This is a departure from the usual weight and fitness "gut"-related post. But sometimes topics come up that feel too big to let slip by without a response. I first heard about the dismissal and lawsuit from Jian's Facebook post itself, and while I knew that something didn't add up, like many others I took a wait-and-see approach, thinking it was balanced and fair to do so. Should have listened to my gut: I applaud the people who immediately said "I believe the women." There are a lot of angles from which to approach this ugly situation, but for this blog, it's about instinct. Literally, about trusting your gut - and whether it's even possible, with guys like Ghomeshi.
I have seen some thoughtful and insightful opinions expressed, and up until I read a response by my friend Jenny Ryan, the most widely relevant ones (to me) were about believing victims when they speak up. Jenny's resonated in a big way. Perhaps it's because I know her in real life. Close in age, we shared an office and a computer in a branch of Saskatoon Public Library, and she was a professional mentor to me in my first librarian gig. She also helped me to navigate being a Southern-Ontario girl in a prairie-town world.
Originally posted on her Facebook page, Jenny has since started a Tumblr account to satisfy her friends' demand to make her piece shareable. She agreed that I could post it here, as well:
I went back to Saskatoon, and Jian and I became Facebook friends. There was a lot of flirty back and forth. I had a blog, and I wrote a lot of posts about how he wanted to date me. He found the blog, he made comments there, too. He said he hoped we'd see another again soon. My friends were freaking out. There were jokes about how he'd be my boyfriend, about how I should date him, about how Moxy Fruvous would play at my wedding. I actually began to think about this like it could really happen. It was exciting.
A month later it was Christmastime and I was due to go home to see my parents. I was going to be in Toronto, and I sent Jian a Facebook message about meeting up. He seemed interested. But I was dating this new guy and I really liked him so I didn't push to see Jian and it never happened, because really, it seemed crazy. It was just a fantasy. But there were times over the next few months when things with my new boyfriend seemed hard, or boring, or unhappy, and I would actually think about Jian, about how I had this chance with him, and I'd wonder, "Would I be happier if I'd actually pushed to see him at Christmas? Where might we be now? Did I miss out a great adventure?"
And then years and years passed and that new boyfriend and I moved in together and had a baby and I kind of forgot about my flirtations with Jian Ghomeshi. But now that all this stuff about him is coming to light I am thinking about it again. People have been asking me about my experiences, and how I feel about it all now.
I feel lucky. I feel duped. I feel sad. I feel embarrassed. I wanted something to happen with him so badly -- for notoriety, for a story, for fun. And because I honestly liked him. And because of who he was and who he represented and my friends were hoping for it, too."It would have made for such a story!" we thought. If only we knew what the story might have been.
Now people are saying women should have known something was amiss with him because he had cheesy pick up lines and a creepy-flirty face, because he leaned in heavily and pushed into women's spaces, because he didn't respect boundaries. I noticed ALL of that, and I chalked it up to awkwardness, to someone who didn't know how to flirt. To someone who thought he was charming, but was actually smarmy, and I laughed about it, I made fun of it, and all the while I was also kind of into it because it seemed like maybe the kind of aggressive you can work with. He seemed like he was posturing -- like it was all bark and no bite, and I didn't feel threatened at all, only slightly put off by his obvious flirting. And yet it was titillating, of course it was. So I feel ashamed, and also angry, that I was in the line of fire and I never noticed.
So now we're all talking about Jian Ghomeshi -- what we knew, what we heard, what he did to women. It's as though we all have these little puzzle pieces. Some women have really significant pieces, and some like me have those little middle pieces that kind of don't mean anything until you get all the big pieces in place. The edges go down first, then the middle starts to form, and we all put our pieces in and then suddenly you see the puzzle for what it really is.
So now we're all talking about Jian Ghomeshi -- but Jian is not the only man who does this: who charms, who flirts, who flatters, who woos you in to a safe place and then hurts you. He is famous, so we know about him, but how many other missed chances have I had? I am now doing an inventory, I am thinking back to every man who gave me a number, brushed my arm, smiled at me and said, "We should hang out." Flirty, charming, aggressive, seductive, flattering men, with danger in their eyes that translates as thrilling in the right light. I might have dated them all. I might date them still. But suddenly that is far less exciting to think about.
It is so easy to let the danger in.
Being safe and dating smart and protecting myself has never seemed as murky and impossible as it does right now. This is serious, and this is scary, and this is about more than Jian Ghomeshi: How many lucky chances does a woman get?
There are more questions than answers, and whether Jian Ghomeshi is legally or socially guilty of abuse is not one I'm going to touch. Other questions being asked are "why didn't more women report him?" and "how could they not have known?" Those, I won't get into either, because to do so not only puts the 1 out of 4 women who experience sexual violence and abuse in their lifetime into a marginalized position, it keeps all women as potential victims. When it is this prevalant, they are not victims. These women are accusers. Voices. Humans. They are also intelligent, talented, strong women whose guts didn't warn them of possible danger, or else their heads and hearts overrode their gut instincts because that's what polite girls have been taught to do.
Jenny's account, paired with the most recent ninth woman to speak out against him, explain why the gut instinct is not foolproof. His actions were normal. Creepy, awkward, and uncomfortable, but certainly not reportable. Until all of a sudden ... they were. Not every abuser wears a sign on his (or her) forehead broadcasting their proclivities, and what most accounts have in common is that he was not immediately or always violent with the women; something kicked in and in an instant he changed. He crossed the line with many women, but he crossed at different places. How do we, as women, arm ourselves against that? What recourse can one possibly have when, after already feeling violated, the process of reporting and seeking justice will likely violate you further?
Unfortunately, there is no law against "a gut feeling." As Reva Seth explains in her recounting of her encounter with Jian, "So why didn't I do anything? I didn't do anything because it didn't seem like there was anything to do. Most of my girlfriends had a story about an uncomfortable, sleazy, angry or even scary encounter with a guy. No one really did anything other than avoid them and tell their girlfriends to also stay away. And that's what I did."
The "gut" feeling is the part of the story that lives between the black and the white. The feeling that 'something isn't quite right here' lies between the hard facts. Sometimes your gut instinct kicks in and gives you protection, but not always. Once you've learned not to trust your gut, it's hard to go back. Just as I am unable to listen to my body with intuitive eating, to know when I'm hungry or full, many women have absorbed cultural messages which have eroded the ability to pay close attention to an instinct. Being too nice, too polite, too reluctant to hurt someone's feelings can put you in a dangerously precarious situation.
One commenter on Jenny's post noted that "they say women don't go with their gut instinct in these cases because they don't want to appear rude, and that's exactly what happened to me." She noted that she found herself on a date with someone she never really liked, and who attempted to force himself on her in a park.
Seems like everyone's got an almost, might-have-been, got lucky story. As Jenny asks, how many times does a woman get lucky before she ends up in a situation like Jian's accusers found themselves in? And will they be supported and believed when they do?
What had been nagging at me, until reading Jenny's story, was why this felt like a much bigger deal than the usual celebrity scandals - even the grossest and ugliest of them. It was about more than letting a familiar personality into homes, cars, and earbuds and then feeling betrayed by their personal life. It was about more than a beloved cultural institution, the CBC, being tainted. This scandal hits close to home and is so very real because of how accessible Jian is, or was. People I know personally interacted with him, dated him. He was easy to meet. I mean, our library hosted him on his book tour, at Word on the Street, and he was on the cover of one of our quarterly magazines.
Ultimately, Jenny nails the real reason we're taking this so hard: because he is not the only man who does this. He is rather normal in his creepy aggressiveness. How do you protect yourself against that? She is safe, nothing bad happened to her, and still she is nagged by the "what might have happened?" If Jian represents the possibility of what might be lurking in the murky waters of the dating pool, then we are all vulnerable. There's no gut instinct to protect against that, and I think that's what we're looking for. A way to say, "but if I do x, then y won't happen to me."
The real reason so many of us can't tear ourselves from this story is because it goes far beyond Jian Ghomeshi - and his story is big enough - and it speaks to individual fears, and a widespread problem of women being afraid to come forward.
We look for lessons in scandals like this. It's a coping strategy. The obvious lesson is that we need to make it safe for people to speak up. The lesson I'm looking for is "how do I keep this from happening to me, to friends, to loved ones?" I want there to be a clear answer about how you can trust your gut to keep you safe.
My gut tells me that you can't, always. And that is a gut-churning feeling.