Gomeshigate Triggers Memories
Not all the memories triggered by Gomeshigate are awful. I’ve never met Jian Gomeshi, or listened to his show. I feel badly for the legion of sexual assault survivors who have had traumatic memories triggered by the current media circus. In my past I’ve been subjected to relatively “minor” sexual assaults a half a dozen times, including being fondled by a dentist when I was twelve. I didn’t tell my mother because it was so subtle I wasn’t sure what had happened. When I was clueless and 17 a guy in his twenties grabbed me and aggressively French-kissed me without seeking consent. When I finally extricated myself from his bruising grasp I was so offended I would have kicked him in the nuts if he wasn’t sitting down. Instead, I grabbed the nearest stick and walloped his kneecaps. Justice was served.
The Gomeshi stories (sigh) have a whiff of familiarity about them. A man abusing the power that comes with his position. Women choosing to remain silent about it, yet whispering among themselves. In my early 30’s I worked for an engineering firm. One day, over lunch, some female co-workers dropped a hint that my boss was a creep. When I expressed surprise they asked me if he had ever tried anything. I told them no. They were surprised. I said maybe he correctly suspected that if he crossed that line I’d deck him. I was glad to be warned what to watch for, though.
I asked my co-workers to tell me what had happened to them. The whole department had gone to a restaurant where alcohol was served at the annual Christmas lunch. One of the secretaries was ‘hugged’ by one of her superiors as they were all leaving to head back to the office. He managed to slip her the tongue and fondled her breast right there in the restaurant. Too stunned to do anything, and really needing her paycheck, she didn’t complain to HR. Sadly this wasn’t the only incident.
Another woman told me the same man had recently cornered her in an elevator and, as she put it, ‘stuck his tongue down my throat.’ She never made waves because she knew she wouldn’t be believed. She was an outgoing, vivacious woman who didn’t mind a little harmless flirting. She felt that if she embarrassed this man by calling him on his inappropriate behaviour, she’d be accused of instigating and pay for it professionally.
I was so troubled by this abusive behaviour I composed an educational document. It detailed what sort of behaviour (groping) should be avoided and also mentioned that sticking your tongue down co-workers’ throats was definitely a bad idea. I discussed it with the sexual assault victims to make sure they were OK with my doing this. I posted “Office Etiquette for Dummies” in the lunch room. The next day, all hell broke loose.
When the male engineers read this notice that had mysteriously appeared on the bulletin board, they freaked, even though it included the clear ‘not all men’ disclaimers and caveats that fairness demanded. Before the end of the day the dragon lady who was responsible for HR had honed in on a likely suspect. Apparently recycling and garbage bins were searched for drafts. I was called into her office and asked if I was responsible. I said yes, expecting to have an interesting conversation about what had happened. Instead, she said “You’re fired.” I packed up my gear and went home.
The next day I typed up a seven-page letter to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, and copied the president of the company, as well as the president of the multi-national company of which this firm was a subsidiary. By the time my case had been assigned to someone at the tribunal, the firm wanted to settle. I insisted that the company agree to educate their staff about sexual harassment in the workplace, got a small severance cheque and found a job in a less sexist industry. Last I heard, the engineer had been assigned to a job site in eastern Russia, where female workers were probably less fussy about their rights.
That all happened in the 90’s. I thought that professional, Canadian men had evolved to the point where that kind of crap didn’t happen. I was wrong. Engineering was still a boys’ club. The reason we still haven’t put all this kind of crap in the past is that the legal profession was then – and probably still is – another boys’ club. It’s not that they all hate women, but I think it’s fair to say that in workplaces governed by clubby groups of men, an androcentric perspective often prevails. Androcentrism is visible to women who are awake to it, but many would prefer to ignore it because acknowledging a problem you are powerless to solve is frustrating.
A pervasive androcentric atmosphere may be completely invisible to men because of the goldfish problem. An old goldfish swimming past two young goldfish says “How’s the water?” A young goldfish turns to his friend and says “What’s water?” They’re so immersed in it they’ve simply never noticed it. This is what is meant by the phrase ‘check your privilege.’ See the water, Mr. Goldfish. Learn some new vocabulary, like “micro-aggression.”
Now that find myself single at 50 I find there is nothing any man has that I want. As an introvert, I like my alone time too much to give up another minute entertaining a partner. The realization that I don’t ever have to risk my well-being in a relationship again has been a wonderfully liberating experience. Perhaps it also frees me to speak truths more sociable women may not feel comfortable sharing. There are still plenty of men who have a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies and/or women’s attention. They need to learn that we owe them nothing. Not a word, not a glance, not even a thought. If the intense and very useful conversations swirling around Gomeshigate teach this lesson to more men and women, perhaps the cloud of scandal has a silver-ish lining.
I’m sure Gomeshi will be getting plenty of advice, if not from the PR firm that dumped him, then at least from a lawyer. I hope he feels compelled to speak the truth, the whole truth, not just to his lawyer and the police but also a psychiatrist who specializes in paraphilia. Maybe this is ridiculously optimistic, but instead of playing PR games perhaps he will apologize to any and all women he has harmed, make amends, learn, grow and come out of the other side of this a better and wiser person.
Addendum. A friend asked me if I could explain why a woman would go on a second date with a man who abused them on the first one. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility. The cult of celebrity is powerful and is designed to make the rest of us feel small and unimportant. When you consider the kinds of images in the media – Rhianna’s BDSM music video for example – it normalizes things that I was never exposed to at a young and vulnerable age. I like the characters in Criminal Minds but eventually I got really annoyed at the level of sexual horror inflicted on female victims. When you see shit like that all the time, it becomes less shocking, less ‘unthinkable’. Despicable behaviour is becoming normalized through constant depictions in video games, literature, film and television.
My perplexed friend wanted to know: if a woman knew he was a creep and went out with him again, how can she accuse him of a crime? Some women just aren’t street-smart, but their lack of knowledge and experience doesn’t mean we should throw them under the bus. Is there anyone on this planet who doesn’t know a woman who gave the benefit of the doubt to a man who didn’t deserve it? Some women put themselves in harm’s way through their own willful blindness, but ignoring huge red flags is not a crime. Here’s the thing: If a woman permits herself to be alone with a man who previously abused her, that cannot be interpreted as blanket consent for him to abuse her further. The man doesn’t get a free pass to hit someone just because he got away with it the first time. If a woman who ‘let him get away with it’ once goes out with Gomeshi a second time, he still commits a criminal offense by hitting her. Period.