What to say about Jian Ghomeshi and the CBC? Should I say anything about this situation might actually be a better place to start? As Justin Beach pointed out last night in what should be the only definitive journalism concerning this story so far, we really don’t know anything at this point beyond what has been said by the CBC and Jian Ghomeshi himself. On Sunday, the CBC fired Ghomeshi with many headlines describing the situation as “cutting ties.” Later that day (and into today as well), rumours started appearing about what situation could have led to the firing of such a popular broadcaster so suddenly. Then, Ghomeshi posted a letter on facebook describing his side of the story, and explaining why he is suing the CBC for $50 million.
As for the facts of the case, the “who-did-what-and-when,” we are still in the dark. The Toronto Star and Jesse Brown have had part of their say publicized but aren’t able to release names or details. The court of public opinion seems to be forming into two distinct camps, but neither actually knows what is going on unless they were in those bedrooms and those situations where some claim that Ghomeshi acted inappropriately.
But here’s the thing. It is entirely possible that both sides of this situation are telling the truth. It is entirely possible from Ghomeshi’s perspective, everything that happened between himself and the people in question was consensual. As anyone who is aware of what rape culture looks like in our society knows, the absence of a ‘no’ does not imply a ‘yes’ even if people think it does.
Before I go any further, I want to make clear the terms I’m using. Yes, I said “rape culture,” and yes, none of the women who have come forward to the Toronto Star have claimed that Ghomeshi raped them – only that he physically assaulted them in a sexual context. However, what we need to be aware of going forward is that rape culture does not instinctively mean that the victims of it will describe their situation as one of rape. It means that active, affirmative, unambiguous, and conscious consent is not the definition in the minds of too many.
I also want to explain why I haven’t talked about the content of his acts. What Ghomeshi described as “not be palatable to some folks. They may be strange, enticing, weird, normal, or outright offensive to others” are sex acts. I am worried that this conversation in the public sphere will turn from being about the culture of sex to a culture of violence, and if we as a culture are going to have a mature conversation about healthy consensual sexual relationships, we need to understand that BDSM fits into that conversation. There is nothing to suggest that BDSM (bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism) is unhealthy when practiced consensually, but that doesn’t mean practitioners of these practices are less likely to have the same problem that non-practitioners do when it comes to a warped understanding of consent.
The societal understanding of consent is one of physical approach. It is one where non-consensual touching is not only the norm, but sometimes considered the ideal. Where the grabbing of someone’s ass or dancing a little too close is a valid means of approach, and considered normal. Where, until someone says no, anything with clothes on is fair game. But it also extends into the bedroom. Society says that once an act has begun, if the person doesn’t specifically say no, the act is consensual. Society says that once sex starts, you introduce new elements by trying, not by asking. Society says that it is rude to end a sex act in the middle even if you are uncomfortable and would rather have it end.
So as we move forward in this situation, I hope we can keep those things in mind. To the friends of Jian Ghomeshi, I hope that you stick by him, whether he is the victim false accusations or the victim of societies warped understanding of consent which led him to harm others, you should not be faulted for being a friend. To the friends of the victims, I hope you stick by them, they are putting themselves at incredible risk coming forward here and they will need the support of friends. To those who don’t know either of these people and are unconnected to the situation, I beg you, stay out of it. Don’t shame the victims, it is hard enough in society for victims to come forward that they don’t need you shaming them because the person they have named happens to be a celebrity whose voice you like. Don’t claim that he is completely above reproach; you don’t know that for sure.
To the victims, I don’t know you, I don’t know your situation and I don’t know what has happened to you. I’m sorry, and I hope that our world gets better at respecting your stories. To Jian Ghomeshi, I hope you are thinking a lot right now. If all of this is just how you’ve said, then you deserve apologies from all involved, but if your male privilege is blinding you to unsavory things you may have done in the past, even while unintentional, you need to rectify that as all men need to do
What is clear now, and it may be the only clear thing, is that we need affirmative consent laws to unblur any lines that people may think of concerning consent.