When a public figure you like is accused of sexual assault…

TW: discussion of sexual assault, rape culture, talk of suicidal thoughts

Yes, I am talking about Ghomeshi, although before yesterday I knew nothing about him, how famous he was, what he was famous for, etc. I have been reading up on him today, because there were some red flags I saw in the comments people were making about the CBC firing him.

You can look it up, or read up a bit here. I am not going to talk about his case in particular, but about feelings and knee-jerk reactions we may have when a public figure we like is accused of sexual assault. [A lot of feelings are similar to when someone we like and know personally is accused, but that would be a larger conversation which I don’t have time to write about now.]


First, I am going to tell you a short story about Conor Oberst. I grew up listening to his music. And when I say listening, I don’t mean bobbing my head to some chill tunes. I mean crying my eyes out, planning the best way to kill myself, finding something close enough to solace in his angsty, shaking voice. I cried when I saw him live. I followed his angsty self to the depths of every musical project he embarked on, know every lyric, and I have heard and seen every single piece of media written about him. This is no joking matter.

He had some rape accusations of his own happen earlier this year, about a thing that happened (or “allegedly” happened, or not even allegedly anymore because the survivor withdrew her statements) about 12 years ago. When I read about these accusations, my heart stopped for a second. My first reaction was to say it wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true. The first article I read was clearly biased against the survivor (COLOR ME SHOCKED) and it worked on me for a few minutes. Her story was flaky, she had had contradicting statements in the past 12 years, etc. But then I stopped myself, and repeated my mantra: always believe survivors, always believe survivors. So I looked into it more, I read what she had said, her reasons (or lack thereof) for lying, his situation at the time, etc. I concluded that I believed her.

Even when she withdrew her statement against him, I believed her. Why? Because I wasn’t there, and I am not a court of law, but statistically speaking, and given all the facts, she was likely a victim. Because my feelings wanted to side with him – and that is what most abusers are counting on: they are charming, likeable, innocent looking (I am burrowing words from you, Malek Yalaoui). Abuse, and impunity for that abuse, wouldn’t work otherwise. Now, again, I won’t go into details, but to this day, regardless of what the official, legal or public papers say: I cannot side with Conor. I can love his music for all that it’s done for me, and I can appreciate his genius, but I cannot side with him. I will never know the truth, and the accusations have been dropped, but I cannot side with him. He could be innocent, sure, but I cannot side with him.

And don’t get me wrong. It was not easy. I cried about it, I wrote at least three drafts to things I never published. I couldn’t. His art had helped me survive, and he could be a rapist. It is fucking hard. But I cannot fucking side with him just because it is hard.


And on to more solid, withstanding, “official” allegations: Your feelings about John Lennon or his art don’t make him less of a domestic abuser. Your feelings about Woody Allen or his art don’t make him any less of a child molester. Your feelings about Roman Polanski or his art don’t make him any less of a rapist. YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT GHOMESHI (and whatever he does) DO NOT MAKE HIM ANY LESS OF A SEXUAL PREDATOR.

I know it is hard, okay? You grew up listening to him, liking him. You may have some personal stories relating to him – that time you listened to him with your grandpa, or when you laughed a lot at his jokes with your wife. I do not know your stories. But I get it: you do not want to think that someone you like, someone you may respect, someone you have written erotic fanfiction about (I don’t know, okay? It happens) is a rapist. But your feelings don’t change the facts. They just make them more complex and hard to think about. But they can also allow abusers to continue abusing, because they know – and trust me, a media-savvy charmer like Ghomeshi KNOWS THIS VERY WELL – that you will think they are too nice/hot/charming/young/innocent-looking/left-wing/”feminist ally” to be abusers.

It says a lot about our culture, about rape culture, that we think because he is charming and good looking and funny and young, that the women must be lying. Their negatives are not possible because charm=consent? NO. But it is true that it is easier to think that than to realize we live in a world where bad guys are not easily identifiable by their horns and their fangs and their neon signs that say “predator”. (And how racist, classist, and ageist it often is when we do think someone looks like a predator, huh? Another topic for another day.)

What I mean is: talk about your feelings, by all means. Process them, write them down. Hell, cry them out. Mourn your loss (Conor Oberst may be alive and kicking, but he is pretty dead to me.) But do not for a second condone an abuser just because repeating to yourself that they are innocent is emotionally easier than admitting that they did the fucked up thing.
Edit: While this post was written about Ghomeshi, and my story with Oberst, it is unfortunately timeless, it seems. So, really, it is a post about the complexities of rape culture and pop culture and problematic (I hate using that term, it hides all sorts of horrors under a meaningless blanket word) rapist faves.

 

[Besides what you can Google yourself, which may or may not be victim-blaming trash, here are a couple extra links:]

poor prosecuted pervert? in defense of BDSM and critical of Jian’s claims, by Andrea Zanin.

On Jian Ghomeshi and Rape Culture

Liking ‘Q’ Isn’t a Good Enough Reason to Side with Jian

An amazing Twitter convo with Anne Teriault on believing the abuser.

I’ll Believe Jian’s Accuser Before I Believe a Man in Power

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3 thoughts on “When a public figure you like is accused of sexual assault…

  1. scottjduffy says:

    Brilliant article. He does seem to be a predator. Surprising how many people think we have no business asking him about his private life. He’s assaulting women! Yes, it’s our business as a society to care about that!

  2. Mrs Oberst says:

    Absolutely! If this was a story about him being kinky or into BDSM or whatever (as he claims in his FB status), then he would be correct, that the public has no business asking him about his private life. If this was a story about his sex life with consensual partners, then he would be correct.
    The minute it is not consensual, it becomes assault. And assault is absolutely a public matter of warning others about him, making him accountable for his actions, etc. It is 100% our business.

  3. I beleive in BETTER says:

    TRUTH TRUTH TRUTH… we want to believe the goodness in all we admire… but we saw only the culmination of an image a team produced… good work, not all his own and a narcissistic cameleon sick fecker acting out the words. we need to get over it seemingly good folk are sometimes rotten and let the dream die and for all that is right protect our girls women and old ladies and the heavy lifters that when everyone else runs, raises the next generation while taking misogynist dismissive stereotypical crap every step of the way… yep… the hand that rocks the cradle is beaten up and abandoned and dismissed and we wonder why our society is hurting…

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