I’m writing this in response to critics unhappy with Christie Blatchford’s coverage of the Jian Ghomeshi trial. Her words may be unsettling, but she speaks for many who question the prevalence of victim narratives when it comes to women and abuse.
Imagine this: we have two male articling students at the same law firm. Gary works on the eighth floor and Bill on the tenth. They see each other often in the course of their work and, one Friday, they decide a game of pool and a couple of beers would be just the thing to end the week.
So they spend an evening at a local watering hole and on the way home, Gary suddenly turns to Bill, grabs him by throat and slaps him in the face three times.
What would happen?
Would Bill send Gary friendly emails afterwards? Suggest they get together for another night out? Snap friendly selfies together?
No, the chances are Bill would push Gary away, saying something along the lines of “What the fuck bro?” It’s also likely that Bill will avoid Gary in the future.
What’s to be learned by this? Lots. Whether or not feminists want to admit it, men usually have the right response to violence. They rebuff it, acknowledge it with a WTF, and stay the heck away from the perpetrator.
The one and only time I experienced violence at the hands of an intimate partner happened when I was 23. I’d fallen hard for an attractive, edgy guy whom most of my friends considered a very sexy catch. The problem was that his edginess was real and in private it translated into an explosive temper.
When he tried to assault me, three months into our relationship, I successfully defended myself. I felt stunned in the hours following, but the next day did something that I’ve been silent about for years. I phoned him, told him I wanted to talk—during the day—and added that the conversation would not be an ’emotional’ one.
In light of the bewildering behaviour of Jian Ghomeshi’s accusers, I now know to give myself a lot of credit. I too wanted an explanation for my attacker’s behaviour, but had the smarts to realize that a daytime meeting, sans alcohol, would be safer and would elicit clearer answers.
Of course it’s a meeting that never happened.
My embarrassment over that phone call came from the belated realization that no man who could hit a woman would volunteer for a conversation like the one I was proposing. In that respect, the depth of my naïveté only dawned on me slowly. However, by the time a week had passed, I knew this man’s inclination for violence was real and putting myself in his company again would be a very bad idea. So even though my infatuation with him was powerful—I came to view it as an emotional virus with a life-span of its own—I ceased contact.
It was difficult, all the more so because I’d grown up witnessing domestic violence. By the time I turned 23, I understood I’d been primed to accept it and was likely to replicate it in my adult life. (My parents had experienced WW2 first-hand, and looking back, it’s obvious they both suffered with untreated PTSD.)
I was determined to break the cycle, however. When it came to this man, I went cold turkey and agonized through a terrible period of what felt like withdrawal. It was something I never wanted to experience again.
That was over 30 years ago and what slowly evolved out of it was an impatience with friends who choose denial over clear-sightedness in their intimate relationships. These are the women who cycle in and out of relationships with men they alternately adore and vilify, the ones they want to have kids with one day and turn in to the authorities the next. It’s an impatience with downright flakey behaviour, the kind that is often explained away as social conditioning, the kind that produces women too polite to tell deserving men to take a hike.
The problem I have with the politeness excuse is that children often pay the price for it. It seems no children were harmed by Ghomeshi—which is a blessing—but there are plenty of women like his accusers who have children and who expose them to the consequences of bad decisions. A woman who tolerates an abuser and takes her kids along for the ride, needs, in my opinion, to be held accountable too. It’s an unpopular way of thinking, but let’s face it, fewer children would suffer if we held it as a basic standard of parenting.
No one likes tough love when it’s directed at them, but Blatchford’s reporting from the trial isn’t upsetting all of us. There are plenty of women applauding her focus on self-responsibility, especially the sort that encourages us to act in a timely manner when it comes to reporting sexual or domestic abuse.