After days of speculation about a “personal leave”, The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation fired radio host Jian Ghomeshi yesterday morning. They did not comment on the decision in detail, saying that they weren’t in a position to do so — likely for legal reasons — but Ghomeshi and his team came out with a statement, posted on his Facebook page, a clear attempt to take control of the narrative.
According to Ghomeshi, who plans to sue CBC for $50 million in damages, the public broadcasting corporation that has radio, television, and online interests fired him unjustly and for personal reasons: they were uncomfortable with his kinky sex life, and unwilling to stand up for him against the accusations of a jilted ex. “Let me be the first to say that my tastes in the bedroom may not be palatable to some folks. They may be strange, enticing, weird, normal, or outright offensive to others,” Ghomeshi said. “And no one, and certainly no employer, should have dominion over what people do consensually in their private life.”
But early this morning Toronto Star reporter Kevin Donovan and freelance reporter and Canadaland podcast host Jesse Brown revealed that they have have been investigating Ghomeshi for months, interviewing three women who say that Ghomeshi assaulted them under the guise of kinky sex. Their stories are eerily similar: they entered into a consensual romantic and sexual relationship with Ghomeshi; soon after, he attacked them. One woman, a former CBC employee, alleges that he sexually harassed her at work. “I want to hate fuck you,” he told her one day.
These accusations resonated with many women in Toronto’s media, music, and literary scene. After all, we’ve been hearing them for years. The first time I encountered Ghomeshi’s bad reputation was when a colleague was wrapping up a presentation on CBC TV host George Strombolopoulous’ media influence. She signed off on her praise of him with what I thought then was a potshot at Ghomeshi. “What’s your problem with him?” I asked. “He’s so… neutral.” Her face screwed up. “He’s a creep,” she said with finality, turning the conversation back to Strombo. “I’ve heard things. My friends have had bad experiences.” That was much as I could get out of her during a one-on-one conversation. That was several years ago, and far from the last time I heard bad things about him.
Ask women in Toronto media about Jian Ghomeshi and you’ll get a range of responses: he’s an important figure; he’s a good guy; he’s a creep. Over and over though, I’ve heard personal stories of harassment and abuse. Notably, in each of these tales, the victims’ names are redacted — not one of those women has allowed her name to be shared.
Really wish people would stop blindly siding with #jianghomeshi. Heard so many stories first hand. His "statement" reeks of guilt.
— Celia Spenard-Ko (@ceeesk) October 26, 2014
The fact that so many people seem to know what the #Jianghomeshi thing is about says a lot about what we tolerate from men in power.
— David Moscrop (@David_Moscrop) October 26, 2014
And those stories are known, I was surprised to learn, far beyond the Toronto media scene. Women from all over the country, from the US, and beyond are reacting to Ghomeshi’s Facebook post — it isn’t pretty, man, but that’s what happens when your strategy is so bald and hinges on the supposed hysteria of jilted women. A 2013 XO Jane article, It Happened to Me: I Accidentally Went On a Date with a C-List Celebrity by Carla Ciccone, surely has something to do with it, along with the low-level gossip that’s inevitable with all celebrities, especially those famed for genial narcissism and a problematic dating life. And then of course, there was the time he hosted a debate about rape culture — not what to do about it, but whether it exists. We talk to each other, do women. I’ve been warned off of him myself, several times. Here’s why:
The women now accusing Jian Ghomeshi of violence began as his fans. Two had very similar early experiences with him. After Ghomeshi met them at public events, which he had promoted on CBC Radio, he contacted them through Facebook and asked them on dates. They eagerly accepted.
Each woman said she remembers Ghomeshi being initially sweet and flattering, then later suggesting or hinting at violent sex acts. When they failed to respond or expressed displeasure, they recalled Ghomeshi dismissing his remarks as “just fantasies,” reassuring them he wouldn’t ask them to do anything they weren’t comfortable with. The women deny that “safe words” were employed in the relationship.
In one woman’s case, she visited Ghomeshi at his Toronto home and alleges as soon as she walked into his house he suddenly struck her hard with his open hand, then continued to hit her and choked her. The woman alleges Ghomeshi repeatedly beat her about the head and choked her. (Toronto Star)
Until the Star’s bomb drop, the media narrative was what Ghomeshi and his team wanted it to be. And that’s not surprising. Ghomeshi has retained Navigator for PR, a firm chaired by media personality and regular CBC contributor Jamie Watt who are more commonly found doing political and corporate work. Ghomeshi’s Facebook post was effective in setting the tone of future discussions and it played into every weak point we have around sexual assault and celebrity, hitting every rape culture button in the pinball machine — tilt tilt tilt. Immediate reactions to his posts were exactly what you might expect. The Hollywood Reporter said Canadian Radio Host Jian Ghomeshi Fired After Sexual Abuse Allegations by Jilted Ex. The National Post put it this way: Jian Ghomeshi reveals details of sex scandal after threatening to sue CBC for $50 million. And according to BlogTO, Ghomeshi Says He Was Fired from CBC for Rough Sex. Even the Daily Mail got in on the action — no, we won’t be linking.
Reactions on social media were similarly typical: a petition for Ghomeshi’s reinstatement, annoyance at crazy exes who needed to calm down and have babies (yes, actually), and messages of befuddlement and support. But although media activists have been out in force since Ghomeshi hit send, they made more progress today, as the narrative begins to turn. Gawker, notably, demonstrates none of the both-sides-now doubt of the Toronto Star story. Thank you for not rushing to doubt, Gawker — you must already know that less than 8% of rape accusations are false, that between 75-95% of sexual assaults are ever reported to police, and that 75% of incidents of domestic violence go unreported. Ghomeshi is innocent until proven guilty, but we must stand with women. We must believe and support them.
— Anne Thériault (@anne_theriault) October 27, 2014
— Shakeup Wakeup (@wakeanshake) October 27, 2014
Author Roxane Gay spoke out against those who would try the victims, or question their credibility:
Also, what is THIS: "The women, all educated and employed" What on earth does that have to do with anything at all?
— Roxane Gayrten (@rgay) October 27, 2014
Like, if they were uneducated and/or unemployed, the women's stories wouldn't be credible?
— Roxane Gayrten (@rgay) October 27, 2014
Another important thread has emerged today: a rejection of any attempt to shame these women for consensually participating in BDSM, or suggestion that prior consent is permanent consent.
Historian and comic book critic Jeet Heer pointed to a 2008 essay by Stacey May Fowles, The Fantasy of Acceptable “Non-Consent”: Why the Female Sexual Submissive Scares Us (and Why She Shouldn’t) that provides valuable context:
A 2007 study conducted in Australia revealed that rates of sexual abuse and coercion were similar between BDSM practitioners and other Australians. The study concluded that BDSM is simply a sexual interest or subculture attractive to a minority, not defined by a pathological symptom of past abuse.
But when you throw a little rape, bondage or humiliation fantasy into the mix, a whole set of ideological problems arises. The idea of a woman consenting to be violated via play not only is difficult terrain to negotiate politically, but also is rarely discussed beyond BDSM practitioners themselves. Sexually submissive feminists already have a hard enough time finding a voice in the discourse, and their desire to be demeaned is often left out of the conversation. Because of this, the opportunity to articulate the political ramifications of rape fantasy happens rarely, if at all.
And sex blogger Andrea Zanin, in what may be today’s most-linked post, Poor Persecuted Pervert?, pointed to the discrepancies in Ghomeshi’s statement: namely, the way he describes his practice of BDSM with full and informed consent.
Face-punching and choking to the point of unconsciousness are absolutely some people’s kinks. But even among seasoned BDSM players, these acts are widely understood to be things you must do only with the most carefully negotiated consent, with a goodly amount of education and practice, and with the knowledge that they are highly risky. Beginner BDSM this is not. … Ghomeshi’s argument that what he does is a “mild version of Fifty Shades of Grey” does not match up with his apparent practice of engaging in very high-risk activities with women he’s just beginning to date. If what they’re saying is true, that discrepancy alone is enough to make me highly suspicious of his “I’m a poor innocent kinkster” argument. A mild version of Fifty Shades would be some dirty talk (probably with poor grammar) and necktie bondage.
Whether you believe the allegations or not, it is of the utmost importance that you recognize the context in which they come:
- that rape culture exists and is pervasive;
- that women are so very rarely believed;
- that at least five women claim to have been assaulted by Ghomeshi and many others harassed, and not one of them felt safe enough to come forward; and
- that BDSM is not abuse, but
- those women did not consent.