Why We Need To Talk About #TheEmptyChair

As 35 of the women accusing Bill Cosby of sexual assault agree to be identified, we need to remember and acknowledge the women who aren't able to do that...


As a number, 35 isn’t low, but it doesn’t sound like all that much either. Maybe it’s the number of years you’ve lived, men you’ve slept with, women you’ve slept with, or goldfish you’ve loved, lost and buried in the back garden. Upon hearing that 35 UK women report rape every day, you’re likely to gasp – but life for you probably trundles on. You physically shouldn’t be able to eat 35 doughnuts, but when posed the question, you quietly reckon that you actually could.

All of that changes when you see 35 faces. Because 35 faces, attached to 35 bodies and sitting in 35 chairs, suddenly feels like a hell of a lot. Maybe you have 35 friends, 35 co-workers, or 35 relatives. You probably have 35 phone numbers, 35 Instagram followers or 35 class mates.

Seeing 35 faces makes the number 35 real.

Which is why Amanda Demme’s cover for New York magazine is so powerful. By photographing 35 of the women who have accused actor Bill Cosby of sexual assault, Demme personifies the number, and forces us to acknowledge how many women are speaking out.

But next to the 35 real, visible, identified women, there is an empty chair.

And #theemptychair is even more significant than its occupied counterparts. #Theemptychair represents the millions of women across the world who can’t – for whatever reason – speak out against their alleged abusers. These are the women who will never be photographed, identified or acknowledged. These are the women who are forced to remain statistics – whether that’s because they’re made to feel ashamed of the abuse that they’ve experienced, because they’re scared of the consequences, or because they’re so traumatised that they can’t bear to think of what they’ve been through – let alone talk about it. It really doesn’t matter what their reason is – and they never have to justify it.

But what we have to justify is how we think of them.

Images: Amanda Demme/New York Magazine

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