Jian Ghomeshi Gets Spanked

jian Ghomeshi, spanked
Jian Ghomeshi

If you’re Canadian, you’ll have heard about the firing of CBC radio host, Jian Ghomeshi. He is accused of sexual violence with women he has dated. What’s complicating matters is his involvement in BDSM, a practice where consensual violence is the norm.

This is an explosive situation happening in a media context that has primed us perfectly. If what I’m seeing on social media is anything to go by, we are experiencing another wave of feminism, a wave asking the right questions and making the right demands. Why is Microsoft’s CEO telling women to behave? Why can’t large companies provide on-site daycare?

However, there’s also a troubling element in some current feminist thought, and that’s the wide and potent swath of victimism running through it. As wise global voices discuss the politics of being female, a whiny voice of entitlement, coming from western countries, is scratching its manicured nails on the blackboard. That voice is complaining about social circumstances within women’s control, decrying the disadvantage of being female in cultures that are comparatively privileged. It may be wrong to weigh an articulate Malala against a twerking Miley Cyrus, but if we want to take ourselves seriously we need to out ourselves on some fairly blatant hypocrisies.

I don’t know if Jian Ghomeshi is guilty of any wrongdoing. However, the accusations against him have more than a whiff of vindictiveness about them, which means we should be eyeing them critically.

What we know is this: a former girlfriend of Ghomeshi’s made accusations of physical violence against him. She did this after a two-year relationship ended. She also contacted four of his former lovers. Then Kevin Donovan, an investigative journalist with the Toronto Star, became involved. I think it’s fair to conclude that the instigating ex-lover, or someone connected with her, contacted the media outlet.

jian Ghomeshi, spankedGhomeshi is notoriously private, so much so that speculations about his sexuality abounded online, speculations that mostly asked: “Is he gay or straight?” So his contention that his ex went through his phone to find the numbers of other women seems plausible. In any event, information about these women was collected and I suspect technology, in the form of a device or social media conduit, was the source. We will probably hear that Ghomeshi’s ex did this to validate her doubts about her relationship with him. Their joint enjoyment of BDSM means this included consensual violence.

As a woman who also enjoys her privacy, I wonder why Ghomeshi is the only one concerned about this violation. Surely most of us put this kind of snooping somewhere in the stalking ballpark? If a man I was dating, and only dating, went through my phone to contact former lovers (with the intention of gathering information), I would be enraged. And I’m betting that a lot of women having that experience would be too. So Ghomeshi’s complaint that his privacy has been violated is a powerful one and one that we should not be ignoring.

Read Why we all need Edward Snowden.

The privacy violations against him go further. As a daily user of social media, I see hundreds of attempts at public shaming. The problem is that shaming posts and tweets constitute their own sub-genre, a sub-genre vast enough to get lost in and common enough to be overlooked. So even though it’s often ineffective, at least for regular folks like myself, the trend of public shaming is worth examining. While some commentators place Ghomeshi’s behaviour in the context of a “rape culture,” they forget that we in the west, perhaps less dangerously, live in a tattle-tale culture as well.

In the end, Ghomeshi’s lawsuit against the CBC for wrongful dismissal may have broad implications. And that’s because he’s not just up against our nation’s broadcaster, he’s also up against a social media culture that makes TMZ look kind. He’s essentially holding the CBC responsible for believing unsubstantiated accusations and making sure that the consequences do not end with him. I hope he wins his case.

Why? Because although it’s unfortunate, the accusations against him do appear contrived. The fact that his main accuser waited until after the relationship was over is problematic. It raises the question: if the violence was non-consensual why did she tolerate it for two years? I am always uncomfortable when he said/she said conflicts like this become public. They have a deleterious effect on real victims of sexual assault.

The reality is this: there are some forms of sexual play, rough and gentle, that are deeply compelling. I once heard a BDSM aficionado, a plump middle-aged woman, say that for her, ordinary sex was “vanilla” by comparison. That sounds convincing to me, more convincing than the complaints made by this group of young women. That they now feel used by a promiscuous man, interested in their bodies only, seems more plausible than their allegations. This does not get Ghomeshi off the hook — he’s clearly not a prince — but it doesn’t make him a criminal either.

jian Ghomeshi, spanked
Nancy Friday — one of the first women to write about women’s sexual fantasies. She was also one of the first feminists to dispute victim-feminism.

The fact is Ghomeshi was upfront about his tastes, a fact that Kevin Donovan is only reporting reluctantly. This makes the accusations against him seem more petulant than justified. If a man tells a woman he likes rough sex, it’s up to the woman hearing those words to believe him and make a decision. And that process — of listening, processing and deciding — is where the real power for women resides. Saying yes can be as powerful as saying no and saying maybe can give a woman time to think about it. What isn’t good for a woman is to violate her own boundaries and then regret it later in the form of an accusation. That’s pathologizing something that’s not pathological to begin with.

Here is an example: when I was in my 20s, I dated a renown bad boy. The relationship ended because although his edginess was exciting — I’ll admit it was a huge turn on — he pushed me too far. I walked away because I accepted reality as it was.

What is the problem here? Ghomeshi is a celebrity. He is also a very attractive man. Even so, these women had a duty to themselves to respect their own limits. They also had a duty to recognize they had made an error and to learn from it. What they don’t have a duty to do is publicly warn other women about a man who announces himself before anything sexual happens and then use those warnings to make rough sex synonymous with victimization.

This combination of actions has the singular effect of demonizing a man who may not deserve to be demonized and the overall effect, achieved through moralizing and fear-mongering, of frightening women away from an experience they may actually enjoy. In short, their collective assertion that they are victims has the larger effect of infantilizing all women and limiting our choices. Other Canadian men with odd tastes and fetishes must be feeling a chill right now. “Which woman,” they worry, “will regret that bit of fun we had together and turn me in to the police?” That’s how fear-mongering works.

One last aspect of this situation has me curious. I’m wondering how many of the five women complained to friends or relatives about having violent sex with Ghomeshi. I’m curious because while I understand their reluctance to go public, I would have a harder time understanding why they didn’t share their concerns with those closest to them. One would hope, if things were really bad, these confidantes would have talked Ghomeshi’s “victims” out of seeing him again.

jian Ghomeshi, spankedKevin Donovan makes it clear that he spoke to these women repeatedly and that he found them convincing. However, anyone who has read The Crucible knows that even a small mob, guided by fear, can act like a single organism and fall uniformly into uttering one narrative. The proof, that abuse actually occurred, will be in what the friends of these five women say. Did they complain? Did they complain and keep seeing Ghomeshi anyway? Or did they decide that the kink was too much, and like me, all those years ago, walk out of an untenable situation?

The fact that these women are now acting in concert, with a collection of stories, tells me they didn’t walk away soon enough. And of course that begs the question: why not?


Related: Jian Ghomeshi Gets Spanked and  Ouch! When Sex Goes Terribly Wrong

iogrizek (2)If you like this post, please share it on social media and/or make a comment below. My site is designed to offer an alternative to the mainstream media: adding your voice may help journalists and politicians of all stripes remember what common sense looks like. Feel free to comment anonymously. 



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The Shakespeare in Rob Ford

The Shakespeare in Rob Ford:

There is almost no depth to which Mr. Ford will not sink in his public comments…Nor does he apparently care that his conduct has made Toronto a byword for government buffoonery around the world. Yet despite what he has put the city through, in the weird public psychosis of the saga, Mr. Ford and his supporters see him as the victim.

-Jeffrey Simpson in The Globe and Mail

A great fool has amazing powers of disorientation: he is an avatar of disequilibrium, a spanner in the works, a local lord of misrule, yet he usually lands on his feet.

-R.H. Bell on Falstaff

When it comes to Rob Ford, political pundits would do well to remember Shakespeare. Although the occasional comparison to Falstaff has been made, it’s clear the appeal of the bard’s rotund character, in his incarnation as Toronto’s mayor, has gone mostly unnoticed.

For those of you unfamiliar with Falstaff, he is a jolly, slothful man who makes his living as a sponging petty criminal. He comes from an Elizabethan class of knights, but is so enslaved by his appetites that he barely qualifies. Such is his gusto, however, that most of us who read Shakespeare’s histories have a hard time suspending our disbelief. The proof? Falstaff is often referred to as a real person in literary criticism, an error most of us are quite happy to overlook. A shameless and loveable rogue, he’s a character whose girth and mirth are wonderfully writ large

The irrepressible Rob Ford
The irrepressible Rob Ford

We first meet him in Henry IV, Part 1, as he mentors Prince Hal in the art of being a lowlife. The prince is the son of Henry IV, who won the crown by deposing the previous king, Richard II. The instability in the play resides courtside among the aristocracy, where the king worries about strife growing among his subjects and his son’s escapades in the taverns of Cheapside. However, for all the shadows Prince Hal’s companions cast on his character, he will eventually emerge reformed, duly chastened and ready to get serious. It’s worth noting that the real reformation informed Shakespeare’s writing and that Falstaff, conceivably, was his answer to the austerity of Protestantism and his Queen.

The same qualities that make Falstaff a legend are there in Ford’s pratfalls, missteps and vices. Whether the Toronto intelligentsia want to admit it or not, the mayor’s sins humanize him in ways they can’t even hope to emulate, leaving ethnic exiles like myself quietly smiling to ourselves. Toronto the Good has its moniker for a reason. It’s politically correct to a smug fault and the Protestant ethic that controls it — like a tightly pursed sphincter — silences with a look and shuns in kind. I spent four years at university there and could not wait to leave. The combination of waspy cool and enforced diversity (study Slavic writers, Irene!) was confusing and exhausting.

Roger Allum as Falstaff at the Globe Theatre, 2010.
Roger Allum as Falstaff at the Globe Theatre, 2010.

Now I recognize the subjectivity of the experience I’m describing, but a recent conversation I had with a European professional, who took a cut in pay to relocate to Montreal, validated my feelings. She too felt she was either being objectified (as a foreigner) or shut out (as a stranger) and admitted that had she not been granted a transfer via her company, she would have quit or had a nervous breakdown. For a lot of us ethnic types, those white collars in Toronto have way, way too much starch in them.

So despite the mayor’s faults, I sympathize. And that’s because I can sympathize with a guy who falls backward when he’s trying to throw a football or forward into an embarrassing situation when he’s had too much to drink. It’s not as if drug addicts and alcoholics don’t live in Rosedale or Cabbagetown — they do — they just aren’t being followed around by reporters who think those failings are newsworthy. In the meantime other public servants, like public curators who steal from their elderly charges, don’t even register on their radar. In that sense the intelligentsia and their media are being predictably bourgeois.They are focusing on one man’s poor judgement in his private life and secretly gloating at their superiority.

So if today’s Toronto and England’s Henry IV were parallel universes, we would see Catholic appetites wrestling with Protestant principles. Shakespeare’s rosary may have been banished courtesy of her majesty, but when the sympathetic Catholicism of Falstaff is pitted against the cold Protestantism of Prince Hal, it’s abundantly clear who wins. And Ford’s critics should pay attention. Like the mayor’s serial apologies, Falstaff also has the self-awareness to realize that reckonings of a serious sort are occasionally required. Both Ford and Falstaff’s brief flirtations with humility are genuine, but fleeting, because living in the present is what they excel at. 

And the lessons in forgiveness go deeper: Falstaff’s mock resurrection at the Battle of Shrewsbury echoes Christ’s resurrection and, arguably, Ford’s pattern of sinning and apologizing. Hal graciously allows Falstaff to take credit for killing Hotspur, inspiring in the knight a moment’s worth of serious reflection. 

He that rewards me, God reward him. If I do grow great, I’ll grow less, for I’ll purge and leave sack and live cleanly as a nobleman should do.

Falstaff has fed his relentless appetites, robbed his hapless (and rich) victims and provided the prince with invaluable training when it comes to having the common touch. That’s why the final deception of Prince Hal — his public rejection of Falstaff — is as deadly as any of Shakespeare’s battle scenes and Falstaff does indeed die later of a broken heart. It’s this kind of social death Ford’s believers see in the offing and want to help their hero avoid. For all the kind admonitions made by reporters and other politicians, that the mayor is a “sick man,” his supporters see things differently. Like many working class people, who sooth their discontent with a two-four on the weekend, the mayor’s colourful responses to the insults coming from pampered liberals work against them — as they should.

Johan Farmanesh-Bocca as Prince Hal
John Farmanesh-Bocca as Prince Hal

The fact is the mayor was voted into office by citizens who supported him. Not respecting his position as a publicly chosen official, even when done sensitively, is, to put it mildly, a blunder and a no-brainer one at that. Critics of Ford believe they are only stating the obvious, when the even more obvious fact — that he was put in office by people who wanted him — seems to be eluding them. Put up and shut up is the message coming from the Ford Nation and the reporters who are feasting on his antics would be wise to oblige.  

Another point of contention is the divisiveness of Ford’s class politics. However, that divide has been there for decades and guess who didn’t see it coming? There is a power elite in Toronto, and in this country, who make decisions in their own best interests and forget about the janitors, sales clerks and dry cleaners who make their lives easier. The latter are the people Ford appeals to and the real surprise for the intelligentsia, I suspect, is that there are so damned many of them. But that’s the nature of their work: to many successful people they are invisible, something Ford intuitively knows. 

So while Ford’s promise to return phone calls might not sound important, it sure is to people who are essentially voiceless. In a similar manner, our media refuse to cover stories of ordinary people having serious problems. There are legions of us in this country who have struggled to help our elderly through a healthcare system that doesn’t seem to want them, yet virtually no sign of this struggle is being reflected in our nation’s media. Instead of telling our stories, they are busy following Rob Ford around. 

Commentators like Jeffrey Simpson are right to point to Ford’s status as late night comedy fodder, but that observation itself begs another question: Who in our nation’s media helped put him there? 


Related: The Shakespeare in Rob Ford and Shakespeare on Addiction: Sonnet 129

irene ogrizek, cheeky canadianIf you like this post, please share it on social media and/or make a comment below. My site is designed to offer an alternative to the mainstream media: adding your voice may help journalists and politicians of all stripes remember what common sense looks like. Feel free to comment anonymously. 


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