As far as I knew, it all started when I got a text from my mom – “CBC severed ties with Jian Ghomeshi?!” I wasn’t a big fan of his radio show Q, so for me, it was an idle bit of showbiz gossip, a startling change to the face of Canadian broadcasting, maybe, but my interest level was about on the lines of thumbing through a tabloid while waiting in line at the grocery store.
Then came his infamous Facebook post, Jian Ghomeshi’s response to the CBC announcement. “I’ve been fired from the CBC because of the risk of my private sex life being made public as a result of a campaign of false allegations pursued by a jilted ex girlfriend and a freelance writer,” he wrote, claiming to be a BDSM practitioner whose private life was being dragged into the public eye.
“CBC execs confirmed that the information provided showed that there was consent…They said that I was being dismissed for ‘the risk of the perception that may come from a story that could come out.’ To recap, I am being fired in my prime from the show I love and built and threw myself into for years because of what I do in my private life.”
And I was furious. How dare the CBC dismiss someone for private sexual preferences – something I thought of as akin to firing someone for being gay? If there were allegations, how could they fire him instead of putting him on leave while the allegations were dealt with? After all, I think of myself – I pride myself – on being open-minded, on believing that what happens between two consenting adults is none of my business.
For a lot of people outside Canada, this was almost a joke – a Canadian sex scandal?! For many of us in Canada, though, Ghomeshi’s dismissal was touching a nerve. Many of us are watching a conservative government slowly cut away at things we love about our country. It wasn’t impossible to believe that conservative values – or maybe even governmental pressure on the CBC – might put kink on a par with crime and hold “reputation” in higher esteem than a person’s right to behave as they choose in the bedroom.
But something happened to me when I read Ghomeshi’s Facebook post, and it’s something I’m not proud of. In my haste – maybe even my need – to show how open and accepting I was, I missed something crucial: “It came to light that a woman had begun anonymously reaching out to people that I had dated (via Facebook) to tell them she had been a victim of abusive relations with me,” Ghomeshi wrote. “She found some sympathetic ears by painting herself as a victim and turned this into a campaign.”
Somehow, as I read this very carefully written defense by a man whose show I didn’t listen to and who I didn’t personally know from a hole in the ground, I never realized that “painting herself as a victim” is how an abuser perceives…well, an actual victim of his actions.
How did I miss the word “victim” when I first read his post? I’d like to say I have an excuse, but I don’t. I read the whole thing. More than once. I didn’t think, “Well, that scorned woman must be lying.” I just somehow forgot that, within his exquisitely crafted essay, a victim’s voice was hiding.
I consider myself a feminist, and pro-victim’s rights. I believe every woman should have the chance to tell her story. I know that not every victim feels like they should – or can – go to the police, and that sometimes when they do, they hear “Well, it’s really he-said, she-said, isn’t it?” or “Then what were you doing at his apartment?” And if you had asked me on October 25 if I would ever contribute to a culture of skepticism and victim-blaming, I would have said no. But on October 26, when my chance to stand up and take notice came, I just…let it go by.
This last week has been ugly. I learned about the piece on xoJane by Carla Ciccone from June 2013 about creepy, boundary-crossing behavior by a man who is clearly Ghomeshi – a post that earned her threats from Ghomeshi fans. Lucy DeCoutere took the brave step of publicly speaking to the media about her own experience with Ghomeshi. The blog post Do you know about Jian? on nothinginwinnipeg.com infuriated me because of the idea that the only recourse dozens, maybe hundreds, of women have had until now is murmured warnings. And now it seems that the CBC knew about rumors, gossip, and even direct accounts and complaints of Ghomeshi’s behaviour, not just privately but in his work on the show, for months before it was apparently enough to call a halt.
I am angry about so many things. I am angry that Ghomeshi has turned BDSM, a legitimate practice when done with care and consideration for all parties involved, into cover for abuse, and that he’s refused to respond to reports of his inappropriate and harassing workplace behaviour. I am angry that the CBC knew and didn’t properly investigate sooner, and that they ever gave him the option of the “easy out” of resigning. I am angry every time I hear “Why didn’t she say something sooner” or “Why didn’t she go to the police.”
But mostly I’m angry at myself, because I am not the person that I thought I was, and I am not the protector and champion of victims of abuse that I aspire to be. I had the chance to stand in solidarity with women who struggle to have the crimes committed against them by a person in power recognized. I didn’t take it.
I have both a son and a daughter. I do not want either of them to grow up in a world where people, no matter who they are, can regularly harass people in the workplace, choke or hit a sexual partner without consent, and otherwise abuse people around them, and yet never have their actions be punished because…he’s a star. What is coming out about Ghomeshi is ugly. What it has revealed about all of us is uglier. We are not as good at responding to victims as we ought to be, as we need to be. And what is ugliest for me is that, when I condemn how we all responded, I must include myself.
(Photo: Stacey Newman / Shutterstock.com)