Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Ghomeshi trial: this handful of slime

As the song says: I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to do it.

I didn't want to write a blog post commenting on the Jian Ghomeshi assault trial, and the testimony and subsequent crucifixion of one brave woman who stepped forward to point at him and cry, "J'accuse!"

Not because I'm not interested. Hardly that. It's the queasy impression I have that a great grasping hand has burrowed down into the depths of our sick misogynist culture and pulled up a vast, dripping, rotten clump of slime with hate-formed creatures writhing around in it like those nightmarish little figures from Hieronymus Bosch.

That's why.

But I've read things in the news, seen things on TV, and read posts on Facebook lately that have turned me as white as a ghost.  

Now that this seething clump has been dredged from the depths(before it is pushed back down again - which is what always happens, or we would not still be in this horrible mess), the contentious issue is the fact that at least one of Ghomeshi's victims maintained contact with him after he assaulted her. Flirtatious contact, in the form of teasingly sexual emails and bikini shots sent via Instagram. 

This leads to another issue poking out its slimy little head: why don't people consider that emails always leave a trail, and that "delete" means nothing when the police can easily crack the memory depths of any computer? In the case of Lucy De Coutere, that lack of awareness (obviously extending to her lawyer) led directly to disaster. It gave Ghomeshi's lawyer the opportunity to savage and humiliate her by forcing her to read these emails (now considered "incriminating" - not that SHE is on trial here!) out loud.
It didn't look good for her, and I will admit it does not sit well with me that she sent titillating photos and expressed a desire to "fuck his brains out". But I think I have a tiny inkling of what this was about.

Ghomeshi held all the cards here because he had such power in the media. His radio persona was seductive and "cool", which is highly unusual in this country. The media courted him, lionized him, and used him to do things like host the Gillers (though I can't think of one person who is less qualified) in a desperate attempt to make the Canadian image seem less stodgy and out of date, and perhaps to reduce the average age of CBC Radio listeners from, say, 73 to 37. This was in full knowledge that he was abusive, disrespectful, and a misogynist asshole, a man-boy holding sway over his own personal fiefdom. He habitually abused the system and exploited the people in it, but did that stop them from going back and sucking up to him for more favours? I mean, again and again and again?

There may have been a sense that it was some kind of dubious honour for women if he was interested in them, at least until he tired of them in a few weeks or months. (Ghomeshi has never been known to have any sort of lasting relationship with women, except perhaps his mother.) This does not mean all these women were stupid or weak. They may have been sucked in, but media were ALSO sucked in and seduced by Ghomeshi on a much larger, public scale, and it went on unabated for years and years.

But tell me this. Who ended up taking the fall?

Personally, I believe women are bewildered, embarrassed and frightened by being abused and will sometimes downplay it, even contacting the abuser to try to somehow make it right. Yes, it's a form of denial. But if it is, then the CBC was in PROFOUND denial in a situation with similar dynamics. 

There's even more to this as the oozing clump rises and drips in front of my eyes.  As is often the case, Ghomeshi may well have attracted vulnerable women who grew up with abuse as the norm. But this is considered an old saw now, and if you dare say it, someone will dig up a case where it "wasn't like that", demolishing your theory. Not that there is any emotional baggage/misogyny/discrediting of women there. But we don't necessarily know what we think we know. People are not always going to reveal their childhood wounds to the world. Does anyone - I mean anyone do that, unless they have no personal boundaries whatsoever?

My God, the tangled, visceral mess this is dredging up - do we really want to look? When it triggers belligerent name-calling rather than an attempt to understand an extremely complex, often-baffling situation, it just makes my gut sink. One very well-respected writer slathered the same abuse on Ghomeshi and DeCoutere, dismissing them both in a Facebook post as "morons". He seemed to feel it was perfectly all right so long as they were equally slagged and savaged. Quite a number of  the responses to his post were supportive, and I don't know how many "likes" it got because if I look at it one more time, I will likely gag.

There is always the question, when a woman is with an abusive partner, "Why doesn't she just leave?" First, there is no "just" about it. Women are most likely to be murdered by their partners when they leave. Abusive men get women on a yoyo string and keep yanking them around, sometimes for years. This does not mean these women are ninnies, have no will of their own, or are making stuff up just to damage someone's reputation for fun and profit.

Lucy Coutere got up there to try to stop this bastard. It probably won't work. She left herself open to considerable contempt because she exposed at least some of the complicated, contradictory dynamics of abuse to a culture that simply does not want to know. Will this change anything? Why do I feel like we're sinking here? My suspicion and my dread is that we are going not forwards but backwards in our disgraceful treatment of women, and I see nothing on the horizon that tells me it will ever be any different.

POST-BLOG THOUGHTS. This is almost a separate post, but I decided to run them together because, folks, I am tired today. I'm dealing with unknown health issues and a change of doctor, and maybe yet another round of tests, which is why you're getting so many gifs lately, and comments about news items. But this I had to write about. It's my response to a breathtakingly abusive Facebook post that I discovered in that diseased, slimy clump I just wrote about. I don't know why I'm not running this asshole's comments with his real name on them, except that his tone scared the hell out of me and I don't want him coming after me.

This was not just a rant but an eruption of some corrosive substance that was so frightening, I didn't want it making contact with my skin. His remarks were loosely based on the Ghomeshi trial - or  maybe it was just an excuse to air his toxic views on women in general. He went into great depth about various types of mental illness and how they affected females. But this wasn't about mental illness. At all. It was about hate. He believed such women were inherently evil and almost gleefully destructive, deliberately wreaking havoc on the legal system to get their kicks. He painted a picture of savage harpies flying through the air like Valkyries, living for the barbaric pleasure of destroying other human beings. (This somehow was all tied in with Lucy DeCoutere and the "irreparable damage" she is doing to an innocent man with her obviously concocted accusations.) It was, incredibly, from someone IN the system who has dealt with mentally disturbed women for years. Looking him up on his Facebook page while holding my nose, I discovered he is a psychotherapist whose specialty is dealing with the "criminally insane", a term that should have been drop-kicked into the nearest sewer decades ago.

So. Not only is the Ghomeshi trial dragging out a truly incredible amount of hidden misogyny, it's jacking the cover off a jaw-dropping ignorance of what it is to suffer a mental illness. These are my NOT-dispassionate thoughts in response: 

"Have you heard of 'mental illness', or do you think it's just a form of evil or a choice women make to be perverse? Humanity still has incredible fear and loathing of mental illness and writes it off as a willful, even gleeful form of violence and destruction that people COULD "help"/change if they just pulled themselves together (with, of course, no resources to do so). Maybe, at one point, when they were little children, someone loved these women, but it's even more likely that they were horribly damaged. So at some point, did they decide it would be a kick to "go bad"? I am NOT saying, well then, let them go ahead and kill people, be destructive, etc. Society does need to be protected from those who are so sick they can't control themselves, or are not aware of what they are doing, or perhaps (like my brother, who died tragically from the effects of schizophrenia) are hearing voices telling them to kill people. My brother wasn't evil, at all, but he was constantly being "told" to do evil things by those voices. He virtually never acted on it, and now I wonder how he ever had the strength of mind to do that, probably far beyond what most "normal" people have. The feeling is, well, these women should just control themselves, or (something you hear all the time now, which always puts the onus on the sufferer) "reach out for help". Hmmm, WHAT help, I wonder? The kind YOU are offering? Might they not have better prospects for survival in the vastly more compassionate throes of their disease?"

POST-POST.  I usually think of "something after the something". Last night I went to Caitlin's dance recital, and I can't begin to tell you what joy it gave me, not to mention how terrific 12-year-old Caitlin has become in four genres of dance: jazz, tap, hiphop and musical theatre. I say "become" because this kid has worked so incredibly hard, completely overcoming the self-consciousness that used to cause her to take sneak-peeks at the other kids. Now she's bold, sassy and full of pizzazz.

But that's not what I have to say right now.

There was a puzzling number by another group. I forget the name of it: something like "One Person's Craziness is Another Person's Real", and it consisted of six teenaged girls writhing around on the floor in straightjackets.

At various times during the spooky, haunted-house-like music, they stood up and "made crazy" in the way we still think of as crazy, pulling faces, jumping and thrashing around. This wasn't just silly or stupid, it was disturbing, and it made me angry. It was playing with the trappings of "madness" (one of my least-favorite terms) in order to entertain an audience. A cheap trick, because craziness is still so vastly entertaining, particularly at the institutional level where a human being's worth seems to equal that of a block of wood. If we wish to write off or dismiss anyone in our culture, we accuse them of being a "whack job" (and no one stops to think how dehumanizing it is to be referred to as a "job"). 

I couldn't figure out if this thing was supposed to be funny, because at the end they all rushed off the stage into the audience and made everybody laugh. I didn't. I know that I have been, at various times, accused of having no sense of humour because I object to all this. It just isn't real to people, and that's the whole trouble: they don't get why it is a problem. (Is there someone in the room? . . . No? Didn't think so.)

OK, I hated it, but isn't one of the purposes of art to disturb and unsettle?  Last year a group did a strangely haunting dance routine called Gates of Auschwitz. This was set in - Auschwitz - and featured guards and captive Jews. But it was done in a surprisingly spare, restrained way, not playing down the horror so much as implying it in stark, minimalist fashion. I liked it, partly because it was provocative and daring and performed with a great deal of sensitivity.

The girls in the straightjackets were just. . . girls in straightjackets. Loonies, wackos, nutbars, and all those names we hear every day when we want to write someone off as less than human. And the funny thing is that no one bats an eyelash, because whack jobs are, apparently, always fair game.

(Speller's note. I am aware that the proper spelling is "straitjacket", but I am a little tired of being "corrected" when I spell things properly. Accurate spelling has gone the way of the dodo. So I hereby surrender to the WRONG spelling, just to save myself grief.)

Another word for mentally ill

Afflicted with or exhibiting irrationality and mental unsoundness: brainsick, crazy, daft, demented, disordered, distraught, dotty, insane, lunatic, mad, maniac, maniacal, moonstruck, off, touched, unbalanced, unsound, wrong. (Informal) bonkers, cracked, daffy, gaga, loony. (Slang) bananas, batty, buggy, cuckoo, fruity, loco, nuts, nutty, screwy, wacky. (Chiefly British) crackers. (Law) non compos mentis. Idioms: around the bend, crazy as a loon, mad as a hatter, not all there, nutty as a fruitcake, off (or out of) one's head, off one's rocker, of unsound mind, out of one's mind, sick in the head, stark raving mad. See sane

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  1. Excellent blog on the systemic and cultural misogyny that's surfacing in the wake of the Jian Ghomeshi trial. It's very disheartening. I stepped into the foray on Twitter yesterday, and although I kept my cool, it was exasperating to be tag-teamed by so many cheerleaders from the "He Man Woman Haters Club". They gleefully ripped into Lucy (and me), not even trying to understand that Lucy is not on trial for sending emails. No, Jian is on trial for punching and choking multiple women, and sexually assaulting them. Whether Lucy sent an email or flirted with him after the assault is irrelevant because it has no bearing on the actual attack, or if consent was given. But truthfully, Lucy could not legally consent to being strangled and punched in the head. That is a felony crime. Jian broke the law, plain and simple. And the "whacking" his lawyer Marie Henein is using is deplorable. The state of Lucy's career is irrelevant to the issue of consent and assault. It's no more relevant than what she wore or how much she drank. And if Henein used racial stereotypes to tear down a complainant there would be an uproar. But the fact she's using misogynistic stereotypes seems to be just fine with some people. I call bullshit. Henein is showcasing the Old Boys Club instead of providing a defense that is rigorous and NOT discriminatory.

    This is what the Ghomeshi trial has shown me...the judicial system is woefully failing victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Rape Shield laws need to be reformed. Defense and Crown attorneys need to educate themselves about traumatic memory and maladaptive coping strategies that people with trauma injuries (PTSD) use. Traumatic memory is not linear. Sometimes victims do use "tend and befriend strategies. And for crying out loud, the Courts need to stomp out "whacking". It's not OK to revictimize victims. The accused is entitled to a rigorous defense, not the systemic abuse of their accuser. This is the 21st century, for crying out loud.

    Sorry you've been so deeply affected by asshats spewing misogynistic rants, Margaret. I get it. That's entirely on their heads. We are fighting the good fight here. I commend you for your words.

    1. I have to tell you, Leslie, I think your comments here are much more on-target than my blog post, which probably got bogged down in my personal stuff. I just went around and around in this, thinking, maybe I can write it out of my soul. The horrible post from that "therapist" rang a lot of bells, but to me it was all tied in with that central fear and loathing of women. Fear more than anything. When I first heard the term "homophobia" some time in the 70s, I thought: wha? FEAR of homosexuality? Now it makes better sense. We fear what we don't want to understand, and the bellowing and fist-pounding increases in direct proportion to that fear. The thuglike comments I've read from celebrated male writers (followed by a volley of enthusiastic "likes") makes my hair stand on end. Burn her, she's a witch! She's a witch. Oh yeah.

    2. Today I had a seasoned reporter from a Toronto daily totally lose it with me. I tried to have a reasoned debate with on this issue. She called me worthless, a child, told me to shut up, and told me to go away all in a public forum. hahaha Holy cow! She was totally unhinged. This is how the insanity of the Ghomeshi trial is affecting otherwise reasonable people. I couldn't believe it. Then she deleted all her posts, because I guess she knew she looked unhinged. She ended by saying that she believed I'd been harassed, because I was doing such a good job of harassing her. OMG. She engaged me in debate, and I was being completely reasonable. She wasn't. And I never said I was being harassed. Never mentioned the word. Clearly harass to her means someone who disagrees with her opinion.

      I think I'm going to write a blog on how the press is sinking itself with biased reporting. Because she definitely inserted her personal bias into the piece. Reporters are supposed to observe and report.

      In her article, she said that women who are abuse victims could learn a thing or two from men who are colleagues going out for a drink, and getting into a fight. They just got over it, she said, and so should women. She actually said that. I called her on that...that it was insulting to women and gay men who are survivors of intimate partner violence. I told her there was a big difference between buddies going out for a drink, and intimate partners committing domestic violence. She didn't get it.

      Anyhow, I left the conversation after telling her she was a lousy reporter. haha Because she was.

    3. And your post made perfect sense to me, Margaret. I loved its passion.

    4. Just let 'em talk. That's the best approach, because they will eventually prove every single point you are trying to make. Their fist-pounding belligerence/refusal to let you speak will be a perfect example of the thuglike attitudes that are oozing out of the woodwork now. Men or women, makes no difference. (They never recognize this, of course, and become livid if you point it out to them, but it's still kind of satisfying to see.) And if men get in fights after work, it proves they're still ten years old emotionally and poking each other's eyes out in the schoolyard.

  2. I began a post, but didn't. There were enough positive women who were similarly pissed off. It is shameful how he sucked these women in. Awful. This is a great article: by another victim.

    1. Yes! I saw that one. In the end, no one can silence us. Lately I'm having to remind myself that not all men are jerks. But isn't it funny, when a man IS a jerk, how it's mostly blamed on his mother. Didn't socialize him properly, loved him too much, didn't love him enough, was a working Mom, WASN'T a working Mom, etc. Thanks for your comments - I am glad I'm getting response to this one, though I really would like to distance myself now - why let this guy get a piece of us when he has already done so much damage?