Think Anew, Act Anew

observations and opinion

Jian Ghomeshi and the Squadron of Cowards

11000sunrise

what courage looks like

Let’s be clear: the victims are not cowards, and this piece doesn’t say they are. They were the brave ones.

People like to be simplistic and focus entirely on the perpetrator, forgetting that it takes the right conditions for a predator to work. Forgetting how their own silences may encourage some other perpetrator somewhere else.

*. *. *

The Jian Ghomeshi story is about everything: it is about how some men treat women; it is about women swallowing their pain and walking through life afraid to seek justice – because they’re pretty sure there is no justice. It is about the incredible lengths we will go to forgive bad boys who are cute, charming and profitable. It is about how the boss always wins, if he is one of those boys. And in a very real way, it is about cowardice. Deep, thick, stinking cowardice. And it is about courage.

It is about those who let it happen and those who, when they learned the truth, stepped up. Our job now is not to judge them, but to judge ourselves. For are we any more brave, just and righteous than they? Or are we just luckier, this time?

The facts of the Ghomeshi case have fallen out like the entrails of a slit pig: a man beats women for sexual pleasure; many acquiesce, and not because they like it, but because of who he is – the golden boy, the most hip player in our little media pool – charming, vulnerable, brilliant, cute.  And they kept quiet because it was in their interests. And others who could see it, who could sense it, did the same thing: they kept quiet. And those who basked in the glow and banked the profits of Jian’s success? If they knew, whatever they guessed or had heard – well, they kept quiet too. As years went by girls and women went “for dinner” with the golden boy and got their lights punched out, their throats crushed, their self-respect pummelled.  And then they walked out into the night under a dark sky of shame and rage that may never lift.

And then, one of them tried to talk about it.  And then another. In a story, on a twitter feed. And they were verbally attacked and marginalized and reminded of just how risky it would be if they kept talking. But a reporter heard about it and started to ask questions. We read now that “everyone knew” – not necessarily about the violence and the teddy bear, but that this was a dangerous guy. So they did what people do around dangerous guys: they shut up and kept a safe distance. They were a formidable squadron of cowards.

But isn’t that what people almost always do? Yup. We shut up. It’s safer. It’s easier. It’s more profitable. And the person who was victimized, bullied, demeaned, hurt, humiliated, dehumanized?  She (it’s usually she), well she gets to know just how goddamned unimportant she is. Or even better, she gets told to “suck it up” – a sentiment often shared by older women who, having endured their own petty or worse agonies, are no longer sympathetic. Suck it up.

Sure, we need to be resilient. We need to learn how to manage difficult encounters. We will have embarrassing and painful moments. People will make us feel shitty. Unwelcome advances will always be made. And we don’t want to live in a world of excruciating political correctness, where a man or a woman has to behave like a robot in the course of work – or on a date. It ought to be possible for someone, moved by ardour or too many drinks, to put their hand on someone’s leg or sneak a kiss, and not get charged with assault. Not everything sexual is rape. Not every touch is a battery. Not every mistake is a crime. We need to know how to be adults, okay?

But we also need to know what consent is, and what consent is not. And we need to know that it is not a woman’s responsibility to manage unwelcome attention – it is every man’s responsibility to learn that his appetites are not, actually, more important than someone else’s feelings. And we need to learn that the things we fear happening to us for speaking up may actually not be worse than the moral cancer we get from staying silent.

We must find the strength not to let fear make decisions for us. In the Ghomeshi case, some people had good reason to be afraid – the ones with hands around their throats, for example; the ones whose very fragile careers and reputations would be even more punched up than their pretty faces. The ones who, ironically, people got so pissed at this week when they started to talk. Those women had some very good reasons to be afraid.

Other people did not have such good reasons. Every single person who could smell the sulfur fumes coming off Jian Ghomeshi, knew something was wrong and let it slide.  Whatever they were afraid of – and it might also have been career suicide or defamation charges or social ostracism – those things were real and understandable. It is tempting to call them cowards but who among us, in a moment where we could feel in our guts something was wrong but didn’t act upon it, who among us has not sinned in this way?  (The one ray of light in this is that once the story began to unfold and the information became convincing, his employer took him off the air.)

And who among us doesn’t have some thinking to do? What exactly are we afraid of? What is that we dread to lose, that is more important than someone else’s dignity? More important than our own dignity? How weak and fragile are we, how needy that we would rather close our eyes to what we can plainly see, than look and speak? How cowardly must we be, to survive?

We are all afraid of things. Fear can be our friend – that’s why you run from a tiger, after all. When my daughter has been afraid – of a sport or a spotlight or a test or embarrassment (a common risk of adolescence), I have told her this:  “You can’t be brave if you’re not afraid.”  Unless you know there is a potential loss – unless you see the risk but are prepared to take it, in order to do or be what you want – unless you can feel the fear in your bones but still do what you have to do, you can’t call yourself courageous.

There was a singular absence of courage shown in the Ghomeshi case. And now, as the facts congeal into received wisdom, as we see what a few people endured and many people enabled, there is rage. Rage at Jian Ghomeshi. Rage at those who aided and abetted him. Rage at those who could smell it, but stayed silent. And there is rage at those who tried to shame and crush the women who have come forward.

Many despair that this episode is another example of what will never cease. That’s true – this has always happened and will always happen.  But is despair the only feeling appropriate now? The answer to that is “absolutely not.”  This is a better day than yesterday, if only because we are talking about it all. If only because another girl is not going to get choked on a date tonight. If only because some other predator may be deterred. If only because someone finally did the right thing.

Yes, it has been a horror show for the women involved and that, I fear, is not over. But it is a better day for them if they know now, they are not alone anymore. Their suffering is real and will remain real; our responsibility is to find some way to redeem their pain, to make something decent out of the indecency they have endured.

One thing we can do is to take a long, hard look at our own cowardice.

In the last week, we have been reminded of how fear – an odorless gas that clouds our rooms and paralyzes us, without our even knowing it – we have been reminded of how that fear can make us lesser men and women. In the last week we have been reminded of how the things we value, so often just our comfort, feel more important than what we say we value.

In the last week, we have been reminded that a free press (a roving reporter and the Toronto Star, in this case) is still the guardian of our wider liberty. That there are people with bright torches shining light into dark corners, who are not prepared to let victims cower in the dark, who are unwilling to let predators roam unchallenged.

In the last week, we have been reminded that people who had much to fear, found a way to be courageous. And if a woman who has been beaten, strangled, shamed, insulted and cloaked in self-hating shame – if that woman can take a deep breath and be brave, well then, why the hell can’t we?  It isn’t that we shouldn’t be afraid of things. There’s lots to be afraid of.  But if we stop there and play it safe, we will earn and deserve the name “coward.”

Because you know, you can’t be brave if you’re not afraid.

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27 comments on “Jian Ghomeshi and the Squadron of Cowards

  1. bolshevikpenpal
    November 1, 2014

    Powerful! Fantastic writing. I remain uneasy with calling the victims “cowards” (even while lauding the wisdom of fear). But that’s a small observation– I hope this Ghomeshi horror forces us to better respond to violence against women… which is happening every day, every damn day…

    Liked by 1 person

    • dkl
      November 1, 2014

      I didnt call them cowards. Not at all

      Like

    • Maggi
      November 2, 2014

      The author called the surrounding people, the one’s around JG that knew what he was like, cowards. Not the victims.

      Liked by 1 person

      • dkl
        November 3, 2014

        Thanks for playing defence

        Like

    • dkl
      November 3, 2014

      Hi. I didnt call them cowards and really dont think they are. Thanks for the kind review of the writing

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Emelio Lizardo
    November 1, 2014

    The ‘victims’ are those women he dumped before they could dump him, this is their revenge.

    Nothing in the accusations is more than trivial.

    Like

    • dkl
      November 3, 2014

      The woman I know who experienced it would not use the word trivial.

      Like

  3. Barbara
    November 2, 2014

    “But it is a better day for them if they know now, they are not alone anymore.” Take it from me, that’s not how it works for every victim. Knowing that you’re not alone doesn’t necessarily make every day a better day from now on, it can lead to such rage and even more fear, that it’s hard to exist in the world, hard to breathe some days.

    Like

    • dkl
      November 2, 2014

      I’m sorry to hear that and of course I may simply be wrong. I am learning a lot, these days. Take care.

      Like

  4. keirartworks
    November 2, 2014

    Reblogged this on Keirartworks's Blog and commented:
    Thank you for writing this. Very resonant, for all of us.

    Like

  5. Lyn adamson
    November 2, 2014

    Well written; I really appreciate it. The role of enabler is too easy and we need to commit ourselves to speaking up when we see things that are wrong.I am thankful for the woman who first spoke up and the reporter who pursued the story. that was taking a risk and I’m glad he did.

    Like

  6. Pat Anderson (@Digiteyes)
    November 2, 2014

    “Or even better, she gets told to “suck it up” – a sentiment often shared by older women who, having endured their own petty or worse agonies, are no longer sympathetic. Suck it up.” Nope. As a 57-year-old, I would never say that. Nor would my friends. I have a hard time imagining anyone who would say that.

    Like

    • dkl
      November 3, 2014

      Not every older person, not you, but some.

      Like

  7. Thank you for saying this. IMO it is the key learning to take from the whole issue.

    I had a brief, non-physical, and intensely horrible interaction with JG in the early 90s. It was clear to me after just a few minutes that he was a sadist who genuinely enjoyed hurting, disempowering and humiliating women.

    But that wasn’t what made the interaction stick with me for 22 years. Rather, it was the fact that he wasn’t alone. The rest of Moxy Fruvous was with him, enabling, helping and joining with him in exploiting my politeness and enjoying my embarrassment.

    He didn’t become what he was in a vacuum. I have firsthand experience of him gaining social approval for his misbehaviour.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dkl
      November 3, 2014

      I am sorry you experienced this. Your trauma is of course an example of how people like him operate – by using witnesses to intimidate. He also bullies them by making them watch (it’s an old trick) and making them complicit

      Like

  8. Robert
    November 3, 2014

    As I read this, I couldn’t help thinking of the crowd-sourced fear enabling that goes on in related areas including that in which I spend most of my time, contributing to this culture of silence on violence against women. In this case, one lone reporter arrived on a white horse, but that does not exonerate the media from fear-mongering.

    I live inside Mideast issues, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked by Canadian audiences how to deal with anti-semitism canard when criticizing Israel, or the fear-mongering around ISIS to promote a military response, or the coverage of the recent Ottawa incident creating fear of Islam.

    Where the mainstream media should offer the voice of sober first thought, it rather profits from silencing brave voices.

    Like

    • dkl
      November 3, 2014

      The “crowd sourced fear” concept is interesting, although personally I believe that opposition politicians are using this issue more than the government is (“Harper wants to take your rights away, blah blah blah!”) Of course, I think our current policy on Israel and Palestine is good, but overdue. You and I may be looking at this from opposite ends of the telescope, but thanks for writing.

      Like

  9. carbon dated
    November 3, 2014

    No, the victims weren’t cowards. But you say, “they kept quiet because it was in their interests,” their interests being this shallow: they wanted to be with “the golden boy, the most profitable and hip player in our little media pool.”

    Frankly, that’s worse than cowardice.

    Like

    • dkl
      November 3, 2014

      I think that’s neither factual nor fair. In any group of people, there are things spoken and unspoken; women manage situations on their own, not necessarily realizing they actually are part of a cohort.

      Like

  10. lucy decoutere
    November 3, 2014

    People are starting to be bolder, act more brave, and speak louder. Its pretty amazing to watch stories of this awakening reach me. If I am hearing about this, that has to mean other people are. Men and women are starting to redefine their power and it’s very humbling to watch.

    Like

    • dkl
      November 4, 2014

      I was going to say “thanks for writing in” but perhaps I should just say “thanks”. I hope you are well

      Like

  11. Kari
    November 5, 2014

    Powerful, measured, compassionate piece of writing. Having just escaped from a seven year long abusive relationship, one everybody seemed to know about, but no one had the guts to say anything about or shine light on … I offer my appreciation. You wrote words my tired soul has been struggling to form.

    Like

    • dkl
      November 5, 2014

      Hello Kari. I write the blog for myself really – to capture my thoughts and experience of life. To hear that it made an imprint on someone else, and was even somewhat heartening to you, really means a lot to me. Thank you. You’ve given yourself a new chance at life and no matter how hard things may feel sometimes, I hope you feel proud every day.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. ShadesofNorth
    November 5, 2014

    Reblogged this on Shades of the North and commented:
    Be Brave

    Like

  13. Kevin
    February 6, 2016

    So far the 2 defendants didn’t have anything to gain from continuing to be intimate with him. So trying to maintain a relationship with him was not in their best interests. Secondly, they didn’t reveal extremely important details to the police or crown. We’re not talking text messages about forgotten keys, we are talking about long love letters and continued racy communication. Had they revealed this information the prosecution could have presented it and explained it to the court in their own light.

    Like

  14. Pingback: The O’Reilly Factor | Think Anew, Act Anew

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This entry was posted on November 1, 2014 by in Arts and Entertainment, Canada, The Rights of Women, workplace safety.
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