Ghomeshi, Assange, and Self-Generated Drama

Lucy Decoutere told the Guardian, "After everything I've been through, Jian is free." Well, yes, lying in court might be why...
Lucy Decoutere told the Guardian, “After everything I’ve been through, Jian is free.” Well, yes, lying in court might be why.

A Montreal journalist started an I-can’t-believe-Ghomeshi-got-off thread on Facebook. It triggered a lengthy debate, one he kept punctuating with comments about how our legal system is biased against women when it comes to sexual assault. Although I disagreed with much of what he said, I suspect it was the father in him speaking: he argued passionately and his despair seemed very real.

There are many responses to this: that the legal system is equally unfair to male victims, that sexual assault isn’t the only crime that’s difficult to prove, that our desire for privacy, when balanced against the need for safety, can make convictions difficult to secure. Altering the way we prosecute is often what is called for in the aftermath of cases like Ghomeshi’s, but these cries for justice, coming from those unfamiliar with the law, obscure much simpler solutions.

There are temporal points at which sexual abuse or assault can be minimized or even halted, but what this requires is a willingness, on the part of those who are able, to be more proactive on their own behalf. Prevention of any sort is rarely on the feminist radar, however. It’s become tainted by its close association with victim-blaming, an association we would be wise to undo.

There is also the misconception that older women like myself have it out for younger women caught up in the fight for better legal protection. Several journalists, and Christie Blatchford in particular, have been incorrectly labelled anti-feminist. I think they are just anti-suffering, as I am, and are using their voices (and in Blatchford’s case, her wildly pithy observations) to illustrate that much of the drama around Jian Ghomeshi is needlessly self-generated.

A topless demonstrator outside the Toronto courthouse after the verdict was read.
A topless demonstrator outside the Toronto courthouse after the verdict was read.

An anecdote might be helpful here. I once shared an apartment with a woman who was a few years my junior. She and I were both single, but our dating patterns were very different. She seemed drawn to pain while I tended, for the most part, to avoid it. When men did things I didn’t like, I made use of that lovely 50s concept, mad money. My escapades in dating made for a lot of laughs among my friends, but my intent was serious. I was determined to be an active player in my own happiness.

So it was frustrating when my roommate started dating a man I’ll call Pierre. I looked on as she fell into a painful and prolonged bout of self-destructive behaviour.

Pierre travelled a lot. He had a job that took him to Asia for three months at a time. When he returned to Montreal, he was typically off for three months, but even so, he only made time for my roommate once every couple of weeks. A pattern emerged: she would see him in this intermittent way while he was in town, and once he left, she would spent the next few weeks slamming cupboard doors and treating me with contempt. After a couple of cycles, I figured out how to gauge her mood and braced myself accordingly. By the fourth or fifth cycle, I asked her to move out.

But not before I tried talking to her. I was gentle in the beginning, but by the time a couple of years had passed, and she went out of her way to spoil a dinner party I was hosting, I lost patience and confronted her. I made the connection between her behaviour and her relationship and dared her, none too kindly, to let Pierre’s phone calls go to voice-mail the next time he was in town, just to see if he would make any real effort to see her. I told her that continuing to see a man who wasn’t committed to her was a choice she was making, that she needed to take responsibility for it and stop taking her frustrations out on others.

Marie Henein. Click here to read the verdict handed down by Judge William B. Horkins
Marie Henein. Click here to read the verdict handed down by Judge William B. Horkins

The point of the anecdote is this: watching people choose suffering can be difficult. Putting up with their unhappiness is tough too. It gets even tougher when the solution to their problems is clear: that they need to leave a bad relationship. But just as drug addicts need their drugs, these women need the drama of what is going to happen next? They are usually not willing to listen; the idea that they may be responsible for their own happiness is anathema to them.

What they do think is that women who try to talk sense to them are either jealous or prudish or both. And once they do let go of a relationship, they often swamp friends and family with their neediness.

These are also women who, like Lucy DeCoutere, arrogantly announce a “paradigm shift” by starting a hashtag like #Ibelievesurvivors, when slacktivism of that sort achieves nothing except to garner them more attention.

The fact is that seriously misguided people are not easy to be around. It’s hard enough being around people who are mourning the death of meaningful relationship or the death of a real person. Most of us have limited capacities for sympathy and extend ourselves to those whose problems feel worthy.

And that’s why some of us are taking a tough love approach to Ghomeshi’s accusers: we’re having a hard time whipping up sympathy because their problems don’t feel worthy. Yes, being hit is unpleasant and of course physical abuse is never okay. But the fact is these appear to be isolated incidents in these women’s lives and on the larger scale of grim experiences to be had in this world, they are certainly not the worst.

In short, these are bad dates, not bad lives. They didn’t marry their abuser. They weren’t forced to marry their abuser. Apparently their abuser warned them he liked rough sex.  Given these facts, a lot of us are watching the Ghomeshi carnival unfold and asking, “What gives?”

If we’re going to have a paradigm shift here, what about this? Why don’t we teach young people that the best defence against abuse is self-awareness? That the moment a sexual partner makes them uncomfortable, is the moment they have a chance to do something about it. That going along with sexual momentum is safer when you’re with a partner you trust and trust isn’t something that develops overnight. That calling a friend, or some sort of help line, to talk about discomfort is one way to determine where your boundaries are.

What isn’t okay, and what is frustrating to a lot of us, is the expectation that our police and our legal system should protect those who don’t seem interested in protecting themselves. That may be fine for children–they lack the maturity and emotional resources to do it–but it’s hardly fine for women who expect to be taken seriously as adults.

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Below is an excerpt of a text describing Julian Assange’s experience with Sweden’s sexual assault laws (also taken from The Guardian). Although the article was meant to defend the women accusing Assange of assault, its tone, and account of the facts points to a legal response we in Canada should be wary of. I’m not sure I want our nation’s police officers fielding “torn condom” complaints. 

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks to the media after appearing at Belmarsh Magistrates court in Woolwich on January 11, 2011. Assange was appearing court today to fight against his extradition to Sweden where he is sought for questioning over alleged sex crimes. UPI/Hugo Philpott
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks to the media after appearing at Belmarsh Magistrates court in Woolwich on January 11, 2011. Assange was appearing court today to fight against his extradition to Sweden where he is sought for questioning over alleged sex crimes. UPI/Hugo Philpott

[One accuser’s] account to police, which Assange disputes, stated that he began stroking her leg as they drank tea, before he pulled off her clothes and snapped a necklace that she was wearing. According to her statement she “tried to put on some articles of clothing as it was going too quickly and uncomfortably but Assange ripped them off again”. Miss A told police that she didn’t want to go any further “but that it was too late to stop Assange as she had gone along with it so far”, and so she allowed him to undress her.

According to the statement, Miss A then realised he was trying to have unprotected sex with her. She told police that she had tried a number of times to reach for a condom but Assange had stopped her by holding her arms and pinning her legs. The statement records Miss A describing how Assange then released her arms and agreed to use a condom, but she told the police that at some stage Assange had “done something” with the condom that resulted in it becoming ripped, and ejaculated without withdrawing.

When he was later interviewed by police in Stockholm, Assange agreed that he had had sex with Miss A but said he did not tear the condom, and that he was not aware that it had been torn. He told police that he had continued to sleep in Miss A’s bed for the following week and she had never mentioned a torn condom.

On the following morning, Saturday 14 August, Assange spoke at a seminar organised by Miss A. A second woman, Miss W, had contacted Miss A to ask if she could attend. Both women joined Assange, the co-ordinator of the Swedish WikiLeaks group, whom we will call “Harold”, and a few others for lunch.

Assange left the lunch with Miss W. She told the police she and Assange had visited the place where she worked and had then gone to a cinema where they had moved to the back row. He had kissed her and put his hands inside her clothing, she said.

That evening, Miss A held a party at her flat. One of her friends, “Monica”, later told police that during the party Miss A had told her about the ripped condom and unprotected sex. Another friend told police that during the evening Miss A told her she had had “the worst sex ever” with Assange: “Not only had it been the world’s worst screw, it had also been violent.”

Assange’s supporters point out that, despite her complaints against him, Miss A held a party for him on that evening and continued to allow him to stay in her flat.

On Sunday 15 August, Monica told police, Miss A told her that she thought Assange had torn the condom on purpose. According to Monica, Miss A said Assange was still staying in her flat but they were not having sex because he had “exceeded the limits of what she felt she could accept” and she did not feel safe.

The following day, Miss W phoned Assange and arranged to meet him late in the evening, according to her statement. The pair went back to her flat in Enkoping, near Stockholm. Miss W told police that though they started to have sex, Assange had not wanted to wear a condom, and she had moved away because she had not wanted unprotected sex. Assange had then lost interest, she said, and fallen asleep. However, during the night, they had both woken up and had sex at least once when “he agreed unwillingly to use a condom”.

 

 

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Jian Ghomeshi: The Truth about Bad Boys

Jian Ghomeshi
Jian Ghomeshi

Originally published in November 2014.

I’m being asked why I defend men like Jian Ghomeshi. It’s because I’m disturbed by the hysteria and the accusations against him. Everyone deserves their day in court.

We have good safety nets in this country. We have shelters for women and children, welfare for those who need it, charities and food banks for families in need. We also have rape crisis centres and female police officers to handle reports of domestic abuse and sexual assault. We have women lawyers who fight legal battles and women judges who bring our gender’s perspectives to the courtroom. Divorce is easy as is access to birth control and abortion. Very few of these things were available to my mother’s generation.

As someone born in 1960, I remember when getting a divorce meant going in front of a judge and admitting one had cheated, was infertile or mentally ill. A woman who had been abandoned by her husband in 1964 – and could not find anyone willing to rent her an apartment – was helped by my parents, who could see the difficulties she was having as a divorceé. With few social services, she had to throw herself and her son on the mercy of my parents, immigrants who had an upstairs flat for rent and were complete strangers to her. Once I got older, she told me about her divorce and the indignities she suffered because of it. Her story would shock most women today.

So I get stroppy when I see these services treated as if they just don’t exist. It also makes me question the legitimacy of complaints like the ones against Jian Ghomeshi. Claiming that the world is unfair when it comes to sexual or domestic abuse seems a tad disingenuous when set against all the social services that have come into being since the 1960s. This is Canada after all, not a repressive regime where women have no rights.

For the record, let me state that Ghomeshi is probably not a nice man. It’s likely his celebrity went to his head and he had no trouble hooking up with women and discarding them at will. However, because of that, his claim that a “jilted ex-lover” started the complaints against him actually sounds reasonable. (That term has negative connotations, of course, but we must admit we hear it applied to men too.) This is important because for all the cries that his accusers are courageous, it’s likely that other equally powerful dynamics are unfolding, but are doing so under cover of a persuasive victim narrative.

The problem with men like Ghomeshi is this: he is an archetypal bad boy, the kind of man women find irresistible. The saying, “he should come with a warning label” is the often applied to these men because of their seductive powers, but the truth is that seducers do come with warning labels; it’s just that their victims refuse to read them. Sliding into a seducer’s bed and life is a delectable experience and the promise of pleasure tends to eclipse everything.

Has this ever happened to me?

Before I started teaching at CEGEP, I taught at private schools. At one of these I met “John”– a man who was suave, well-educated and handsome. I fell hard, assumed he had too and so was devastated to discover he was still seeing other women. Then a neighbourhood friend, a renown print journalist, warned me about him, telling me about all the angry women he’d left in his wake. So I started ducking his calls and gently extricating myself from his life. No fireworks were discharged in the making of that breakup.

truth, bad boys
Third-party sexual assault reports can be powerful and helpful.

However, my dealings with John did not end there. After I stopped seeing him two different women, claiming to be friends of friends, called to ask probing questions about him. Other women at work also expressed an interest. The calls came from women who sounded eager and slightly unbalanced, while the inquiries coming from colleagues had puerile undertones. This activity confirmed my feelings about the man: he was chaos personified and I was well out of it.

What became even clearer to me in the months following were two things: one, that his ex-lovers, even from long-ago relationships, seemed strangely compelled to talk about him; two, most of these women did not protect themselves adequately. That is, they did not break up with him when they realized his true character. Indeed, from what I saw they tried, against all odds, to make a relationship with him work and became addicted to the process, hence the phone calls and the spicy inquiries I received. This is why I believe Ghomeshi when he says an ex-girlfriend went through his phone and called other women. That’s exactly the behaviour I saw, albeit from a different perspective.

I’m no expert, but I think some people engage in this behaviour because they like two things: drama and feasting on emotional pain. For example, when my journalist friend got specific, and warned me about John’s tendency to humiliate women, it had already happened: he had just escorted another woman to a well-attended event and I was still reeling from the news. However, unlike John’s other partners, the pain of that experience was enough for me and I abandoned ship immediately. I undid the emotional velcro, face palmed my forehead for a few weeks, and wondered how on earth I could have been so blind.

Things got even trickier months later. That’s when a colleague accosted me wanting to talk about John. A group of aggrieved female teachers were getting together to make an official complaint about him. This colleague knew I had dated John and wondered if she could count on me to join them. These women were sure John had been hitting on students, even though no student had come forward.

Calling a rape crisis centre does not require reporting a rape. They are also there to support women.
Calling a rape crisis centre does not require reporting a rape. They are also there to support women.

In truth I had no suspicions in that regard. As for joining a group to oust another teacher, I balked. John was obnoxious and sexist to boot, but he was (perversely) a beloved teacher and the father of three children who needed his financial support. I took the position that I couldn’t in good conscience help; it was true that his behaviour with me had been unkind, but I had avoided the worst of it by walking away quickly. Besides, my experience with him had been personal, not professional.

However, what had made me even more uncomfortable was what they wanted from me. They wanted me speak to the board of governors of this institution and say John had been abusive, but to say the abuse was of a personal nature and that I didn’t wish to disclose details. It was a suggestion that amounted to a lie, one they acknowledged, but felt was necessary. I had had my feelings hurt, it was true, but not disclosing any details meant the word “abusive” could be interpreted in many ways. I said no.

It was only several years later, when I was teaching elsewhere, that I heard John had finally been fired. The cause? A mature student John had dated briefly accused him of date rape. Instead of going to the police, however, she went to women teachers at the institution. Several other women then came forward with their stories of ill-defined abuse. I wasn’t surprised, but also knew that the real reason John had been fired was his attitude toward women. He was a nasty man who liked humiliation and he was now being driven out of town. Was the punishment appropriate to the crime? I’m not so sure. All of his “victims,” like myself, had voluntarily dated him. No one had pointed a gun at our heads.

So if you are wondering why I am defending Jian Ghomeshi, it’s because I believe his narcissism and cavalier attitude toward women are the real problems. However, I also believe that being a less than lovely person, especially in matters that are highly personal, should not be a fireable offence. Moreover, Ghomeshi’s “violence” strikes me as clumsy rather than frightening and I do wonder why not one woman saw fit to call him the next day — free of the influence of drugs or alcohol — to ask him a question like, “Dude, what was that?”

Saying women are afraid to report abuse doesn’t ring true in this instance. If a friend was devastated by a violent attack, I would urge her to report it to a rape crisis centre. My friends would do the same for me. So I have a hard time understanding why not one of these women, and apparently there are many, did not call, if only to talk about her experience. Ghomeshi’s detractors obviously believe the numbers are proof of his guilt, but they are telling in other ways too. Of all the women coming forward, not one complained and I suspect it’s because their experiences with him just weren’t serious enough.

It’s also curious that the CBC, whose brass was apparently aware of his behaviour, did not confront him earlier and issue a warning along the lines of, “If we keep hearing these stories, we’re going to have to let you go.” For all of Ghomeshi’s folly, he likely had enough self-interest to take his behaviour elsewhere, perhaps to a professional dominatrix where his inclinations would be safe. (And that’s not a glib suggestion — most dominatrices will tell you their client lists are made up of powerful, high profile men.)

Believe it or not, some women, myself included, have questions for Decourtere and Seth.
Believe it or not, some women, myself included, have questions for Decourtere and writer Riva Seth. (Seth is jumping on the bandwagon with her own accusations.) Why did they seek publicity instead of using the many social services our taxes pay for? And, should public humiliation replace rape crisis enters? Their behaviours are not helpful, despite the accolades they are receiving.

What’s also depressing is a familiar pattern of indirect aggression on the part of his accusers. For example, Lucy Decourtere is being hailed as a courageous woman, but in fact, she didn’t follow a lot of rules either. The best thing she could have done was go to a crisis center or to the police when she had been hit, if only to make a third-party report.

I say this aggression is depressingly familiar because I too have been subject to it. Several women have responded dramatically to my articles about Ghomeshi. However, when I offered to let them write guest columns, to run untouched alongside of mine, they declined and used social media to attack me instead. This is not how meaningful discussions are started or useful solutions developed.

Decourtere has referred to her actions, and the actions of the women who followed her, as a “paradigm shift.” I disagree. She is setting the stage for future harm because now, humiliating a man in public, with a declaration of abuse, may become just the thing for a woman’s drug-fuelled blackout or botched relationship. And humiliation, as some of us learn the hard way, can be just as devastating as physical abuse. For example, an NDP MP has just come forward with a nonsensical accusation of non-explicit consent against a Liberal MP. He’s been identified while she has not. It’s an accusation that has many of us scratching our heads and wondering about her credibility. I cannot state this strongly enough: This does not help genuine rape victims. Decoutere may think she’s started a new movement, but it looks suspiciously like hysteria to me.

There’s a British adjective for this kind of behaviour – gormless. The truth is that going after bad boys publicly is a way to get sympathy first and revenge later. Due process has been derailed here and as far as I can see, there’s only one gender responsible. Our credibility is on the line: I think we can and should do better.

 

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Women and Disrespect

feminism and disrespect, women and disrespect

Women and Disrespect

women, disrespectAs a young woman, I had starter jobs that brought me into contact with rich and powerful men. These were low-level service positions, the kind that didn’t require any skills. Despite the mindlessness of the work, I had a robust sense of self-awareness. I knew I was young and inexperienced, so stayed clear of trouble by becoming an observer. What I saw in those years was informative.

I learned a lot about respect: how to get it, how to express it and how to deal with those who challenged my beliefs about it.

Those beliefs weren’t behavioural;  they were internal and had more to do with the ordering of my thoughts and the social world around me. They often led me to a more complex process, one of ongoing elimination. I would observe others’ behaviour and tell myself I would never do that. Like a lot of young adults, I was high-minded and not particularly kind.

There’s one judgement from that time that’s persisted, however.

I’ve always had a hard time understanding women who make careers out of attaching themselves to powerful men. I’m not talking about all these men‘s partners—many women are powerful in their own right. I mean those whose raison d’etre is to bask in reflected glory. Generally speaking, these are women with upmarket looks and deep capacities for submission. They are also prone to using their borrowed power to dominate other women. When it comes to respect, they are genuinely confounding creatures.

My first job gave me the opportunity to mingle with senior executives. These weekly gatherings were open to all staff and were held in the early evening, immediately after work. Food and drink were handed out by hostesses from a hostess agency, one that recruited exceptionally beautiful women. Despite an open bar and sumptuous food, women from the administrative side of the company rarely attended. When I asked a wise cracking secretary why, she laughed. She told me that most of the hostesses, for whom the gatherings were a steady gig, were having affairs with the executives. Of course, she said, this made the administrative women uncomfortable. When I looked incredulous, she told me to stay late the next time I went.

Well, sharing a libation or two does have the effect of loosening decorum, and it turned out the secretary was right. As the night wore on, the level of intimacy between some of the men in women in the room told its own story and it was a disappointing one. I was especially surprised by one hostess. I’d become friendly with her and when I saw her locking eyes with a married executive, my heart sank. This woman was a bit older than the rest—she liked to call me kid—and the knowledge her look conveyed, while hardly personal, left me feeling gutted. She had become a role model for me because she’d led such a fascinating, well-travelled life. However, I felt the weight of her character losing substance and floating away that night. Her involvement with a married man had diminished it somehow.

A more pointed example of this happened in my second job, when I lived overseas. Some of the women I shared accommodations with were also having affairs. One was frequently showered with expensive gifts, but was losing her wealthy (and married) suitor’s attention. In that way of drawn out endings, he was becoming abusive and neglectful. She experienced these throes of abandonment badly and myself and the others in the compound were frequently treated to her complaints. The odd thing about her narrative was this: she assumed the role of the wronged woman. I wanted to remind her that the man’s wife probably had some serious dibs there, but knew better. I was wary of sending her skittering over an edge she already seemed precipitously close to.

My reaction to these women was conflicted, obviously. The first woman was someone I admired and then didn’t; the second was big-hearted despite her blind spots. So in that time-honoured tradition of all wafflers, I took the passive route and distanced myself from both of them. Having conversations just felt too complicated.

We need to acknowledge that the discomfort of watching another woman diminish herself is telling. It tells us that we too suffer pangs of disrespect, that we too can look at a woman who is exchanging her looks for money or status or both and feel the need to look away because we don’t like it. This is why some of us are not surprised when we hear a mistress has been mistreated. We understand the disrespect at the heart of that kind of relationship. We know that if we can feel it, men can too.

women and disrespectIt’s because the voluntary nature of these women’s submissions, especially when they have better options, makes them look like scroungers, like people who choose to be parasites in order to embolden themselves. This judgement may be unfair, but feelings are not about being fair, they are about being authentic.

There are a lot of legitimate reasons for women to become dependent on men, but situations like the ones I’ve described lack that legitimacy. These women are inviting disrespect: from their partners for selling themselves short and from others by tacitly making their affairs known.

A socialist reading of my opinion will go like this: women have historically been disadvantaged and that disadvantage is manifest in their need to derive power from men. We are only seeing the natural outcome of their oppression; hence we should not judge.

If this were the 60s, 70s or even 80s, I might agree. But at this point in history, when women in the west have a range of choices, this just doesn’t fly. And this is why I am wary of the women making accusations of sexual abuse against celebrities. Most of them wanted something from these men: help with their careers or a chance at celebrity by proxy. That means the element of respect—the lack of it especially—is key to understanding what went on in these exchanges.

Imagine this: you’re a single woman and you spend a lovely evening out with a potential partner. He walks you to your door, but instead of giving you a goodnight kiss, pulls out his c.v. and asks you to submit it to your boss and put in a good word for him. Or this: you’ve had trouble finding a suitable mate, but after receiving a financial windfall, are pursued by numerous men.

When it comes to disrespect, we all know what it looks like. Now we need to acknowledge that women do it too.

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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. 

Related: Women and Disrespect and Sex, Drugs and Media

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Tina Fey and Amy Poehler Do Bill Cosby

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler Do Bill Cosby

Here are the Guardian’s comments about Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s hosting of the Golden Globes: …best of all was their take down of Bill Cosby. At first, it looked like they might tip toe around the issue, making a quip about how Cosby drugged Sleeping Beauty. But then, they went storming back in, doing competing impressions of Cosby bragging about giving rohypnol to women. The room gasped, feminists around the world cheered.

Dear Tina and Amy:

I’ve always liked the two of you, and I think it’s great you turned the Golden Globes into a feminist event.

But when it comes to controversies, like the one dogging Bill Cosby, couldn’t we all be a bit smarter?

Unlike you, I don’t work in show business. However, I’ve had two jobs that involved working with famous and/or rich men. The first was with a beverage company that sponsored international sporting events. The second was with an airline that catered to the needs of many royal (and rich) clients. I was a young woman when I had those jobs and so what I witnessed goes back thirty years.

That being said, I’m not sure things have changed much. What do I mean? I’m talking about groupies. These are women who hang onto the fringes of celebrity (or wealth) hoping they’ll meet a famous or rich man. Given the obvious nature of their designs, I think it’s fair to say these women have given up on marriage. They’re there to capture some alone time with the object of their adoration, even if it’s only five minutes.

That’s why I’m having a hard time sympathizing with some of the women claiming they were sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby, or our own Canadian version of him, Jian Ghomeshi.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler Do Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby

You see, I think there is a bit of groupie in all of us; it’s just that most of us don’t act on those impulses because, for starters, we don’t have access to celebrities or the fabulously wealthy. Secondly, we’ve been socialized by parents who have taught us a few things about morality. Things like, if you swap sex for a few minutes of a man’s time you are likely to be treated badly. And, ahem, that’s by men and women alike.

Now, this is a moral value that exists primarily to modulate behaviour in the public sphere. By the time most of us reach adulthood, we understand that women (and men) are free to be as highly sexed as they like, providing they cultivate a good sense of timing about it. For example, we know that when it comes to job interviews, wearing a low-cut dress isn’t wise (not unless, of course, being sexy is part of the job).

So if we’re going to have a feminist discussion of what men like Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi do in their off hours, with women who consent to go off with them and do drugs (or just drink an awful lot), we’re going to have to get honest about what this behaviour actually means.

Does it mean they deserve to be sexually assaulted? No. But it does make women like me wonder why they’re willing to become intimate with someone they barely know. Even those who take part in risqué sex, like BDSM or swinging, know there are rules in those communities that protect them. So do women like me wonder about the poor judgement of these alleged victims? Of course we do.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler Do Bill Cosby
Jian Ghomeshi

Have they compromised themselves by taking drugs or excessive alcohol? Yes. Anyone who alters his or her consciousness in a significant way can’t be relied upon to report any event accurately, let alone a sexual assault. There’s only one solution and it’s to refrain from taking drugs or drinking too much when you are alone with men you don’t know.

But what if you want to get drunk or high? Well, it’s probably safer to do that with a boyfriend or at an all-girl sleepover.

Yes, I hear you guffawing Tina and Amy, but if that seems unrealistic, let’s assess the risks. The fact is that a woman who staggers home drunk is vulnerable to rape, just like a man who does the same is vulnerable to mugging or senseless violence. That’s because drunken men get disrespect too. If you don’t believe me, just watch one who’s out in public in the middle of the day.

Being a feminist doesn’t mean we check our common sense at the door when we go for a night out. In fact, the idea of self-responsibility I learned from feminism is that it’s my body and my choice when it comes to sex. But if I abdicate my rights, by significantly altering my consciousness, I may lose the capacity to make good choices. Apparently this is a painful truth; too painful, in fact, to be addressed directly by women in public discussions of men like Bill Cosby. Instead it gets swept under the carpet and sensible women like me, who know what we’re talking about, get called victim-blamers by feminists who really should know better.

So Tina and Amy, I’m glad we’re talking about rape, but I wish we could all be honest about how these (alleged) serial assaults were made possible by the poor planning of the accusers. There are lessons here that we can pass on to young women, lessons about being proactive and protecting one’s safety and freedoms. Those two things go together whether we like it or not and the sooner we’re honest about it, the sooner we’ll make the world safer for everyone.

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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Much Ado About Ghomeshi

Much Ado, Ghomeshi
Kathryn Borel: To read her article in the Guardian, click here.

Much Ado About Nothing

The CBC has released a report about the Ghomeshi debacle today. It seems senior executives were determined to be at fault and were let go. A difficult work culture has also been cited as a contributing factor.

While I appreciate that this story sheds light on the working lives of those at the CBC, I question the amount of resources that are going into Ghomeshigate. There is widespread coverage by all Canadian media outlets and yet the truth is that Ghomeshi’s behaviour probably affected less than 50 people in total. I think we need to reassess what counts as news in this country. 

In an entirely predictable way, I’ve been criticized for my stance on Jian Ghomeshi. He’s the Canadian radio host whose taste for bedroom violence has transformed his life: he’s gone from beloved music guru to pariah in about five minutes. I would call his fall from grace hubris, but that’s not entirely fair. Kathryn Borel, the young CBC producer allegedly harassed by Ghomeshi, has just published her account in the U.K.’s Guardian. What her revelations make clear is this: the public’s wish to deify celebrities played a significant role in events.

The fallout from revelations of Ghomeshi’s sexual tastes has been fearsome and grotesque. Twitter accounts with handles like Ghomeshigate and TeddyBigEars – a nod to a stuffed toy that figures in some women’s accounts of abuse – are springing up in a manner that suggests even the worst trolls can be out-trolled when an opportunity for hipsterish irony arises. It’s a messy old media out there, even in Canada, as Ghomeshi and uneasy onlookers are discovering.

The problem I have with the feminist stance on Ghomeshi is the same problem I have with much of feminism generally – there’s an assumption about the movement’s coherence and goals, an assumption that says all women are on board if it means improving or demonizing men.

As a young woman, I once struggled earnestly with the movement’s contradictions. However, I’ve since given up. I didn’t graduate from an excellent institution, with grades I could be proud of, just to fall into the binary thinking that characterizes much of passes for feminism today.

Ghomeshi: How do I know what I’m seeing?

Conventional feminists are fairly consistent when it comes to difficulties with men: many forego preventative measures. Borel’s account typifies this:

By the time a friend convinced me to go to the union in early 2010, I was 25 pounds heavier, I was binge-drinking on the weekends, and I was missing days of work to stay home and lie in bed. Reporting what was going on to someone outside of the chain of command – someone who had perspective outside the hermetic environment of the show’s increasingly twisted culture – felt like my last hope.

No doubt Borel is sincere and I won’t argue with her self-appraisal. However, she also says she “wasn’t keen to be called a slut and a liar and a fabulist” when apparently that wasn’t the case – it seems she was believed by CBC management, but told to work it out with Ghomeshi. Her experience is unfortunate, but notable in that she took on the emotional freight of Ghomeshi’s bad behaviour. She made it about herself, even when doing so brought on terrible suffering.

That’s because when conflicts like Borel’s arise, a standard pathway inculcated by the feminist movement is one of victimization: from what I’m seeing, too many women choose feeling persecuted over practicing resilience, even when resilience, used in a pre-emptive way, would serve them better.

As a young woman working in the airline industry in the early 80s, I experienced a lot of bad male behaviour, just like that of Ghomeshi’s. That’s not to say all flight deck crew – pilots, first officers and flight engineers — were predatory. Many were not. However, with the sexual mores of the 60s still informing the pre-AIDS 70s and 80s, there were a lot of men like Ghomeshi around. The airline industry, in those days, was a hyper-sexualized environment too.

How did I manage?

Pilots were deified in the airline world (much like surgeons are in hospitals today) and so the culture, and how we all agreed to our roles in it, was part of the problem. With Ghomeshi, the CBC plastered images of him on the CBC building and on billboards around Toronto. They promoted him and because of his prodigious talent the promotion worked: his fan base grew to be quite large apparently, even south of the border.

If we see Ghomeshi as merely one player in a deifying culture, he fits into a social configuration some of us older folks recognize; that is, we understand that cults of celebrity, and the hazards they create, are more complex than one evil player and a string of victims. My attitude may sound confoundingly neutral, but having it allowed a younger version of myself to navigate a promiscuous environment without coming to harm: I simply chose not to take sex, and all its social accoutrements, so seriously.

Much Ado, Ghomeshi
Dame Joan Bakewell as a young journalist.

The fact is that I have heard other women – veteran journalists Joan Bakewell and Anne Robinson – say similar things. They managed to coexist with men in the 70’s world of British journalism, which I imagine was far more masculine, far more of a boy’s club than it is today. My perspective tends to align with theirs, and so I find it curious that media critic Jesse Brown so eagerly pitched Borel’s story as a standard victim narrative. There is something of a magician’s trick about that choice, a misdirection of sorts. For example, I wonder why the experiences of previous generations of women aren’t being calculated into the broader feminist context, especially since those experiences are so seminal and informative. How did women like Bakewell, Robinson and myself manage the same difficulties?

I’ll speak for myself

I won’t win kudos by today’s standards of transparency, but the fact is I learned to be artful. Men who treated me with inappropriate intimacy were easy to fend off with a report of a boyfriend, real or imagined. I had a wedding band I kept handy for when I was down-route and mentioned the love of my life when I sensed a man’s attitude toward me changing. Did this involve prevarication? Yes, but it was an easy solution, worked almost all the time, and took about as much white-lying as most of us engage in.

Other women I knew, especially those that were conventionally beautiful, perfected heavy sighs that said “Oh great, not this again,” when they ran up against those too-sexy men. That cooled ardour too. The bottom line is that women of older generations needed a bit of ingenuity and sass to survive in the working world. That sass was a measure of our confidence, a strength that seems to have gone AWOL today.

My observations aren’t intended to be patronizing. I’m writing because women who choose victimization, when more proactive choices are on the table, genuinely baffle me. It seems to me a capitulation to the authority of others and a rejection of one’s power, rather than an adult attempt to manage emotional challenges. It also points to a significant gulf between men and women, a gulf that seems a lot wider now than when I was younger.

Much Ado, Ghomeshi
Joan Bakewell today.

One reason for that gulf boils down to how women deal with workplace conflict: they will often ask an authority, like a boss or union, to intervene. As a first line of defence, this strategy creates a natural imbalance. A conflict becomes a two-against-one affair and that choice creates atmospheres of distrust and distance. This is important because women like myself, who have a desire to maintain healthy relationships with men, are more inclined to resolve conflicts with honesty, yes, but also finesse and subtlety. This isn’t game playing or capitulation, but rather a desire to play on an appropriate rather than level playing field, especially where feelings and egos are concerned.

Why the difference? My innate sympathy for men is important. It allows me to extend sympathy to both genders equally and makes understanding and forgiving sexism easier. And like a lot of things in life, it’s paradoxical: forgiving sexism allows me to deal with it more effectively. Getting angry might feel good – being indignant does offer deep satisfactions — but as a tool for social change, it’s limited. Those limits are evident in how Borel handled Ghomeshi’s sexualized behaviour. She turned her anger inward, became an emotional wreck and felt she had no choice except to quit. While poor outcomes like hers are important to understand, it might be more useful to look at prevention. Appreciating that men suffer from forms of sexism too would be one place to start.

Much Ado, Ghomeshi
From the Guardian (click image to read entire article): The victim’s account to police, which Assange disputes, stated that he began stroking her leg as they drank tea, before he pulled off her clothes and snapped a necklace that she was wearing. According to her statement she “tried to put on some articles of clothing as it was going too quickly and uncomfortably but Assange ripped them off again”. Miss A told police that she didn’t want to go any further “but that it was too late to stop Assange as she had gone along with it so far”, and so she allowed him to undress her.
According to the statement, Miss A then realised he was trying to have unprotected sex with her. She told police that she had tried a number of times to reach for a condom but Assange had stopped her by holding her arms and pinning her legs. The statement records Miss A describing how Assange then released her arms and agreed to use a condom, but she told the police that at some stage Assange had “done something” with the condom that resulted in it becoming ripped, and ejaculated without withdrawing.
When he was later interviewed by police in Stockholm, Assange agreed that he had had sex with Miss A but said he did not tear the condom, and that he was not aware that it had been torn. He told police that he had continued to sleep in Miss A’s bed for the following week and she had never mentioned a torn condom.
On the following morning, Saturday 14 August, Assange spoke at a seminar organised by Miss A. A second woman, Miss W, had contacted Miss A to ask if she could attend. Both women joined Assange, the co-ordinator of the Swedish WikiLeaks group, whom we will call “Harold”, and a few others for lunch.
Assange left the lunch with Miss W. She told the police she and Assange had visited the place where she worked and had then gone to a cinema where they had moved to the back row. He had kissed her and put his hands inside her clothing, she said.
That evening, Miss A held a party at her flat. One of her friends, “Monica”, later told police that during the party Miss A had told her about the ripped condom and unprotected sex. Another friend told police that during the evening Miss A told her she had had “the worst sex ever” with Assange: “Not only had it been the world’s worst screw, it had also been violent.”
Assange’s supporters point out that, despite her complaints against him, Miss A held a party for him on that evening and continued to allow him to stay in her flat.
On Sunday 15 August, Monica told police, Miss A told her that she thought Assange had torn the condom on purpose. According to Monica, Miss A said Assange was still staying in her flat but they were not having sex because he had “exceeded the limits of what she felt she could accept” and she did not feel safe.
The following day, Miss W phoned Assange and arranged to meet him late in the evening, according to her statement. The pair went back to her flat in Enkoping, near Stockholm. Miss W told police that though they started to have sex, Assange had not wanted to wear a condom, and she had moved away because she had not wanted unprotected sex. Assange had then lost interest, she said, and fallen asleep. However, during the night, they had both woken up and had sex at least once when “he agreed unwillingly to use a condom”.

A Personal Anecdote

An important experience from my youth is illustrative. In the 70s, when many anti-discrimination laws came into being, there were women who took advantage of those laws in unintended ways. I saw this firsthand when a family friend met a divorced woman with children. He moved in with her, happily took on a parenting role, and yet one day, without warning, found himself locked outside of his own home. He was an amateur but good handyman and he’d just finished several thousand dollar’s worth of renovations. The week previously, he’d paid for and installed an array of new, major appliances.

The problem? This woman had found a new boyfriend whom she’d moved in that day. In a reaction I submit is reasonable, the family friend tried to get back into the house. As a consequence, he was charged with breaking and entering and several other domestic violence charges, even though he wanted nothing more than to talk to his girlfriend and get his belongings out. However, a heightened awareness of women’s social disadvantages meant he was arrested and the arrest cost him his job. That triggered a long, slow decline. His mother suffered the anguish of witnessing it, as did several other women in his life. The punishment – such as it was – did not end with him.

An Extended Analogy

How can we understand current problems with feminism in a more analytical way? Let’s say we have been tasked with increasing the pharmaceutical industry’s profits. So we create a patient zero, a 100-pound, 13 year old girl, and she becomes the dosing model for a medications like those that treat high blood pressure, even though typical users average 190 pounds. So now the dose has shrunk to suit the much smaller and more sensitive body of a 13 year old. What repercussions would follow?

Doses for most users would double, meaning the industry’s income from the widely-used drug would double too. It’s likely that insurers would respond by raising group insurance rates. Patients who were once served well by one pill would resent having to take two and having to deal with the financial burden of that change, whether that meant paying higher insurance premiums or paying out of pocket for the drug itself. Ageism might also become an issue. Younger members of group insurance plans might start agitating for a separate system for those who don’t suffer from age-related illnesses. A black market of illegal blood pressure pills might also pop up, with online pharmacies from foreign countries capturing a share of the market, increasing the stress on our border controls.

Do these sound like real, possible outcomes? Well, the idea of patient zero is a good analogy. It offers us an economic model to chart what a hypersensitivity to sexual misconduct actually means in broad social terms: many individuals and systems are affected. And that’s because patient zero, when it comes to matters sexual, is like an exquisitely sensitive 13 year old: she is easily offended and/or frightened. Instead of marshalling her own resources, she turns to others for help and creates even bigger conflicts, or turns her anxiety on herself and starts to self-destruct. Either way, she bypasses the opportunity for calm resolution and gravitates instead toward dramatic experiences that “prove” women occupy degraded places in society. The social costs for catering to this kind of heightened vulnerability are substantial. As my anecdote about the family friend illustrates, men targeted for punishment are not the only ones who suffer.

The fact is women like myself, who are not exquisitely sensitive, pay a price too. We also tend to stay out of choruses like the one currently eviscerating Ghomeshi and there are several reasons for this. For starters, many of us are not politicized by accusations of sexual misconduct because we consider ourselves competent when dealing with men; secondly, many of us are silenced by other women when we do speak up. When we offer common sense solutions like “Don’t go to a celebrity’s hotel room at midnight, if you don’t want to have sex,” we are labelled insensitive victim-blamers. Thirdly, the women who do the labelling often view us with suspicion, meaning they are likely to punish us alongside the men they target. So speaking up, even to offer solutions, poses risks. It’s a form of silencing feminists almost always dismiss.

What would be best?

I would like broad, institutional responses to sexual misconduct to stop being based on patient zero’s exquisite sensitivity. And I would like less patient attitudes, like the one myself and other competent women possess, to be part of the dialogue too. I believe we should stop teaching learned helplessness and instead urge women to take care of personal conflicts themselves. The whole idea of feminism was to raise women up from powerless positions, so why are we going all retro and volunteering for them now? It’s not news that narcissists of both genders gravitate toward certain careers. Show business, the arts and medicine are just three that come to mind, three that still have deification built into their structures.

To offer another perspective and to clarify my position, I’ve included an excerpt from the Guardian’s account of the Julian Assange rape allegations. It’s Assange’s non-use or reluctant use of a condom that forms the crux of the complaints. That, and the question of whether or not a condom had a tear in it.

Much Ado, Ghomeshi
Click here for my articles about Wikileaks.

Pierre Trudeau, who famously opined that the state had no business in the bedrooms of the nation, would read this and likely be as appalled as I am. The women in these accounts also failed to take proper precautions: they did not know Assange personally and yet invited him into their homes and into their beds. Calling 911 over condom disputes is where we are headed if we do not raise expectations for women too. At a time when taxes are high and resources are stretched, I would resent, profoundly, the use of precious court time over a case like Assange’s. These are disagreements between individuals who want the right to hook-up sex without having to be responsible for it.

Many players in Ghomeshigate bear some responsibility for the length of time Ghomeshi was allowed to continue with his behaviour. The CBC managers who told Borel to find a way to work with Ghomeshi need to own their share of the blame. Ghomeshi was a star, but a well-worded warning, given in a conciliatory way, would have probably stopped him. I’ve certainly seen a few of those warnings happen in my lifetime and rare is the individual who flouts them, especially when a coveted career is on the line. Borel feels victimized, it’s true, but a bit of gumption and well-timed spunk might have allowed her to manage Ghomeshi: she had other choices, although it’s clear she didn’t see them.

Is Borel’s reaction much ado about nothing? I don’t think so, but the fact is the working world is hard on both genders and some hazards just come with certain jobs. I’m guessing that had Ghomeshi known what was coming, and been warned to stop, he would have done so in a heartbeat. It’s too bad he didn’t have that opportunity. The CBC’s roster will be much poorer for it.

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Related: Much Ado About Ghomeshi and The Truth About Bad Boys

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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Sex Scandals: Whose fault is it?

sex, scandals, fault
Bill Cosby

Sex Scandals: Whose fault is it?

As someone who once foiled a sexual assault, I should probably know better, but I can’t help it. The proliferation of stories about Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi has me worried.

I’m not defending these men or their sexual conduct. I’m speaking up because the implication of these stories is that all men are beasts. Along with the media coverage are gone-viral videos that are (or purport to be) documentary. These are the infamous cat-calling video, which shows a young woman beleaguered by men on the streets of New York, and “Drunk Girl in Public,” which shows an intoxicated woman in trouble on Hollywood Blvd. Both have been discredited, but their momentum has been powerful nonetheless.

I’m uneasy because what’s missing is an honest discussion of how these conflicts impact women’s real lives with real men. It raises the questions: Can we hear these stories without feeling distrustful of all men? Is that even possible?

In his novel High Fidelity, Nick Hornby’s protagonist, an ageing DJ, wonders if his life-long obsession with pop music has made him a poor catch romantically. It’s a humorous theme, but one worth investigating: with its plaintive cries and focus on the superficial, pop music doesn’t encourage deep thinking or happy living. The protagonist’s conclusion — that the degree of his focus is the problem — works here too.

sex, scandals, fault
John Cusack in the movie version of High Fidelity

It’s simple: if we’re guided by a belief that men are bad, it only makes sense that bad is what we’ll see. Worse still, bad is what we’ll create. The idea that our perceptions shape reality has been around for a long time, but it’s been studiously avoided by conventional feminists. The related idea — that we may be responsible for some of our own unhappiness — is anathema to a worldview that often relies on comprehensive victimhood and deflection.

Here’s how it works: I recently heard an intelligent woman, an executive in the Canadian aerospace industry, describe a geographical cure she took to escape an abusive lover. What unfolded were stories within a story, a set of narratives that had her female listeners nodding and murmuring in agreement.

The overarching narrative was about the Ghomeshi revelations and how the woman head of the CBC, Heather Conway, had been horrified by them; the secondary narratives concerned the aerospace executive herself. She described living with a man she said knew “how to hit her without leaving marks,” and whom she took to court, three times, to have charged with assault.

My brow furrowed at the number three, but I said nothing because this executive was a good storyteller and the room was full of supportive women. I also know that rescue narratives, even the DIY kind, are powerful and challenging this woman would have been like telling a child Cinderella was a devious liar. That’s a crime against a seminal narrative and an unforgivable one at that.

So in that way of intimate collusion – you know what men are like, nudge, nudge, wink, wink – a few of us listened to her describe the details of the court cases, including her conversations with an incredulous court clerk, one who thought she was too successful to be a victim.

sex, scandals, faultHad I had my druthers, and not feared having my head torn from my body, I would have agreed by saying, “Well, yes, this clerk has a point, X. Why didn’t you just leave?” However, the executive was quick to counter any skepticism by hauling out yet another narrative, this one about heroism. When the question of “why she didn’t leave” hung in the air, she segued into an explanation that she had female ancestors she needed to honour. One who’d been punished for wanting to learn to read and another who’d later, like the suffragettes pictured here, marched for the right to vote. Given the rights these women had fought for, it was her duty to take this man to court to make use of the legal provisions their suffering had created. Otherwise, her thinking went, she would be letting all women down: her ancestors by failing to act and future victims by not teaching the man a lesson.

It’s a good story, but I’ve got an even better one.

I teach Alice Munro’s “Vandals.” It’s about a young country girl, Liza, who finds surrogate parents in a neighbouring odd couple, Bea and Ladner. Bea is a heavy drinker who fails to see the psychopathy in Ladner: his ongoing molestation of Liza sweeps right past her. Ladner knows Bea is too unfocused to see trouble and so he pushes the limits of his abuse even further. He deliberately makes Liza, who is about 10 years old, choose between mother and father, Bea and himself.

She’s tested during an afternoon swim at a pond on Ladner’s property. Visually, Liza and Bea are facing each other in the pond. That’s when Ladner, who is behind Bea and some distance away, starts imitating Bea:

Even though she was lying on her back, floating on the water, Liza could see that Ladner had stopped working. He was standing in waist-deep water on the other side of the pond, behind Bea’s back. He was watching Bea. Then he, too, started jumping up and down in the water. His body was stiff but he turned his head sharply from side to side, skimming or patting the water with fluttery hands. Preening, twitching, as if carried away with admiration for himself.

This was thrilling and shocking. Liza’s face was trembling with her need to laugh. Part of her wanted to make Ladner stop, to stop at once, before the damage was done, and part of her longed for that very damage, the damage Ladner could do, the ripping open, the final delight of it. 

sex, scandals, fault
Soldiers often suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

This is when I explain Schadenfreude to my students and explain how difficult it is to manage, especially for children. I also point out that Ladner’s actions are more sinister than even his molesting suggests: he forces Liza to laugh at Bea and in doing so undermines her relationship with the only mother she knows. Liza suppresses this laughter for the obvious reason that she fears hurting Bea. However, when she can no longer contain it, she dives under water, emerges at the far side of the pond, near Ladner, and claims she had “almost drowned.” For a child, she is clever: she kicks up a distraction to spare her mother’s feelings. This is a pattern absent from most feminist analyses of domestic violence: children like Liza carry the emotional freight for adults, male and female, who really should know better.

Whose fault is it?

This reflects the problem I see with conventional feminism’s approach to domestic and sexual abuse generally. Protecting women who put themselves in the presence of abusers, and who do so repeatedly, means protecting women who choose not to protect themselves. In “Vandals,” Bea senses Ladner’s potential for violence, but she looks the other way and drinks her suspicions down. The end result is that Liza is victimized twice: first by a father who molests her and again by a mother unwilling to be an adult. When we protect women who have the means to choose differently — Bea has her own money and can leave — we infantilize them and enable their childishness. If real children are involved, we do this at their expense.

Let’s revisit the executive’s story. She took her ex-partner to court for assault three times, which meant she went back to living with him in-between. She had the money and the freedom to leave, but instead chose to stay, fight and repeatedly ask the law — an authority — to intervene. Walking away from abusive partners, at the first sign of physical abuse, would be just as powerful and would send an equally strong message to that partner. It says, “I do not stay when this happens.” My suspicion is that apart from the first incident, this executive was not a victim. She stayed because she got caught up in the fighting, and she took the man to court because she wanted to win. This is not heroic. This is not standing up for one’s rights. This is pathological and we need to stop pretending otherwise.

And I’m not the only woman who thinks so. Many years ago a journalist I know decided to write an exposé about domestic violence. She convinced a big city precinct to let her accompany police officers on the night shift several nights in a row. What she discovered shocked her: the vast majority of domestic abuse calls, as in upward of 90%, were really about mutual abuse. Typically both partners were drunk, stoned or both and were hitting each other or hitting their children. This left her with a dilemma: could she write about what she’d actually seen?

I’ve always remembered that conversation because I grew up in a violent home too. And it was the first time my secret, and my feelings about it, had been validated: what I grew up seeing taught me that domestic abuse is mostly mutual, if not in the outcome, at least in the cause. That is, even though my father was the violent one, my mother contributed to the strife in her own way. Growing older I’ve come to recognize that both of them, as a consequence of growing up amidst warfare, were likely sufferers of PTSD. A military analysis would have caught this; a feminist analysis would not. As a matter of fact, a feminist analysis would yield an unbalanced result, one that would likely perpetuate the problem: my father would be the culprit and my mother the victim. That I grew up seeing it differently would not count at all.

The fact is that conventional feminism often distorts reality. There is an all-or-nothingness about its ideals that creates lopsided analyses, lopsided solutions. For example, women who are feminists are often discouraged from criticizing other women, especially in matters that involve morals. That’s not good for us. Criticizing those coming forward to complain about Crosby and Ghomeshi is valid and allows us to reiterate, to all women, that we’ve got good opportunities here in North America and that agreeing to drinks with a much older man, one you’re hoping will help your career, is not wise or even necessary.

sex, scandals, fault

Real Sex Scandals

“Vandals” is important for another reason. Later in the story, when Bea gives Liza the money to go to college, Liza’s feelings are hurt. That’s because going to college means Liza must move to Guelph and leave Bea and Ladner behind. Liza’s pain isn’t surprising. Despite everything, they are her surrogate parents and she loves them.

This contradiction is precisely why feminist perspectives of domestic and sexual abuse can be harmful. It’s one thing to convince an adult woman that her partner is abusive, but it’s another to convince children of the same. Children don’t make adult distinctions, they don’t want to believe one parent is bad and the other good. They just want the love of both without the confusion of binary thinking.

But when we point fingers at abusive men, without trying to understand them, we are being unfair to their children too. We force them to choose, just like Munro’s psychopath does in “Vandals.” This itself is another form of abuse, one that prizes vindication over workable solutions. It’s difficult to tolerate violence, but an approach that favours recovery over punishment would be more realistic and would help more struggling families.

The Canadian military is getting things right in this regard. They address PTSD directly, in the media, and they don’t shame up the fact that violence is part of the disorder. They are also clear that PTSD can be treated. We need this kind of understanding extended to all Canadians, especially those who are genuinely vulnerable and those arriving from countries where violence is the norm. Not all troubled men are treatable, of course, but then not all troubled women are either. We need to stop with the finger-pointing and start with the compassion. Our children, at the very least, deserve it.

Related: Sex Scandals: Whose fault is it? and  Alice Munro’s Magic 

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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