My Anger, Disgust, Sadness, & Feeling of Betrayal: The Accusations Against Jian Ghomeshi

October 30, 2014 Michael Kaufman

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


7 Comments on “My Anger, Disgust, Sadness, & Feeling of Betrayal: The Accusations Against Jian Ghomeshi

  1. Stories like these certainly shatter one’s trust in our institutions (CBC, parliament). Many of us reading this question the culture that has allowed this type of behavior to continue for so long.

    Thank you for your blogs, presentations and books. I also applaud your words to Jian – difficult to be sure.

  2. I learned about the story on Sunday, just before dinner. It was a conversation at our family dinner and the collective decision was to hold off on taking sides until there was more information.

    Back at home on Sunday night, I read the story by Jesse Brown at The Star and I found myself wanting to believe the women. As a survivor of sexual assault I felt intimately connected to those women. For years, I had believed it was my fault, that I was responsible for being assaulted even though I’d repeatedly said no. For years, I lived with that shame and guilt. And it wasn’t until I found the women’s movement that I was able to understand that no does mean no, that I could let go of the pain.

    This past week has shown me that even 30+ years after beinge assaulted, I haven’t completely let go of it. I tried to explain it to my husband, to my 20-something son — both compassionate and gentle-hearted men — but couldn’t find the words. And I’ve been in therapy, written about it, organized and participated in events and campaigns as part of the local, regional, and national women’s movement and still, it’s there, in the core of who I am and what I do.

    I no longer believe it will go away. It lessens, yes, but it’s there. It fundamentally changed me. And so, again I sit here with tears streaming down my face, telling my story. I guess that’s the gift of this, that it’s easier now, more than ever, to tell my story. Last night’s Twitter hashtag, #beenrapedneverreported, trending at #3 in Canada and the USA, has rekindled my belief that we can create the change we need to make a better world for all.

  3. your last line effectively detonated any meaning you have written in this post. I hope you re-think having written it and retract.
    in case you don’t know what I mean here it is:
    “if these allegations are proven, justice”. You know as well as I do that ‘proving’ sexual assault is not the issue here. additionally,in entertaining and discussing his claim of consent you giving credence to an issue that has NOTHING to do with consent.

    1. Yes I agree, it was a bad formulation. I’ve edited that line. Thanks for writing! Michael

  4. Your blogs make so much sense. I am elated that you write about what is right, fair and just.

    So sorry your friend disappointed you. I’m in agreement with all you said…and said so well.

  5. You have apparently gone through the same process as I did (except that I have never met Jian). At first I thought Jian had had a meltdown due to overwork and the death of his father. Then I thought the employer had no business in his bedroom and that he was wrongfully dismissed. Now I’m angry. Not so much as Jian, since I feel he is probably mentally ill, but at our society. Despite all the strides we have made towards equality of the sexes, most women still freeze in the face of aggression, blame themselves and feel ashamed. We clearly have a long way to go.

    1. I think our culture should do more to understand the roots of misogynistic behavior. What triggers violence against women in our society? How can we create awareness already at school among children? The code of good behavior should be enhanced at school and rewarded. Women are abused all around the world, how can we stop this wave of abuse and eradicate it? A women victim of sexual abuse should defend herself by coming forward. There is no shame in a person defending herself or himself in public but there is big shame for abusive a person.

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