This may veer from my normal topics, but my friend Clare had some really important things to say about women’s rights and the tendency of people to shame women who come forward with allegations of abusive relationships. So I asked her to be my first guest blogger!
“Jian Ghomeshi and Society’s Response to Abuse Allegations”
Contributed by Clare Bustin
I am a longtime listener of CBC radio. My parents always played it in the mornings as we got ready for school, and I grew up with these recognizable voices ringing through our home every day. Therefore, it is no surprise that I have been listening to Q, and Jian Ghomeshi, likely for as long as the show has been airing.
Now, those who are not Canadian may not know who Ghomeshi is, or why he is in the news right now. Jian Ghomeshi is a hugely popular on Canadian Broadcasting Company host of the arts and culture radio show Q. Some of you may remember when he hit headlines for his interview with Billy Bob Thorton where Thorton flipped after being asked a small question about his film career in an interview focused on his music career. Ghomeshi was fired from the CBC this week. He issued a Facebook post detailing his side of the story, stating that he participates in “forms of BDSM” that are entirely consensual. He claims that he was fired due to his sex life with a jilted ex-lover who is now claiming their relationship was abusive. He references “a major Canadian media publication” that “did due diligence but never printed a story”. This major publication has been found to be the Toronto Star, who released their investigative article upon the news breaking of these allegations. There are four women alleging abuse by Ghomeshi – three claiming physical abuse on dates, one claiming harassment in the workplace. None of these women contacted police, and one cited the case of Carla Ciccone explaining their fear to come forward. Carla Ciccone had written a blog post about a bad date with an unnamed Canadian radio host believed to be Ghomeshi – the backlash she received online was substantial. Ghomeshi has noted that there were no formal charges or complaints against him at the CBC and he intends to pursue a lawsuit for this dismissal.
Now you can imagine the stir such allegations against a major media personality might cause. And I of course, was initially sad and shocked to learn that one of my favourite voices would be off the air upon hearing that he was no longer employed by CBC. And then I read his response explaining his version of the story. And then I read the public reaction to his response.
People do not like to think that celebrities are a) humans and b) possibly imperfect humans. I’m not here to discuss whether or not these allegations are true. I care about the public reaction to such allegations.
I like Jian Ghomeshi, and Q as much as the next Canadian music fan. I met him at a bar a couple years ago and approached him to tell him that I was a fan of his, and told him, truthfully, that I bought a radio for my apartment just so I could listen to CBC, and his show. He was very kind and asked me about what I did in work and school – resulting in a conversation about politics and feminism. (Now at the time many friends teased me that he may have been so kind due to his reputation for enjoying the company of younger ladies, but that’s absolutely not the point). While I agree that he can be arrogant at times, I think he holds his own as a professional journalist and always invokes interesting discussions with guests on his show.
However, “liking” a person or being a fan of theirs does not mean they can’t be guilty. In fact, many abusers are very likeable people, which is why it can be so hard for women to step forward with their stories – the fear that they will not be believed and that there will be an assumption that they are just the common stereotype of “crazy girl” (see gaslighting, where many victims begin to internalize the abuse and believe that they are crazy). Many women have faced this dilemma – if they talk to people about their experience, they get the same response: “but he’s so nice!” There is no dichotomy that if someone is nice, then they can’t also do anything mean. Just because someone publicly displays pro- feminist views, doesn’t mean it is impossible for them to participate in misogynist practices privately. It says something that as a society we immediately dismiss the voices of potential victims as crazy, as wanting something, as jilted, before we even get to hear their stories. Especially when there is a power dynamic – Jian Ghomeshi is an influential person and his alleged victims are about 20 years his junior, and apparently a couple started as fans, putting them already in a more vulnerable position for taking the story public.
The CBC would not fire someone as high profile as Jian Ghomeshi without looking into it – he brings too much attention and revenue at a time where the public broadcaster is fairly desperate. If they did make that mistake, then yes, he does deserve to be reinstated and it would be very sad for him to face such damage to his reputation. His statement does ring true on at least one simple fact – sexual preference is a human right, and if indeed his “kinky” sex was consensual, he has every right to have it. But one can’t abuse women and then claim it was just BDSM – that can’t be the precedent. The women involved have apparently stated that they feared going to the police because they had expressed interest in engaging in “kinky” sex/role play through messages to Ghomeshi prior to the date and worried this would be used as evidence against them – interpreted as consent for the more aggressive things they claim to have not consented to. This goes to show how the fear of victim blaming can stop women from bravely admitting their experiences (the age old excuse of “she asked for it”).
I’m not saying he’s guilty, I’m not saying he’s innocent. I honestly don’t know, and I like to hope he is innocent because I like his show and think he’s a good journalist. But as a society, maybe we should look at our reaction to this – we don’t know him, we don’t know these women, and even if we did know him personally, some abusers are very different behind closed doors. I heard Jian Ghomeshi’s side of the story almost immediately, with over ten people sharing it on my Facebook feed within an hour. The specifics of the women’s claims had not been released at this point. When a person shares a side of the story without hearing the other side of the story they are just passively accepting one version of the events. One can argue that this furthers the culture of victim-blaming we have created, and sends the alleged victims further into hiding, making them feel more like the accused instead of the accuser. Automatically assuming that an allegedly abused woman (whether emotional, sexual, physical etc) is lying is just reinforcing awful stereotypes that women are conniving and crazy and is so damaging to any person who may have been abused.
This high-profile case can give us an opportunity to discuss the ways we react to allegations of abuse. Victims of abuse come forward knowing that no matter what happens, there will always be naysayers – that call them crazy, that whisper and spread rumours about them. These women put themselves in the line of fire, and people start shooting based on assumptions without ever thinking – what if it IS true? What does that tell these victims about humanity, knowing what little support they will get to help them through?
The phrase “innocent until proven guilty” applies to Jian…. But it also applies to these potential victims.