
Luckily, thanks to science, we now know that intuition is a real thing. We know that those feelings we get in our gut and our chest are actually our brains telling us what our subconscious has already picked up on – nonverbal cues like eye movement, body posture, and breathing patterns:
“Researchers conclude that intuition is the brain drawing on past experiences and external cues to make a decision — but one that happens so fast the reaction is at a non-conscious level. All we’re aware of is a general feeling that something is right or wrong.”
“A general feeling that something is wrong or right.” That’s it. That’s fucking it.
Yet as I write this, part of me is unsure. After 32 years of unpacking, after learning about things like intuition, nonverbal cues, gaslighting, etc., I still find myself pausing: Did these things even happen? Am I over reacting? Did I just imagine them?
Why can’t I trust myself? Dammit!
We live in a culture that gaslights, not just women and girls, but also men and boys who are victims of power. If the #MeToo movement has taught us one thing, it’s that people speaking out gives others the courage to do the same.
But before we can #BelieveWomen, we must #BelieveOurselves. Bonet’s refusal to be surprised, her casual insistence that she knew all along that something wasn’t right, is exactly the kind of assurance we need to be instilling in our daughters, our sons, and ourselves.
Jessica Schreindl is a nonprofit manager and freelance writer in Seattle, Washington. Her work has been featured by The Establishment, Medium, Mic, Ravishly, HuffPost, and Feministing. She graduated with her M.A. from Syracuse University where she studied film history and documentary filmmaking.