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Four Things to Remember About the Jian Ghomeshi Story

10/29/2014 08:23 EDT | Updated 12/29/2014 05:59 EST
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Everyone is talking about Jian Ghomeshi, the disgraced and affronted former host of the CBC's Q and alleged sexual misconductee. You know the guy, the one who was all, "my BDSM practices are my own business!" in the face of four different women coming forward (anonymously, natch) and accusing him of unwanted sexual violence.

He's retained Navigator, the crisis communications firm previously employed by Michael "I definitely killed that cyclist" Bryant, to help him craft his statements. The result is a canny mix of petulance and defiance, the promises that the ex has regretted her statements and the CBC is firing him despite the fact that everyone involved assures everyone else that everything, ever, was consensual. Ghomeshi has framed the alleged assaults as being in the context of a consensual BDSM relationship: that is, the punching and choking weren't a problem until after he split with his partner, whom he is depicting as a vengeful sprite out to ruin his reputation.

There's been a lot of backlash: against Ghomeshi, against the CBC, against his so-far unnamed accusers. So let's get a few things straight:

1. Assault and abuse can still happen inside BDSM relationships. Indeed, Ghomeshi joked about his own sex life being like Fifty Shades of Grey, the publication of which has prompted an unfortunate tendency to popularly present "kink" as "owning another person and using them however you want." Kink and BDSM are always negotiated, boundaries are both known and respected, and informed consent is at the forefront. The accusation against Ghomeshi is that he's someone who blithely says, "I like it rough" without bothering to spell out that "rough" means "I like to hit/choke/deprive women of oxygen." This is not kink. This is unsafe: physically, emotionally, sexually.

Now, I know that there are kinky people who like being punched and choked and deprived of oxygen. (I follow enough of them on Twitter.) But "being kinky" isn't carte blanche for all non-vanilla sexual behaviours. We all have the lines we don't want to cross: someone who enjoys getting hit might draw the line at getting peed on, for instance; other people might like both. I'm not denying that it's a choice, and a valid one. I'm just pointing out that if someone feels like you've assaulted them after punching them in the face during what's supposed to be consensual sex, you're doing it wrong.

2. In the aftermath of #GamerGate, and Steubenville, we know -- we know -- that being a woman who speaks out against men in power is a dangerous game indeed. The women who have accused Ghomeshi likely aren't hiding their identities because they're being sneaky or trying to put anything past people. They're likely doing it because these days, coming forward about sexual assault, especially against a well-liked media figure, is an open invitation for detractors to find them, smear them, demand proof, examine their histories, and tell them that they deserved whatever they got. Their anonymity shouldn't temper people's ability to believe in the accusations.

3. Some people seem to think that the CBC is under the obligation to keep Ghomeshi on its roster until the day he's jailed for sexual misconduct. This is weird, and not true. The CBC is a media entity, and Ghomeshi is part of their brand. The conversation we're now having about him is decidedly off-brand, which is bad for the CBC. They've made a business decision, the same way TLC made a business decision about pedophile-datin' Mama June and The Food Network fired racist Paula Deen. It's the same reason that companies recall faulty child seats and take back spoiled meat. Their product has suddenly gone off. In Ghomeshi's case, his product is his own self: it has been spoiled in the eyes of many listeners. Remember, also, that the CBC didn't publicize the BDSM angle; Ghomeshi did that himself.

4. Finally, we need to get over the prurient wishy-washiness that seems to infect these stories when they come to light. When a man punches a woman outside of a Denny's at three o'clock in the afternoon, we can all agree that he's a problem; when he does it in the bedroom, all of the sudden we're like, "Well, maybe we don't know all the details. Maybe she provoked him. Maybe she wanted it." This is such soggy bullshit. There aren't always two sides to every story (see also: change, climate). Sometimes, presenting things as a 50/50 narrative split gives powerful people even more power.

It's unlikely that Ghomeshi will be arrested for any crime. Indeed, he's already launched a suit against the CBC for $50 million dollars for wrongful dismissal. He's well-liked in Canada, and his public persona up until now has been as a relatively harmless moppet. He is, as his defenders say, innocent until proven guilty.

But just remember: it's not like, in this day and age, coming forward about sexual violence wins people any favours. And this is about more than rough sex and bad brands. This is about whose narratives we choose to follow. I, for one, will be choosing to believe the women who have nothing to gain by coming forward over the man who has so very much to lose.

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