Scrolling through the entirety of the judgement, in the Mandi Gray rape trial, is depressing. That’s because what we see is not a Jamesian Portrait of a Lady—an Isabel Archer who learns hard lessons about love—but a troubled woman playing the role of villain, like that of Isabel’s husband, a manipulator who uses deceit to control others.
Citing James in this context is apt: he was a novelist who specialized in the tyranny of the weak, a theme that if one looks closely enough, links the various Toronto trials. I refer here to the trials of Gregory Alan Elliott, Jian Ghomeshi and Mustafa Ururyar. All three were accused of committing sexist crimes against women. Both Elliott and Ghomeshi won their cases; the case against Ururyar, who is accused of raping Gray, is on appeal.
From a distance, it seems there is a cadre of young Toronto feminists who, like a proverbial tail, are trying to wag the dog, the dog in this case being women in the ROC, or the rest of the country. This is an elite squad who are out to heighten our perception of male wrongdoing and are using a succession of legal challenges to do so. That they are failing is good news; it points to the truth that Canadians are eminently fair, sensible and disinclined to rule out provocation.
And it’s the provocation aspect of the Gray case that I’d like to examine.
The sheer amount of verbiage Judge Zuker included in his judgement has created a subtext clearly at odds with his decision. In it, Gray’s tale is fulsome, so much so that she betrays her true intention with Ururyar that night—to elicit affection from him–and spends much of her testimony behaving as though she is on a therapist’s couch and not in a courtroom. Her story is heavy on feeling (“He had destroyed any self-esteem I had”) and light on fact (“I don’t remember taking off my pants”). Moreover, her professed intoxication often pops up when her version of events is challenged. In the end, the judgement reads like an exhausting conversation with someone in denial, the kind where saying, “He’s just not into you,” seems the painful but necessary solution.
Ururyar’s frustration with Gray’s behaviour is also evident. His version of events is that by the night of the alleged rape, he and Gray had been involved in a brief, casual affair: Gray had accepted the fact that Ururyar was in an open relationship and she was present, at the end of that night of drinking, when he invited yet another woman to come home with him. When the woman refused and hopped into a cab, Gray says Ururyar became abusive. She went home with him regardless, stating that she had little choice, given that the transit service had stopped and taking a cab was out of the question for two reasons: she had spent all her money and she felt too “vulnerable.”
In response, Ururyar says that earlier in the evening Gray had been inappropriately sexual with him in public–he’d asked her, twice, to stop massaging his inner thigh. Interestingly, Ururyar’s request was confirmed by Gray. However, her argument is that it came out of the blue and was apropos of nothing she’d said or done. She couldn’t remember massaging him, for example, and asserts she had no plans to have sex with him that evening. This contradicts a text she’d sent him earlier, one inviting him out and mentioning “hot sex” afterwards.
Perhaps it’s my literary background, but as I read through the judgement, a clear theme emerged: Ururyar’s anger towards Gray is comprehensible and knowable, even if the actual events of the evening are not.
I feel sympathy for him because I too had a casual partner while in university, one who was good at manipulating events in his favour. Our relationship started unravelling one night after I returned from an evening out with friends. He called and asked to come over. Given the lateness of the hour, I said no, but a half hour later he showed up anyway. When I told him to leave, he pleaded and started cuddling with me in the foyer of the house I shared with other students.
Although I was insistent, it soon became clear a prolonged discussion was in the offing—one that might wake up my roommates—and so I relented, a choice I felt manipulated into making. Of course his persistence continued in my bedroom. The next morning, a Sunday, I shooed him out early, lying by telling him I was spending the day with my parents. After all but pushing him out the front door, I went back to bed fuming.
In this climate of hypersensitivity, many people would consider this rape. It wasn’t, but I did experience it as an annoying and off-putting level of persistence. However, my response wasn’t about having unwanted sex–that was a detail–I was angry over the man’s controlling behaviour. It made me realize two things: that I didn’t really care for him and that he often contrived to get his way, this despite an outwardly breezy temperament. That memory surfaced as I was reading, probably because I recognized what Ururyar’s reticence toward Gray actually meant, her jungle of rationalizing language notwithstanding.
So here’s my argument: if feminists can understand my anger at Mr. Persistent, they should understand Ururyar’s anger at Gray too. That’s because Gray acted in a way that led her, inexorably, to Ururyar’s bedroom that night. She invited him to meet her, mentioned sex and asked to sleep over. During the evening, she was inappropriately sexual with him twice and agreed to share a bed with him even after his apparent interest in another woman was made clear. She was also free to leave the bar at any time and she’d had, at one point, enough money for a taxi. When asked about her “vulnerability” with regard to using one, an undisclosed story about an incident Gray had had with a taxi was offered as an explanation. However, since many women consider taxis a final line of defence for dates that go badly, I do wonder what happened and why Gray felt she couldn’t call one. I ask because her reluctance fits in with a pattern of recurring rationalizations, rationalizations that rule out the possibility of another, safer course of events happening that night.
Let’s turn the tables. You are a young woman deeply involved in your university’s student union. You’ve had a couple of intimate nights with a man for whom you do not have strong feelings. Even though you’ve made your intentions clear, he sends you a sexy text, inviting you to meet at a bar where several other union people are drinking. You go, thinking that since others are there, you won’t be in for an intimate evening with your erstwhile lover.
Then he tries some surreptitious fondling and you ask him to stop. He tries again and again you ask him to stop. At the end of the night you leave with the group, including him and a new man you are more interested in. You ask the new man back for a drink. He senses an atmosphere and says no. After he leaves, your lover wants to talk about what’s going on. You don’t because you’re nettled over the other man’s rejection. Your lover insists on coming home with you anyway, even though your mood is stormy. (“But I don’t have cab fare and the buses have stopped running!”) It’s no surprise when things go badly in the bedroom, but you’re relieved the pretense is over and you’re off the hook when it comes to seeing him again.
There’s no doubt that this erstwhile lover, were Gray to describe him to her friends, would be labelled a creep who doesn’t understand the word no. It’s a perception endemic to the kind of feminism touted by many academic women and yet it’s never held up to the mirror. That women are equally capable of harassing men in the same manner simply doesn’t figure into this world view; that men can feel equally and deeply provoked by it doesn’t either.
Judge Zuker’s judgement has come under fire, even from other judges. That’s because in an ill-advised show of partisanship, he included many references to controversial feminist theories, theories that many of his colleagues at OISE, where he teaches part-time, embrace fully and disseminate freely. But if there’s one reality feminist theorists often avoid, it’s that today, women in the western world are free to choose most things. Gray was free to leave a bad situation at any time, unlike previous generations of women, and James’ heroines, who, when they made bad choices and bad marriages, were forced to stay and suffer.
When Ururyar’s lawyer asked Gray why she didn’t walk away, especially once Ururyar became abusive, she replied that she would be asking herself that question for the rest of her life. It’s a non-answer in terms of her testimony, but a good start in terms of her mental health. In fact it’s the kind of questioning we should all do on occasion, if only to remind ourselves how unpleasant disrespecting ourselves can be.
The verdict was guilty, but now high powered lawyer Marie Henein is fighting to have it overturned.
When I wrote On Trial for Rape last year, I took readers inside the courtroom to see what a regular, non-headline-making sexual assault trial looks like. Now, I want to take you back to court for another very different trial, which raises still more questions about how our legal system deals with sexual assault. This is a very hot topic nowadays, and I want to give you facts and reporting so that you can be the judge.