On Jian Ghomeshi and "Sex Scandals"

[Content note: Sexual harassment, physical abuse, sexual abuse, BDSM, misogynistic tropes.]

If you have been following the news over the weekend and you give a damn about CBC Radio, you may have learned that Jian Ghomeshi, host of the very popular programme "Q," is no longer with the CBC. From the Guardian's coverage:
On Friday the CBC announced that Ghomeshi would be taking a leave of absence for “personal” reasons, and then on Sunday followed up with a statement that he would no longer be working for the corporation, saying he had been fired because of “information” it received that “precluded” it from employing him.

The nature of that information soon became clear. On Sunday evening, Ghomeshi published a long, emotional post to his Facebook page. In it, he said he was fired from the CBC because of a campaign of false allegations, that he said were pursued by a jilted ex-girlfriend, intended to paint his enthusiasm for consensual sadomasochistic sex as a pattern of abuse.

... there were clear signs in post that it was an attempt to get on the front foot of a deeply damaging story: it warned of “salacious” revelations in the days to follow, claiming they would be nothing but “lies”, and said that one newspaper had already investigated the story and not deemed it worthy of printing.

That paper was the Toronto Star. On Sunday night it posted the results of its previously unpublished investigation, portraying the story in a very different light. It revealed claims by three different women, all of whom claimed that instead of engaging in consensual, Fifty Shades of Grey-style imaginative sex, Ghomeshi was in fact a serial, violent abuse.
This is a depressingly familiar story to readers of this space: powerful man is accused of sexual violence, responds with a flurry of PR that uses every familiar misogynist stereotype (Jilted, jealous ex! A conspiracy of evil women out to destroy him!) to defend himself.

And once again, it works. Because guess what happens when you search for"Jian Ghomeshi" and "sex scandal" in Google News? This happens. Media outlets across Canada and around the world have accepted the basic framing that this is about sex, not about sexual abuse. And that is not a neutral framing.

Accepting this framing means accepting Ghomeshi's assertion that he's been fired because his employers at CBC are uptight prudes. Thats this is all about his interest in BDSM, something he describes as "a mild version of 50 Shades of Grey." For a breakdown of why that is problematic, I recommend Sex Geek's piece. Essentially, the acts he's accused of committing aren't "mild," at all, nor are they sort of acts that one enters into without both sides spelling out things very, very clearly and making sure that consent is clearly ongoing and re-asserted. He's not accused of being kinky. He's accused of violence and abuse.

So why is this a "sex scandal" or a "sex case" or a "sex allegations" matter? The women who spoke to the Toronto Star discussed very serious abuse and violations of consent. They're not all former sexual partners, either. One of them described Ghomeshi harasseing her at work, in a completely non-romantic and professional situation. Is being non-consensually groped at worked and having a powerful man whisper (during a meeting!) that he wants to "hate fuck" you really a "sex scandal"? Silly me. I thought that was sexual harassment.

To be clear, the CBC has not released information about the specifics of Ghomeshi's firing, probably for good legal reasons. Ghomeshi is suing the CBC and also going through union arbitration. In the absence of such a statement, why are so many media outlets happy to simply accept Ghomeshi's framing?

This isn't an idle question. One of the reasons cited by the women for remaining anonymous is the fear of online retaliation, as happened to Carla Ciccone when she published a piece at XO Jane detailing a very creepy experience with an unnamed radio personality. What could be more encouraging to stalkers and harassers than to know that yes, indeed, this is a "sex scandal"? That Ghomeshi's claims are treated as truth, while women's are deeply suspect?

In the year 2014, it should not be acceptable to use label "sex scandal" for allegations of intimate partner abuse and workplace sexual harassment. It should not be acceptable to automatically accept the framing laid out by man accused of abuse, to repeat it, to emphasize it by repetition. Should not be, but sadly is.

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