Why Jian Ghomeshi’s Essay (if we’re calling it that) is both beneath our contempt and deserving of our full attention
by Katie Anthony, or possibly the Feminist Werewolf who lives inside her, tough to say.
I just read Jian Ghomeshi's piece in the New York Review of Books. Yes, the whole thing. Yes, multiple times. I await some sort of prize for reading the entire bag of lukewarm bile without putting my fist through a wall, vomiting into the fist-hole, and dropping my phone into the vomit in the fist hole while saying, "I FUCKING QUIT."
There was a mug on my bedside table. It's still there. I didn't even throw it. Where is my oversized check, please.
Not surprisingly, after the first paragraph, I had to engage in some intense Lamaze-style breathing. I made a quick decision: I would not write about it. I would not react to it. Fuck this guy. Fuck this essay. Fuck the NYRB. He's a manipulative abuser and the internet has correctly identified him as an abuser and nobody is buying this slippery little one-sided negotiation that the NYRB inexplicably deemed relevant... right? Guys?
But as I hee-hee-hoo'ed my way through 74 thousand words written by a next-gen toddler who doesn't think he should have to go to time out for hitting because it's HIS BIRTHDAY or whatever, I realized that this piece has pulled off a strange maneuver. It deserves both less than our contempt and our full attention. Because this self-mythologizing, gaslighting treatise is both wall-punchingly routine and a spectacular - nay, TEXTBOOK - example of how this shit keeps happening. And in case you're wondering, "this shit" refers to abuse, the way we ignore abuse if we happen to find the abuser entertaining, the way we grant abusers veto power when it comes to how their stories are ultimately told and retold, and the bottomless second chances given to abusers who can also interact with random strangers without abusing them as if Ted Bundy never murdered YOU so he must be a pretty okay guy after all MAYBE WE SHOULD SING KARAOKE TOGETHER!
That karaoke reference will make more sense if you've read Ghomeshi's essay (if we're calling it that), which, by the way, I both recommend and DO NOT AT ALL RECOMMEND.
If you've already got the stomach flu at a construction site and you're like fuck it, won't be the first time I've barfed into a hole in the wall today, I say go for it. If you're not sure why all the ladies (and more than a few gents, thanks guys) on the internet are so pissed at the NYRB today, because A MAN DESERVES THE RIGHT TO SPEAK DON'T HE, then yea, you need to read Ghomeshi's essay (if we're calling it that), then this post, and then many, many other things after it.
But if you are living your best life, don't give a fuck about this tool and his poor little baby version of how his years of abused actually ABUSED HIM, when you think about it... then no. Don't read this. Watch a rom-com. And you know what? Start that Etsy shop, girl! You've been thinking about doing it for years. Nobody is going to give you permission to make your handmade cork jewelry dreams happen. I say fly, my angel! FLY!
If you're sticking with me, it's time to suit up.
We're about to take a hard look at the way Ghomeshi's essay attempts to convince us that:
his character is separate from his actions and choices;
he's been victimized by irrational hysteria;
what we think happened did not at all happen (trust him, he was there when she got punched in the head and she did not get punched in the head);
this kind of thing could happen to anyone. Yes, even you, Steve. Chad. Mike. Brent.
Note: Everything in italics is quoted from the essay (if we're calling it that) but I will not link to the original article in this post for what I hope are obvious fucking reasons.
BUT I SINGS THE SONGS, SEE
In which Jian Ghomeshi reminds us
that we are so mean for judging him
Ghomeshi opens with an anecdote about a woman who recognizes him in a karaoke bar:
One night last year, I was waiting my turn to sing when a woman spotted my name on the list. "Jian!" she said to me. "Your name is Jian? Ha! Hey, you know who ruined that name for you?" "No. Who?" I said, bracing myself. For the first time, she looked straight at me-- and stopped smiling.
For her, it was like one of those excruciating moments when you accidentally include the butt of a joke in a reply-all email. For me, it was just another day in the life of the notorious Jian. She apologized and sad all the right things. And I said all the right things back. ("How could you have known?") Mostly I felt bad because she felt bad. But then we rallied and sang a duet together. And then we became friends and are regularly in touch. Chalk up one more human being who no longer thinks I'm a creep.
He's in a karaoke bar and has just been recognized, accurately, as himself, Jian Ghomeshi. He describes the woman's response as embarrassed, as if she'd been caught bullying him on paper. Notice the *sly* way he opens up the essay putting himself on the defensive. He characterizes himself as the butt of a joke, the dweeb, the powerless, the "notorious Jian" who walks alone through the desert while people write hilarious reply-all emails about him.
You know what? The woman in the bar probably was embarrassed. I'd have been embarrassed if I'd identified him, bluntly, as the guy who ruined the name "Jian." I'm a polite person too (stop laughing, I'm actually super nice in real life. Stop laughing, Mom. I'm actually super nice to other people. STOP LAUGHING, RYAN.) But more than polite, I am self-preserving.
If I accidentally walked up to Ted Bundy and was like, "You know who you look like? A murderer named Ted," and he was like, "Hi, I'm Ted the murderer," I would also stop smiling!
I would also apologize! And Ted might end up shopping an essay like this one in which I serve as the personification of a thoughtless shrew mob who has judged poor sweet Ted without first singing karaoke with him, and HOW DARE WE. HOW. DARE WE. You know what Jesus said, don't you? "Judge not till thou hast sung I Love Rock'n'Roll together."
Side note: I've said this before but apparently I need to say it again: Just becayse the man can maintain a friendship with a human without punching her does not mean he did not also punch, bite, and choke other people. Jian contains multitides. UGH, Juses you know what's gonna happen now? Jian is going to pull-quote me and be like, "See? Feminist mother Katie Anthony thinks I contain multitudes. GIVE ME MY OWN CABLE NETWORK. I have a great idea for a reality show about sex and mixed martial arts."
In which Jian Ghomeshi rewrites history
just a little
In October 2014, I was fired from my job at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation after allegations circulated online that I'd been abusive with an ex-girlfriend during sex. In the aftermath of my firing, and amid a media storm, several more people accused me of sexual misconduct. I faced criminal charges including hair pulling, hitting during intimacy in one instance, and--the most serious allegation--nonconsensual choking while making out with a woman on a date in 2002.
OK. Now let's look at this paragraph as if it had been edited for accuracy and clarity:
In October 2014, I was fired from my job at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation after allegations that had circulated online prompted an investigation by the Toronto Star, a reputable news organization, which was about to publish an article claiming that I'd been abusive with an ex-girlfriend during sex.
In the aftermath of my firing, and amid a media storm, a total of more than 20 people accused me of sexual misconduct. I faced criminal charges brought by only 3 of the more than 20 accusers, including hair-pulling, hitting during intimacy in one instance, and--the most serious allegation--nonconsensual choking while making out with a woman on a date in 2002.
I don't know about you, but I think those little tweaks make a difference. What do you think?
There is a difference, sadly, unfortunately, but pragmatically, between the story of one woman and the stories of 20 women. We need numbers to be credible. In his essay (if we're calling it that), Ghomeshi erases our numbers, and by extension our credibility.
By glossing over the volume of accusations against him and the reputability of the rumors, he's also able to neatly mischaracterize the outcome of his trial. Because he doesn't specify that his trial was only for a small fraction of the total accusations, he makes it seem as though every accusation had been adjudicated and found groundless. Fucking false. Fucking flat-out false.
I pleaded not guilty. Several months later, after a very public trial, I was cleared on all counts.
What the ever-loving fuck, NYRB. That is a serious mischaracterization of known facts. Also known as a lie. That's lying.
How on earth do you let something like that through?
I don't want to come off as hysterical here, but goddamn it to rip-roaring hell, I wish that I could see this "oversight" as something other than "we didn't care enough to rigorously edit this narrative because we've already decided we're on his side." That's an assumption I'm making as a woman who consumes news and commentary on the regular. There's nothing in this essay (if we're calling it that) that proves the NYRB wants to give Jian Ghomeshi a second chance (or a 21st chance, if you're a petty bitch like me who's keeping score.)
Oh, except of course that the essay (if we're calling it that) exists at all. I guess the essay's presence in its pages proves something about whose voice is welcome in the New York Review of Books.
THIS HAS BEEN REALLY HARD YOU GUYS
In which Jian Ghomeshi allows us to see
how hard it is
when people start talking about the shit you did
that was supposed to be PRIVATE
In my silence people have tended to suggest what's become of me. Like that I'm on a beach with a martini in hand, having a laugh at "getting away with it" (no). Or that I'm curled up in a dark room, weeping in shame (well, yes, that happened). Or just forever cowed.
There has indeed been enough humiliation for a lifetime. I cannot just move to another town and reboot with a pseudonym. I'm constantly competing with the villanous version of myself online. This is the power of a contemporary mass shaming. Even people who are supportive sometimes have expectations of how I will act based on the singular, sexualized identity that was repeated in media stories. But this period has also been a tremendous education.
MOTHERFUCKING MONSTERS. How dare we treat 20 women's accusations of abuse as if they may be true? HOW DARE WE question your character based on the stories of TWENTY WOMEN who ACTUALLY KNOW YOU and who reported experienceing abuse at your hands? HOW DARE WE SHAME YOU FOR YOUR SHAMEFUL BEHAVIOR HOW DARE WE. THAT IS NOT HOW THIS WORKS THAT IS NOT HOW ANY OF THIS WORKS. Right, Jian? Right, pal?
Oh, and sorry to hear about that dark-room shame weeping. Man, that must've been a real bummer. Like, as bad as being choked by your intimate partner and then called a liar. Worse, even, probably, because you're a real person and she's just an assembly of penetrative holes and bulls-eyes, right, Jian? Right, champ?
Wait, let me backtrack and clarify my previous statement: Sorry to hear you STOPPED dark-room shame weeping. Do us all a favor and hop back in there, will ya, bub?
In which Jian Ghomeshi actually writes
"My path to public toxicity was a curious one."
My path to public toxicity was a curious one.
As a student, I was a doctrinaire activist who was tear-gassed at protests-- I once made the evening news for organizing a demonstration about tuition fees at which wet macaroni was thrown at Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
For years after that, I wrote progressive songs and toured in a sometimes-political folk-rock band, Moxy Fruvous. I wore T-shirts screaming slogans of equality and liberation, and I believed it all.
Oh please, pumpkin. We stopped believing that activists would never hurt women after a shitload of activists hurt a shitload of women. Stop hiding behind some protests you did when you were a student, some T-shirts you bought awhile ago (rock-solid defense there, JiJi), and the way you made a name for yourself in activism both on the evening news and touring with a rock band. The case you've just made is not "The Case of Jian the Ally," but rather "The Case of Jian Getting Famous."
I did interviews with everyone from Toni Morrison to Gloria Steinem, Drake, and Maya Angelou. I attended demonstrations and spoke at progressive fund-raisers. It didn't occur to me that I could ever be one of the bad men.
YOU SPOKE TO TONI? HOLY FUCKING SHIT WHY DIDN'T YOU SAY SO! PACK IT UP, SHREWS AND HARPIES. HE'S ONE OF THE GOOD ONES. HE SAT IN A ROOM WITH GLORIA FUCKING STEINEM ONE TIME.
Mr. Ghomeshi, sir, on behalf of the shrill feminist mob who thoughtlessly believed that 20 women accused you of abuse after 20 fucking women accused you of abuse, please allow me to apologize. We had no fucking idea that you occasionally gave your platform to some of the most renowned women artists and activists of our generation. THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!
That was so fucking nice of you! I hope they were grateful.
Probably not, though. We're the worst. We're always like, "Thanks for the interview, but can you please stop punching your girlfriends?" Like, ohmygod, greedy much, Maya? Did you not notice my T-shirt? Jeez.
PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE SHORTCOMINGS BEHIND THE CURTAIN
In which Jian Ghomeshi
god this is exhausting
just read it
With each career step, I would leave a trail of disappointed friends or coworkers. I learned to be pushy when I didn't get my way. And at some point, when it came to women, I began to use my liberal gender studies education as a cover for my own behavior. I was ostensibly so schooled in how sexism works that I would arrogantly give myself a free pass. I was outspoken in public life but tone-deaf in my private affairs.
Oh ho ho ho! Very tricksy, you is! This ALMOST sounds like you're acknowledging wrongdoing! Just one part missing, though. It's the part where you acknowledge wrongdoing.
It's like you told me you were making me a pancake breakfast and then served me a plate covered in maple syrup with a fucking fork, like bon appetit bitch, told you it was pancake morning. But at the end of the meal, I didn't eat a thing and it's a huge fucking mess.
"I learned to be pushy when I didn't get my way."
Wait, did you say pushy or PUNCHY? Pushy? You said pushy? Oh, no that's not fully accurate.
"I began to use my liberal gender studies educaiton as a cover for my own behavior."
And that behavior was...?
"I would arrogantly give myself a free pass."
Not sure what this means tbh but it sounds like you're proud of yourself for walking around like you had balls made of solid gold ostrich eggs?
"I was outspoken in public life but tone-deaf in my private affairs."
Oh my gosh, thank you for being outspoken in public life. That makes it totally fine that you were "tone-deaf" in your private affairs, which I think means you were like, "Whoopsy how was I supposed to know you don't like being choked," behind closed doors. No, that totally makes sense. You looked good on the outside and bitches lie, so we are alllllll goooooooood broooooooo. #copacetic.
I think the next paragraph might be my fave in this essay (if we're calling it that) because it doesn't even try NOT to flip the fucking bird at the women who accused him and the media outlets that ran those accusations:
As things came crashing down, I became obsessed with the inaccurate storeis and the pattern of salacious details taken as truth in the echo chambers of social media outrage. That foreclosed any focus on my own accountability.
Now buckle up, principesa, because this is where the shit gets intensely upsetting. I'm going to try to work through my rage in a calm and measured fashion and unpack the flaws in this portion of the essay (if we're calling it that) within the context of sexual politics, as is my wont.
JK, I'm going to tear this trash into confetti and set it on fire:
Since then, I have spent almost four years reflecting on my relations with women I dated. For some, nothing I say here will be enough or be put the right way.
It's funny how there's nothing you can say that will unpunch a girl, unchoke her, or unbully her. It's just funny how that works. It couldn't possibly be that you, Jian, will have to come to accept that there are, perhaps for the first time in your life, non-negotiable consequences for the way you have treated women with less respect than you would a fucking dog. It couldn't be that you actually deserve to be uncomfortable. It couldn't be that. It must be that we are impossible to satisfy. Yeah, it's our fault. It's all our fault.
Even as I feel deep remorse about how I treated some peopel in my life, I cannot confess to the accusations that are inaccurate. What I do confess is that I was emotionally thoughtless in the way I treated those I dated and tried to date.
I was demanding on dates and in personal affairs. I would keep lobbying for what I wanted. I was critical and dismissive. Some women I cared about went along with things I wanted to avoid my disappointment or moods. I ought to have been more respectful and responsive with the women in my life. To them I say, you deserved much better from me.
WOW. It takes a special kind of arrogance to attempt to redraw 20 women's claims of abuse as emotional thoughtlessness. For someone who has been reflecting -- at times while weeping in a dark room, sources close to Ghomeshi have reported -- for the last four years, this is a pretty fucking flaccid conclusion.
I also cannot grit my teeth hard enough at the way this "confession" arrives at the pinnacle of the essay (if we're calling it that), like the turkey arrives on the table every Thanksgiving, with tremendous fanfare and the expectation of fawning applause. "Here it is," he seems to be saying, "The thing that you've been waiting for all these 4 long years while I reflected in karaoke bars."
Except there's no turkey on this platter, Jian. It's some lumpy fucking gravy and a fork, and we're not eating it.
Oh, it must have been your thoughtlessness that made more than 20 women stand and accuse you of abuse. You forgot her birthday. Or maybe you left your socks on the floor. Or maybe you hurt her with your hands and teeth. These are all equally unacceptable transgressions, apparently.
JG, we don't want your confession. We don't want to hear from you ever again. We believe the women.We don't expect you to confess to anything, and your point of view is now and forever unwelcome in the fucking conversation. Your words, each and every one of them, comprise a steaming pile of cow shit the likes of which has not been seen since Biff crashed into the manure truck in Back to the Future.
Unlike Biff, we are not eating it.
NO BUT I TOTALLY GET IT
In which Jian Ghomeshi demonstrates
how spectacularly he does not get it
When a man is publicly accused of sexual misconduct in this era, almost invariably the first thing he does is apologize.
When a person is abused by their intimate partner,
almost invariably the first thing they do is apologize.
However heartfelt the remorse, my own experience makes me distrust it. In a maelstrom of confusion, humiliation, resistance, and conflicting feedback from those around you, how much can anyone really inhabit, "I'm sorry."
In a maelstrom of confusion, humiliation, resistance,
and conflicting feedback from those around you,
you wonder, "Did I deserve it? Is it my fault? Am I really sorry?"
You want the feeling of genuine contrition to stir within you-- because people are telling you it's the first step to redemption.
Yes. If you're sorry enough, he will stop.
And you let yourself imagine that some grand mea culpa might actually turn your fate around-- regardless of the veracity of any allegations. But what you truly feel in the first days after being publicly accused is fear and anger, in that order.
Yes, exactly. A grand mea culpa might turn my fate around.
But what you truly feel after being abused by your partner
is fear and shame, in that order.
The fear is easy to explain: your whole future hangs in the balance.
Your life hangs in the balance.
But you're furious, too, at being made fearful by everyone who's trying to bring you down.
Furious at being made fearful by a person
who occupies the most intimate spheres of your life.
You're confounded at how tales of your alleged behavior from years past are now used as a sledgehammer to destroy the career you've built and determine the way you will forever be seen. Even if your lips are speaking words of contrition, your mind is a ferment of petty, selfish fury.
When you finally come forward to say, "He hurt me,"
tales of your alleged behavior from years past
are used as a sledgehammer to destroy your credibility
and determine the way you will forever be seen:
a liar, a slut, a gold-digger.
Adding to your shame is the fact that you're suddenly helpless.
We know just how that feels.
Lawyers tell you what you can say (nothing and to whom you can say it (almost no one.)
You found a lawyer who believes you? Wow. Lucky.
You don't leave the house because there are cameras outside. You stop looking at the Internet because it's mostly people telling you to curl up and die.
Did you get the ones where they tell you
they're going to come rape you to death, lying bitch,
and murder your children?
Did you get those, too?
You savor the few messages of support from friends-- pathetically so. In your darker moments, you make lists of the ones you haven't heard from. And that's pathetic, too. You realize almost immediately that this is a financial calamity as well: not only have you lost your income, but you're also hemmorhaging your savings to legal fees.
The accusations you face get conflated in social media with horrible things other men have done that are totally unconnected.
They talk about you in the same breath
as the Rolling Stone rape accuser.
They know you're lying. They just know it.
The details of the allegations seem to become irrelevant, as does any legal decision. The stain of bad actions becomes indelible; a presumption prevails that the worst of what is tweeted is to be believed. You wonder how you can exhibit any contrition about ways you may have behaved badly in the past without validating every crazy thing that is being said about you by people you never met.
If you remember, midway through the trial,
that it was a Friday and not a Thursday,
then the whole thing goes up in flames under your feet.
You wonder why you said anything at all.
Bruises heal, but this public shaming is torture.
And then you see him in a magazine,
telling his story, one that you were present for but do not recognize.
He's photographed well.
He's paid to share the experience of being "brought down"
by inaccurate former lovers who were angry when he was
You speak up again.
This side of the story has been published in the New York Review of Books.
This side has not.
RACISTS ARE DOG SHIT, ON THAT WE CAN AGREE
In which racists are assholes to Jian Ghomeshi
The storm also transformed me from being a proud Canadian to being "Iranian-Canadian." My inbox and social media accounts filled up with noxious allusions to my Middle Eastern background and racist references to Iranians. On my first court appearance, in November 2014, amid the media melee outside as I emerged with my lawyers, one man repeatedly shouted, "Go back to Iran!"
The CBC dutifully passed along all of my hate mail. One anonymous letter was typed in all-caps: "YOUR FATHER HATE FUCKED YOUR MOTHER AND PRODUCED A BROWN BABOON... YOU ARE LUCKY TO BE (VISITING) CANADA... IN I-RAN THE AYATUALLA [sic] WOULD HAVE FUCKED YOU... WATCH YOUR BACK AND YOUR HOUSE." But even these specific racist responses were not as personally damning as being broadly cast as an outside because of my heritage-- a narrative that spoke to my deepest insecurities. In truth, I had always seen myself as a scrawny brown kid who didn't fit in-- not as the cocky, entitled immigrant my attackers saw. Both images were wrong.
In full sincerity, that's awful. I'm sorry those ignorant people attacked you for your race. I'm sorry that you were made to feel like an outsider for your race.
I wish that you could be held accountable for your actions and face justice in a way that felt real and substantive, but I do not believe that you need to be held accountable for your heritage, ethnicity, or race. Racists are dog shit, on this we agree.
Ghomeshi closes out his essay (if we're calling it that) by recounting a recent missed connection of sorts with a woman on a train in France.
But this interesting woman was speaking to me without knowing or caring if I was Somebody. As if maybe I had the ability to be worthy without reciting my resume. She did the talking for most of the trip, and I listened. I poked some fun and enjoyed making her laugh. There were moments when she would reference events or places or people ("I adore Leonard Cohen") that would once have been my cue to talk about myself ("you know, I did one od the last interviews with Leonard Cohen, and..."). Instead, I found myself asking her questions.
Cool, cool cool cool cool, that's awesome. So great, happy for you, mazel tov, quick question, what the fuck is your point? That after beating 20 women, getting caught and rightfully castigated for being an abuser, you have learned to LISTEN TO A WOMAN TALK ABOUT MUSIC without using her interests to weave a tapestry in seven parts that tells the tale of your own sweetassness? Except not really! Because you're weaving part 8 of the sweetass Jian tapestry, the one that tells the tale of Jian's inherent worthiness and humility! GODDAMN IT HOW DO YOU NOT SEE THIS BULLSHIT.
That's not the fucking point, dude, and it never has been. You weren't thrown out of society for being full of yourself, or for being thoughtless and arrogant.
You were thrown out for assaulting women. We will not let you rewrite this story as if you forgot our anniversary and we filed for divorce and changed the locks.
STOP TRYING TO MAKE THIS STORY ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL GROWTH. I rarely speak on behalf of all humankind but I think I have the right in this instance to tell you that we, all of us --with the apparent exception of Ian Buruma and any other guy who beats women but, you know, discreetly -- do not give a single, solitary fuck "how you're doing with all this." Of all the things your essay (if we're calling it that) made me think and feel, not a single one was, "I hope he's okay," and "I wonder how his heart is doing," or "Gosh, I wish he'd go into more detail about his inherent value."
When the train arrived in Paris, we got up and grabbed our stuff. She smiled at me. We paused. I extended my hand and wished her a good afternoon. "It was really great talking with you," I said. The words lingered for a moment. Then she shook my hand and uttered something similar. Then we both went off to find our respective ride-shares. Only once I emerged onto the street did I realize that I'd never even told her my name.
Yeah, you never told her your name.
But that seems less like an oversight than a calculated choice?
Because you just finished telling us that you were thinking about how you are Jian the Fallen for the entire conversation?
And you were enjoying your anonymity?
And you were happy that she didn't know she was talking to Jian Ghomeshi?
Because if she had known, then she would have had enough information to make an informed choice about whether or not your shared appreciation for Leonard Cohen was so fucking fairy-tale magical that she would be willing to overlook everything you've been accused of doing.
Instead, you served up a sanitized version of yourself, as chopped up to remove the rotten bits as a carton of dodgy-looking precut melon chunks at Safeway.
Which, by the way, is exactly what you tried to do in this essay.
If we're calling it that.
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