Poor poor pitiful me (or not)

“OK, so I was famous and my life got out of control and I abused women as a result. Now, I can’t flirt with any women because they might figure out who I am . . . “

This is how my brother summed up, rather cynically but I think accurately, the essence of Jian Ghomeshi’s essay, published recently by the New York Review of Books.

It is almost four years since we first heard of Ghomeshi’s abusive and assaultive treatment of women: the CBC announced that he would be taking an extended leave to deal with “personal issues” on October 24, 2014.

Two days later, Ghomeshi’s Facebook page carried a lengthy post, in which he declared to his audience: “As friends and family of mine, you are owed the truth,” following which he wove a fanciful tale that he was the victim of a vindictive ex-girlfriend and a prudish CBC, that he was being taken down because he engaged in a “variety of activities in the bedroom . . [and] adventurous forms of sex. . . “

I believed him

I will admit that, when I read the FB post, I believed it. I had listened, not regularly but frequently, to Q, Ghomeshi’s CBC radio program. I had found him to be an engaging host, who attracted interesting guests. He asked intelligent questions and appeared charming. His FB post was convincing.

My rose-tinted glasses came off quickly when I read the Toronto Star article the following morning, which detailed Ghomeshi’s abusive history with a number of women, and I approached this latest offering from Ghomeshi with considerable skepticism, not wanting to be played for a fool by him a second time.

Self-serving reflections

Reflections from a hashtag, as this essay is titled, reeks of the same kind of self-serving and dishonest commentary Ghomeshi provided in his 2014 FB post. (The journalists who broke the original Ghomeshi story have wasted no time in providing a fact-checking response to this essay.)

He is self-effacing. He appears to be somewhat regretful about some of the things he has done in the past, but make no mistake about it: he acknowledges no actual wrongdoing and paints a detailed picture of himself as somehow a hapless gent in a world of incomprehensible gender expectations. In other words: he, too, is a victim in all of this.

He ensures that readers are aware of his activist credentials. Those of us involved in activist politics know well that those communities are rife with abusive men who are seldom held to account for their behaviour and that women are routinely discouraged from talking about what has happened to them. The fact that Ghomeshi claims to have led opposition to university fee hikes and been tear-gassed has nothing to do with whether or he also assaults women.

I was struck by how often he refers to “female friends,” as if to assure us that he must be an okay guy because he counts women among his friends:

“One of my female friends quips that I should get some kind of public recognition as a #MeToo pioneer.”

Really? Ghomeshi is claiming this space for himself, not acknowledging that this movement was founded in 2006 by Tamara Burke? I cannot find the words to describe how offensive this is.

Self-absorbed musings

“The necessary image of a liberal public broadcaster can be tediously correct,” Ghomeshi writes while describing that he wore the right political buttons and attended the proper fundraisers, as though this is justification for a private life of abusing women.

“I had become a man who derived all of his self-esteem from external validation . . . It didn’t help that my pay increased . . . everything around me seemed to condone the bullish way a successful single guy might act . . . “

What are we supposed to take away from these comments? Being a celebrity, one making ever more and more money, is tough, and so it is kind of okay for that celebrity to abuse women? Please!

He admits to having been “emotionally thoughtless” and to have “leveraged [his] influence and status” to get women to date him, seeming to be moderately regretful about this, as though this is the worst he has been called to account for.

And, then, as though it somehow releases him from personal responsibility for his actions, he tells us that men confide in him their own improprieties with women, describing these men, presumably including himself, as

“bewildered about gender roles [and] sexual behaviours.”

At this point, I felt as though I were suddenly reading something written in the 1950s or 1960s and not an essay from 2018.  Talk about self-serving.

Restoration and forgiveness

There has to be room in our world for people to do bad things and move on, without being condemned forever for past bad acts.

However, before this can happen, the person who has caused the harm has to understand the harm they have caused and take meaningful responsibility for it.

The role of the criminal law (Ghomeshi takes pains to ensure we know he was acquitted of the criminal charges he faced) in this process is almost irrelevant and often, in fact, interferes with it, which is why some models of restorative justice appear so attractive.

This essay, written by a man who has been a professional communicator for most of his adult life – first as a musician and then as a broadcaster – spins a pretty yarn that smacks of self-interest and insincerity. It should be read with skepticism and then ignored.

Better, perhaps, to reflect on the words of musician and one-time friend of Ghomeshi, Owen Pallett, who posted this on his FB page on October 28, 2014:

“Jian is my friend. But there is no grey area here. Three women have been beaten by Jian Ghomeshi. . . .‘We will never really know what happened.’ Yes we do. Jian beat, at the very least, three women. At no point here will I ever give my friend Jian’s version of the truth more credence than the version of the truth offered up by three women. . . . Let’s be clear. Whether the court decides that predatory men are punished or exonerated does not silence the voices of women. It does not make victims liars. . . Jian Ghomeshi is my friend, and Jian Ghomeshi beats women. How our friendship will continue remains to be seen.”

Let’s also recall the statement given by Kathryn Borel outside the Toronto courthouse where Jian Ghomeshi had entered into a peace bond and provided an apology in exchange for the charges against him with respect to her being withdrawn. In part, Ms Borel said:

“In a perfect world, people who commit sexual assault would be convicted for their crimes. Jian Ghomeshi is guilty of having done the things that I’ve outlined today. So when it was presented to me that the defence would be offering us an apology, I was prepared to forego the trial. It seemed like the clearest path to the truth. A trial would have maintained his lie.”

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