Friday, 31 October 2014

Scattered Thoughts About Jian Ghomeshi

Since I have no idea who reads this, but I'm sure someone I don't know does, I will briefly who Jian Ghomeshi is. Ghomeshi is a well known Canadian who gained early, though brief, fame with an a cappella band and later became involved with CBC, Canada's national broadcaster. He co-founded the radio show Q in 2007 which has become a very popular show for CBC and, as I understand it, has been syndicated to the US. So firing him was kind of a big deal for the CBC.

But that was what the CBC felt they had to do when allegations of sexual violence came to light. Ghomeshi tried to get out in front of the allegations by hiring a PR firm and writing a lengthy post on Facebook that said that he was going to be falsely accused of things. When the next day he was accused by three anonymous women, and then the next day it was eight, it strained credulity to believe this was really a conspiracy against him. Now women have started putting their names and faces to the stories and his PR firm has dropped him, so it's manifestly unreasonable to believe his version of events.

So Jian Ghomeshi likes to hit women. This is done, according to him, as part of some kind of consensual sexual activity, and I think it remains to be seen how much he believes that, but it certainly doesn't remain to be seen whether that is true - it is not true.

I have a few scattered thoughts about this:
  • When I read Ghomeshi's facebook post, I thought he'd have to be a real sociopath to write that if he had actually sexually assaulted women. I feel like I can probably stand by that.
  • This and other recent events are bringing a lot of attention to how hard it is to come forward when someone has been violent towards you. Lucy DeCoutere, one of the women Ghomeshi has assaulted, said "I thought I'd be destroyed." This is a great conversation to be having. It's staggering to me that people don't understand how difficult this can be, especially when the person you would be accusing is famous and well-liked.
  • People at the CBC knew about this before the last few weeks. People who knew Ghomeshi knew about this. The CBC did not fire Ghomeshi because he likes to beat up women, they fired him because the public was going to find out that he likes to beat up women. From their perspective this makes sense - his public image is a product that they sell. I also don't think the is a moral high ground in firing people for doing terrible things when they aren't at work because that's just sweeping the terrible under the rug. But what did they do? Who talked to Ghomeshi about this? Did any of his friends, family or co-workers who knew say anything?
  • It doesn't seem likely Ghomeshi picked this up at the age of 36. More stories are probably coming.
  • Don't lie to your PR firm. Why hire a PR firm and lie to them?
A lot of people jumped to Ghomeshi's defense immediately after he posted his facebook explainer only to retract and apologize later. None of these people should have doubted that Ghomeshi is capable of sexual assult.

About one in five men - and about one in seven women - are abusive to domestic or sexual partners. I would bet most of us know at least one person who we are really sure would never sexually assault anyone. You know, someone we really, actually know rather than a radio host we feel like we know. There are some people who just don't seem to have aggression in them in that way, or who just show too much empathy to believe that they would be so cruel to someone. I don't think it's impossible to judge other people's character.

But there is a very good chance you don't know which among your friends, classmates or colleagues makes up part of that approximately 17% of people. What you can know is that one-in-six is too many people for them not to be around you all the time. It's too many for you to not have that classmate or that co-worker or that friend. It's really too many for your to not have those classmates and those co-workers.

When we hear that someone has been accused of a sexual assault, we'll be tempted to think, "Oh, not them," but we should remember to think, "If not them, then who?" because we know this is going on all around us and a staggering proportion of the population is involved. If you think no one you know is an abuser, stop and remind yourself that that almost certainly isn't true.

If we lived in a society where only 1 in 1000 people committed domestic abuse then it would be plausible that you actually don't know an abuser, that you don't say hi to an abuser in the morning and that you never go get coffee or lunch with an abuser. But we're a long way off from that.

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