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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Words that matter.

I have said before how I love language. I love it because it can empower or disempower, create or destroy. It frames issues, gives them direction. It is part of your identity, of how others see you and how you see yourself.

It can be incredibly intimate – with secret codes and made-up words to have with someone, with words of encouragment every morning in front of the mirror – and it can be incredibly political. It IS always political, in that it includes and excludes, offends or supports, ALWAYS. Even when we are not paying attention, language comes up behind us and stabs us in the back, letting everyone know our true sentiments, our deepest-held prejudices, our privilege, our ignorance. I believe that we ought to pay more attention, as our choice of wordscan make a great deal of difference in which conversations happen, who we include instead of excluding, who we stop hurting.

Language (not just English, although the literature I have encountered has been vast on this particular one) as an inherently racist, inherently sexist, inherently homophobic, inherently classist thing is too broad and too complex and too damn long a topic to speak of right now. For now, I just wanted to share some terms I have been trying to use or stop using and why. I of course, invite you to also check yourself – as a privileged ally, that is the least you can do really – and evaluate your language use and do your homework about it and change some habits too.

Some of the terms, dichotomies, standard-versus-other stuffs that we should all be changing:

– First of all, that whole “my gay friend/cousin/teacher” when sexual orientation is not relevant to the conversation (which if you ask me, is almost all the time). It makes me and others think 1) the gold standard is being heterosexual and that one person is the weird one in your world, 2) our (and your) judgment of the rest of what you’ll say should take the ‘gay’ bit into account (for some bizarre and homophobic reason) and 3)  that – sorry, I gotta say it – having a friend who happens to be gay somehow makes you a better or cooler or special person and we should take notice of that fact.

Also, some funny kind-of-true stuff

– Same thing goes with “my black friend”, “my trans friend’, ‘my disabled friend’, ‘my midget friend’. Unless that part of their complex, full, awesome being is relevant, saying it only marks it as a difference. And yes, differences do exist, but I do not hear you saying “my white friend”, “my straight friend”, “my cisgender (I’ll come back to this one) friend”, “my fully-physically-abled friend”.

– Start using cisgender to refer to people who are not transgender, who are privileged in this society for identifying with the same sex they were born with, when differentiating from transgender people. Do not mark the difference by saying “men and transmen”, as if the normal thing was to be cisgender and the other, the alien, the abnormal was to be transgender.

“Oh, but I only mean normal in the statistically-normal kind of way”, you say? We humans do not talk in statistically-literate terms, in case you have not noticed. In a hypothetical situation, almost anyone would be more likely to say it is more normal to run into an English-speaking person in Argentina (or almost any country) than it is to run into someone who speaks Chinese, even if Chinese is more statistically normal. Because language is about politics, about visibility, about access. I know the analogy is not perfect, but you get the point.

“Oh, I don’t know anyone trans so I’m not offending anyone”, you say? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t (what makes you assume you know, anyway?). Even if you don’t, language works like a forest fire. If you say cisgender, someone might ask you what cisgender is, maybe they’ll too be convinced and use it, and so on: somewhere (if not everywhere) along the line, you just stopped someone (and yourself) from – possibly unintentionally – hurting, discriminating against, and offending some one else.

While we’re on the subject of cisgenders and cisgender privilege, it is time for a check-list. I know I have been guilty of more than one horribly offensive, transphobic thing, and some of them stem from not fully acknowledging cisgender privilege, so check it out and stop being a twat 😉

– Saying something/someone is “so gay” as a way of saying silly/dumb/ridiculous/flamboyant/cowardly/boring/cheesy/over-dramatic. You are literally equating those negative or at the very least stereotyping adjectives to being homosexual, and an = sign goes both ways. It is as simple as not being lazy and use any of the above adjectives or any other instead of saying “gay”. Even Hilary Duff agrees with me on this one.

– The same thing goes for “stop being such a girl”, “you’re such a pussy” (for an anatomically-accurate word for ‘sensitive’, try “glans”, as in the tip of your penis), “he plays like a chick” or the like.

run like a girl

You are saying, first of all, that whatever attitude the person displayed was a feminine (girly/womanly/chick-y) thing to do which is 1) stereotyping and further reinforcing gender roles that block both men and women from being however the fudge they want to be without fear of ridicule; and 2) saying, literally saying, that being equated to a woman is wrong or undesirable or humilliating or inferior. Actually, all of those things. It goes like this: “playing like a chick” is saying (most commonly) that that person is playing badly or poorly or too delicately, right? So you’re saying that a girl plays badly and poorly and too delicately, and because you are saying it to demean a person, it is saying that being called or compared to a girl is supposed to be demeaning. It is very easy: say they are playing poorly. Say they are being over-dramatic, say they are being too high-maintenance. Don’t equate those bad attributes and offensive stereotypes to women and do not equate “woman”/”girl”/”chick” to an insult.

– Using the word ‘retarded’ or retard. Something is not retarded: something is either ridiculous, or dumb, or bad, or annoying, none of which describes or equates to intellectually challenged or disabled individuals. Do not use that word to describe people who are not intellectually disabled as a way to insult them: it should not be an insult because intellectually disabled people are not inferior or wrong or less worthy than non-disabled people like yourself. Do not use that word to describe intellectually disabled individuals either, it is offensive. You are not charged by the vowel, so I am sure you can use intellectually disabled instead.

– Oh, OH. Please, stop using the word ‘rape’ for anything else than rape itself. Ohhh this makes my blood boil. You did not “rape that exam”, you ‘rocked’ it or you finished it no-problem. The football team did not “rape that tournament”, they embarrassingly outperformed the other teams.

Using the word minimizes the actual pain, suffering and trauma of survivors. It hurts them, and it can bring back the pain of the actual rape that happened to them. It makes survivors feel unsafe and rapists feel safer in a world that trivializes and jokes about what they do. Here’s another more elaborate take on this.

– Relevant to recent events, debates and blog posts: gay marriage vs marriage. I am guilty-as-friggin-charged. I think this is not cool because it makes it as if marriage between heterosexuals is the whole deal and the other one is an alternative version. So I will start saying “straight marriage” or “heterosexual marriage”. This is a pledge.

So yeah. These are some easy ways in which we can change our habits to be better and to make others feel better and safer. By recognizing the prejudices that we carry with us and by correcting the language that promote these same prejudices, we make it less okay for people to say racist, homophobic, sexist, ableist things whether it is on purpose or not.

THIS. If you have to start the sentence with "I'm not racist, but", YOU ARE BEING RACIST.

THIS. If you have to start the sentence with “I’m not racist, but”, YOU ARE BEING RACIST.

I also invite you to check out this test. It is related to my blog post in that our word choice is one of the ways our prejudices leak out, but there is so much more to look at inside our socialization. The test was created by Harvard researchers in order to assess some of the unconcious associations we make and makes us reflect upon them in order to make our concious attitudes meaningful ones. It is also super simple and interesting and enlightening [I got some scores that embarrass me, honestly, but that make me think and try to tackle internalized ideas I hold].

Any other terms/phrases you think we should change in our vocabulary?

A (painfully) personal note on Steubenville and rape culture and why I can’t sleep.

The first thought in my mind, every time that I read about or hear about a rape case, is this: I could have been be that girl. We all could have been that girl.

The Steubenville case I have sort of followed since Anonymous brought light to it, but in particular since the trial was breaking news in CNN and the horrible, horrible way they covered it and then Fox News and MSNBC aired the name of the victim and then Twitter people decided to send death threats to the victim of rape and then not a single news source but Yahoo! Sports had a decent coverage of the crime and then people on YouTube (why do I read their comments? one of them alluded to me getting myself raped – me, A PERSON ON THE INTERNET – for saying that the victim could drink all she wanted and she still deserved to be respected) were being dickwads too.  Then I saw a news article on Facebook about an 11-year-old gang rape victim in Texas, two years ago, who was basically blamed for her rape because she had age-inappropriate clothes. I had to do something with so much powerlessness and anger and sadness and just UGHHHH and so I did what I had to do: I put on some Amanda Palmer piano-ey goodness and cried uncontrollably for a good 10 minutes.

That is not what I wanted to talk about, though, my crying. I am having a grilled-cheese sandwich and a beer right now as I am deconstructing my feelings and thoughts about this case and rape culture and sexism and calming the hell down. I like giving myself time to be angry and sad and outraged, but it is not constructive after a while. Anyhoo.

My personal letter refers to what I said first, that my first thought was that it could have been me, it could have been pretty much anyone in my family or group of friends. Any one of my classmates, or teachers, or neighbors, or blog followers. It could have been Amanda Palmer. It could and can be and might be any one that any one reading this knows or cares or knows about. It could be our future potential daughters or sons on trial, either as victims or perpetrators.

And I don’t mean this in that abstract, trivial way we talk about any crime, “phew! it could have been me”. I mean this in a more concrete way. I mean that it could have been be my school classmates blaming me for being too drunk, it could have been be my parents doubting me for flirting with guys, it could have been be my “friends” laughing as I lay naked “like a dead body”. It could have been be me having my word questioned on the basis of my sexual choices, on the basis of my drinking habits, on the basis on the clothes I wear, on the basis of the people I hang out with. It could have been be me receiving death threats on the Internet by people I know AND by people that don’t know me but feel so strongly about me being to blame for my own rape that they go on and tweet about it. It could have been be me having my name aired on national television as the girl who was victim of “rape, essentially”. It could have been be me roofied and then called #Alcoholic #Whore. It could have been be me with my life, future sexual, romantic and otherwise relationships, sense of self worth forever ruined or at the very least severely damaged. It could have been be me having to endure the entire Internet being about me, about whether or not I deserved it, whether or not I am a slut, whether or not my rapists deserve a sentence that is not even remotely just. It could have been be me watching as a major news source as CNN sympathizes with my rapists and even hints that I should feel guilty for coming forward and ruining those star football players’ lives. It could be me.

You know how I know it could be me? It is not because my friends are horrible human beings or because my family sucks or because all the men are know are sick in the head or anything.

One basic reason it could be me is covered in this rape mythbusting summary.

The other reason it could be me is that everything I have heard on the news, that I saw on the filming of the trials, that I have read in news articles from CNN, Fox News, Huffington Post even, every tweet I read and every YouTube comment I painfully went through resonates with things I was taught when I was younger. It resonates with comments I have heard before, cautionary tales I have heard before, how-to-not-get-raped bullshit I have heard before.

It could be me because I was always taught all that most girls – and in Latin America, pfffttt even worse – were taught, to the bone. I was told that I should never wear a short skirt so that men do not get “the wrong idea” about me, so that I do not get into “difficult situations”. Meaning that I should not wear short skirts so that men do not assume I am a whore because whores are not raped, they are “convinced”. I was told that I should watch my drinking carefully because drunk girls are seen as easy and “taken advantage of” – another rape-apologist word for rape. I was told to never go out alone because I would give men a reason to harass me – I was literally told that more than once, not joking here or making a vague generalization.

I was even taught specifically to never stay alone in a room with a man, because that evidently led to him thinking I wanted sex. Which is to say, unless there is a concrete wall between you, the answer is “yes”; in other words, he will only stop himself if he is physically separated from you. I was also taught that I should always say no to every man – even the ones I could actually like – because saying yes to more than one guy (meaning, sex before marriage – oh lordy, the blasphemy!) meant I was a slut, and meant my answer was yes to any guy. I was taught not to accept drinks from any men because they might contain drugs. Not once did I hear my father say as much as a – hey, son, when in doubt, DO NOT RAPE. But I did hear a whole lotta “restrain every part of your individuality, femininity, sexuality and sense of worth and ownership of your own body so you don’t get raped”.

It could be me because my family or schooling is not special or unique in what it taught me. Because most people I know – although many have grown and read and learnt and know better – were taught the same things. Because the girls from my high school called (and still call) each other sluts for as little as going from one boyfriend to another in “too little time” (which varied of course depending on how much they liked the girl), or “wearing the wrong kind of clothes”, or “flirting the wrong kind of way”.

Because the men in my community roll their eyes when a woman is drunk and say things like “does she see the kind of message she’s sending?” meaning her drinking is an invitation to her body, usually.

Because consent is not taught well enough, and people I know still go out of their way to distinguish between rape when there is alcohol involved and rape when it is the person’s partner and rape when it is a stranger on a dark alley (the most common stereotype of a rapist, the least common situation of rape) and rape when a woman is flirting but does not want sex, as if they were different degrees of rape. Because most men and women in the community I was raised in still immediately assume that a woman claiming rape in national television must be lying – when it is only 4 to 6% of rape reports that are false.

Because, still today, my biggest fear surrounding vaginismus is that if I tell a guy to stop mid-process because it hurts, he wont: I still hold, somewhere inside my head, the idea that men’s basic mode is ‘rapist’. Because so many women I know still apologize when they need or want to stop, or when they have been flirting but then say no to sex, or when they do not feel in the mood for it and refuse their partners.

Because women still feel the need to resort to refusals such as “I have a boyfriend” in a bar because the threat or the imagined presence of another man is the only thing that will (or might) stop a man from harassing a woman, because a woman’s lack of consent is not enough.

Because Trent Mays apologized for sending pictures of it around, not for the rape. He did not feel the need to even apologize for the crime he committed, because he thinks the “only” (not to minimize it) crime he committed was child pornography. He raped someone and he regrets sending the pictures, because that is what got him caught.

Because a (pardon my language, really, I am trying to be cool) fucking dead-looking pass-out-drunk body of a teenager, captured in pictures, detailed accounts in texts from many young men and women including one which read (I am paraphrasing) that the song of the night was Rape Me by Nirvana – which means the teen sending that text was aware that it was rape what they were doing -, and the testimony of a girl are made accountable by only one and two years respectively, for only two of the approximately 50 high school students that were accomplices of the crime.

It could be me, or you, or any woman or man I know. It could be any one of us because we all (or most of us did, before you get all upset) have drunk while underage, many of us have been drunk, all of us have flirted, all of us have worn something that someone has considered “slutty” (we are all too prude or too slutty to someone, it is called girl-on-girl hate, and slut-shaming and both things suck: stop doing it), all of us have been partying “too hard” according to someone, somewhere. We all have been someplace our parents, or someone, told us not to be, all of us have trusted someone we shouldn’t have at some point in our life. We all have been that girl in Steubenville. Except that not all of our binge drinking and partying and being-a-freaking-normal-teenager-ing has resulted in some assholes raping us and playing with our body as if it was a toy and posting it online and CNN and other news sources being insensitive idiots to us and the whole Internet looking and judging us and our lives being ruined forever.

And if it had been me, or you, or any woman or man, it would not be my or yours or anyone else’s fault either, except the RAPISTS.

Murder–> murderer. Terrorism –> terrorist. Rape–> rapist. Get it?

Grammar makes things so simple for me sometimes.

Let’s create a world in which we never have to be the family of the perpetrators, but not because that would be such a tragedy on their promising careers, but because we taught them better than to treat women like objects to be handled at will.

[When I read about rape cases now, I think, it could be my nephews on the stand. I don’t want them to be those guys, and I will fight like hell so that they are never those guys, so that your nieces wont be those victims. Not the other way around.]

It all starts with us, speaking out, spreading awareness, teaching consent, practicing consent. It starts with us communicating and not being afraid of our sexuality, of our bodies, of ourselves.

my message to you <3

Inspired by Tim, my message to you 🙂