SARcasm











{October 30, 2014}   My Thoughts on … Jian Ghomeshi (or, How One Can Give the Benefit of the Doubt to a Fault)

So I want to say up front that I have never been a particular Jian Ghomeshi fan. I enjoyed Moxy Fruvous, and would listen to “Q” (his well-known show on CBC Radio 1) if he had a particularly interesting guest or topic, but I was no loyalist. So when about a year ago I read this piece on XOJane by Carla Ciccone, detailing (and I understate things) an arrogant and far-too-persistent ‘bad date’ with boundary and personal space issues, and understood through comments thereafter that this was a thinly veiled story about Ghomeshi, it didn’t particularly fizz on me one way or the other. Creeper, I thought, glad I don’t know him, but doesn’t quite sound criminal, and he’s OK at what he does, and hey, aren’t we all fans of some problematic people or other? It didn’t really change my opinion of him one way or the other. Entitled minor celebrity, I thought, and pursued my previous stance of ‘I wasn’t a big fan of his anyway, but this isn’t worthy of a boycott, I’ll listen depending on the topic or guest at hand.’

That said, I never forgot that read, or that I got the sense through scuttlebutt that this wasn’t exactly out of line with Ghomeshi’s off-air reputation. So when I heard this past Sunday that he’d been fired by the CBC, I wondered dimly if it was related to an issue, or issues, like this. Ghomeshi’s Facebook statement followed within hours, suggesting (and I summarize very briefly, it was a long note) he was fired for enjoying rough sex but that it was always consensual, and to suggest otherwise was a smear campaign against him by a jilted ex-girlfriend and a few co-consipirators, and of course, the internet began taking sides. I very carefully made a point of not doing so. On the one hand it is a personal policy of mine, as a feminist, not to doubt claims of assault or sexual abuse. After all, the media, public, and – worst of all – courts and law enforcement do a good enough job of that, making it difficult for victims everywhere to come forward (indeed, according to the Toronto Star, who ultimately came forward with the story in light of the firing, the reason the women didn’t press charges, and wished to remain anonymous, was fear or reprisal or revenge). On the other, while the tone of Ghomeshi’s open letter bothered me on a number of levels, I was impressed with him getting out ahead of the story when it might seem simpler to just bite one’s tongue, and I have a natural instinct (applied to both sides, in my defense) to give the benefit of the doubt and want to information-gather before any witch hunt.

Especially in this case, where there is so much at stake in being wrong. What feminist in their right mind wants to unwittingly defend a rapist, or accuse an assault victim of lying? On the other hand, if there was even a bit of truth in Ghomeshi’s claims, who wants to see a man’s career ruined because he’s a bit of a creep around girls and has some ‘deviant’ tastes in the bedroom? What if it was a misunderstanding where neither side was lying, the women genuinely thought they were consenting to one thing while Ghomeshi took it as license for another? I want to be clear – I never for an instant believed the women involved were lying. There was too much smoke for there to be fire. But “how bad was it”? Was Ghomeshi a monster, pure and simple, or clueless, entitled, in need of education on how to deal with his fetishes in a safe and responsible manner? Or heck with it – at that point, is there even a difference?

Bottom line, in the immediate aftermath and firestorm, when it was a LOT of he-said she-said, while I had my guesses in my heart of hearts in terms of what was up, I had no interest in getting involved. I figured, it will all come out in the wash and all will have their day in court … and media … and whatever other arena these issues get batted around. Because trust me, there are some big issues to discuss here, from rape culture and the difficulty to come forward in cases of assault – especially when the perpetrator is famous, powerful, and probably a serious gatekeeper in an industry you have an interest in if you run in the same circles as him – to BDSM and the importance of being safe and clear if engaging in it, to how ‘innocent until proven guilty’ comes into play in hiring and firing situations and beyond.But all that said – four days have passed now. More women have come forward anonymously, and one – Canadian actress Lucy Decoutere – has done so publicly. Ghomeshi has done precious little to convince me – or anyone – that these stories are false. And apparently, that ‘anyone’ now includes his PR firm, who dropped him today.

So – for this writer anyway, in my small bubble – the time for ‘having an opinion but keeping it to myself’ is over. In trying to be fair-minded, I in fact took too long in putting out there what my gut was telling me from the first this story broke. And while I understand Ghomeshi is still ‘innocent until proven guilty’ in a legal sense, he has lost whatever benefit of the doubt I was prepared to give him. Not only is he an abuser of women, he apparently has been one for a very long time. And while I still have no desire to lead any witch-hunts, or deny him his day in court, I think it’s time we all recognize that ‘innocent until proven guilty’, as my friend Anne over at The Belle Jar has pointed out several times through this story, doesn’t just extend to suspects of crimes, but their victims too. And all too often, that benefit of the doubt is denied to rape victims, perpetuating a vicious circle where they are uncomfortable coming forward “the right way” (un-anonymously, to the police), and thereby doubted even further because, well, if it was true, why wouldn’t you report it?

And while I am a little late to this party (whether via a noble attempt to be fair to all sides, or perhaps on some selfish level wanting to be sure I was ‘right’ before speaking out), I would like to encourage everyone now to take this story beyond Jian Ghomeshi, beyond the CBC, and to the crux of this issue everywhere – the fact that a man was allowed to abuse women uninhibited and consequence-free for decades, despite everyone “Knowing About Jian”. Even his closest friends have expressed a hindsight awareness of his behaviour, yet he continued to hold a cushy job, millions of fans, and lots of women willing to go on dates with him having no idea what the consequences would be. This is rape culture at its worst, and we as a society need to explore carefully how this happens. Because until and unless we look at this topic head-on, there will always be another Jian Ghomeshi, and there will always be decades worth of anonymous victims afraid to come forward except in the most hush-hush, whispered innuendo of terms.

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