With each passing hour, I am feeling angrier, sadder, and more disgusted as a result of the allegations coming from a growing number of women about Jian Ghomeshi, the host (until last weekend) of Canada’s most popular radio show (which is also broadcast in the United States.)
I am not a close friend with Jian, but on the two or three occurrences over the past decade when I ran into him at a public event we always had a very friendly chat. Back in the mid/late-1990s, we spent a lovely social evening together along with another friend. I emailed him a few times to applaud a good commentary he did on Q and once to raise a thought about an item on the show. And (along with Gloria Steinem and others) he wrote a generous blurb that appeared on one of my books, The Guy’s Guide to Feminism (co-written with Michael Kimmel)—which is an explicitly profeminist book that includes several sections on men’s violence against women.
I thought of him as a smart and thoughtful individual. Concerned about social and environmental issues. Hip. Charming. Sweet. A supporter of women’s rights.
When I first heard on Sunday that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) had severed ties with him, I assumed they’d had some sort of blowup or he’d fallen apart following the death of his father -– a conclusion that was encouraged by the first CBC report that mentioned how distraught he’d been. Then I heard about, but hadn’t yet read, his Facebook statement that said he was into consensual BDSM. Although it’s not something I can relate to, I do believe that adults have the right to the private, consensual, sex lives of their choosing without getting fired. It had seemed he had gotten a bum deal from the CBC.
But now, more and more women have come forward with allegations of physical abuse at his hands – punching, slapping, choking, hair grabbing, pushing – that was clearly not consensual.
I’ve heard or read some of these women state they neither know, nor have contact with, the other women who have come forward. Jian’s retort that there is some sort of conspiracy against him, that these women are lying, or this is just the complaint of a “jilted ex” does more than strain credibility: with every passing day, it appears clear that he is either in serious denial or he is lying. Simply put, the accusations paint a picture of a disturbed individual and predatory behaviour.
(There is now a third possibility: That he is acting on the advice of lawyers and a damage-control firm and that his denials and counter-charges are simply a calculated attempt to salvage his reputation and career.)
These are extremely hard words to write, but when I think about the friendly chats we’ve had, the quote from him on the back of that book, and the plain fact that I liked him, it’s hard not to feel betrayed. I am sure this feeling is a hundred times stronger for his close friends and a thousand times for women who trusted him.
And it’s hard not to think, more broadly, about the far too many men who have felt entitled, because of their positions of power or prestige, to do what they want in terms of their sexuality. Around the world, we have had a seemingly endless stream of cases of abuse by priests, star athletes, political leaders, and media personalities. It is time to acknowledge that the root of these problems is not simply bad individuals; it lies in how we have constructed a world of men’s power and entitlement, and the troubled ways we’ve raised boys to be men. The majority of men do not commit these acts of violence, but far too many have and far too many of us let it go on without speaking out.
As of the time of writing this, all but two of nine women have spoken under condition of confidentiality: they did not want their names used. And so, to add insult to injury, these women have come under attack by the usual online trolls and “men’s rights” misogynists: why, they say, didn’t these women go to the police? Why are they not using their names? The answers are very clear: By its very nature, suffering abuse can be deeply humiliating and traumatizing. And the experience in Canada, as in countries around the world, is that women (or, for that matter, adult male or female survivors of childhood abuse) who come forward often have not felt supported by the police, the justice system and the public. Often, they have felt put on trial themselves. Women might feel they will not be believed. And, in other cases, some women feel their best course of action is to get support from friends or family.
To Jian’s claim that he always had consent, one would have to conclude from the quickly-increasing numbers of accusers, that he did not have consent or that at the very least he was somehow blind to what consent means in sexual acts. Which points to why, in Canada and a handful of other countries or states, our law has what is called an affirmative consent standard. You can’t just think you have consent. You have to know for certain you have consent for any sexual act.
I wrote an email to Jian this morning (Oct 30). I said that if even just one of these allegations is true (and as I said above, I believe what these women are saying), that he should dig deep into his soul and take responsibility for what he has done. Whatever the consequences, he owes it to these women, he owes it to his hundreds of thousands of fans who held (and perhaps still hold) him up as a model, and he owes it to himself.
As a start, I hope he will stop calling these women liars, admit whatever he’s done, apologize in no uncertain terms, seek psychological help, and face up to the consequences that will follow.
I hope that others will, from discussions sparked by this terrible situation, learn to speak out against abuse and learn lessons about consent: Ask for it. Confirm it. Don’t assume it. And never abuse it.
Most of all, I hope that the women who are bravely coming forward will get a fair hearing and justice