Ford, Ghomeshi and Fifty Shades of Exploitation
“We joked about our relations being like a mild form of Fifty Shades of Grey”
– from disgraced Radio personality, Jian Ghomeshi’s Facebook post describing a ‘consensual’ BDSM relationship with a young woman, who has since says there was nothing the least bit consensual about his brutally beating and choking of her
by SB Veda
As a writer of fiction, and chronicler of the human experience, it is incumbent upon me to restrain moral judgment, for it is not in my purview to see the world in black and white. So, when those in the media seize upon a scandalous story, I tend to counsel restraint, ‘Wait for all the facts to come out.’
It was a line to which I kept easily, especially as the non-judgmental nature of my ears lent themselves well to hearing the stories of others – stories they might not tell someone else. This is an important capability for a writer: to be a trusted listener.
Still, some stories are more difficult to hear than others. Some are so heinous in their depiction that repeated scraping of the caverns of another’s being for a quantum of understanding will turn up nothing. It is possible to come across stories that are so utterly unrelatable that one cannot help but lack sympathy for the perpetrator/protagonist/antagonist, whatever you call him/her – the word villain comes to mind. And, this was the case, certainly, last week for Jian Ghomeshi and his inevitable fall from grace.
Before we get to the CBC radio-star’s abuse of position, power, his taking pleasure in hurting others – finding sexual gratification in violence, one must go back to a story that had been the butt of jokes for late-night talk show hosts since early 2014: Rob Ford – or as he became known ‘crack-smoking mayor Rob Ford.’
Some eight months ago, I was attending a literary festival. Socializing over finger-food and drinks, I met the President of Pen American Centre, Richard Godwin, who, upon hearing I was Canadian said, with a grin, ‘My God, you must be so proud the mayor of Toronto!’
Aside from racially insensitive speech, driving unsafely, getting into an altercation with a streetcar driver, and a litany of scenes of public drunkenness, Mr. Ford was alleged videotaped smoking crack as he called the leader of an opposition party, Justine Trudeau, ‘a fag’. He was also accused of grabbing a city council-woman’s buttocks, and suggesting he might perform cunnilingus on her. In his defence, pleaded that he was happily married, and thereby, ‘had plenty to eat at home.’
My response was to say that Canadians had finally become interesting. We had more than a few laughs over the trials and tribulations of Mr. Ford, and the evening passed pleasantly.
We did not go into the more disturbing allegations that Mr. Ford might have had ties to organized crime, and orchestrated a massive crackdown on a neighborhood where the incriminating cell-phone video had been stashed. But it was a social event, and we kept the banter light.
Still, I was not used to being embarrassed by Canadian public figures. Canadians tended to be button-down folk, liberal in outlook but conservative in comportment.
This was all about to change.
Enter, Jian Ghomeshi.
The pattern of sexual misogyny, beatings and coerced sexual acts, which erstwhile radio-host and CBC megastar, Jian Gomeshi, casually categorized as consensual ‘rough sex’, coupled with alleged workplace misconduct, involving grabbing of a woman’s buttocks (‘I couldn’t resist,’ he is alleged to have said) were jarring to say the least. He is also alleged to have said to one female staffer in her twenties, ‘I want to hate f— you,’ adding, later, ‘wasn’t it funny when I said I wanted to grudge f— you?’
Apparently, with a Toronto Star reporter and freelance journalist, the founder of the investigative blog Canadaland, no less, hot on his trail and a story on his misconduct about to break, Mr. Ghomeshi took the pre-emptive step of meeting with CBC executives to shore up his defence. This is what crisis managers call, ‘getting out ahead the story.’
The purpose of his meeting was not only to deny the allegations but he actually showed surreptitiously videotaped encounters with the alleged victims from his Teddy Bear Cam (for those of you unfamiliar with the term – as I was – this refers to a hidden camera in the stuffed animal, he kept in his home; the bears name is called “Big Ears”). Unfortunately, I am not making this up. It is all devastatingly true. Why show the videos? It appears that he wanted to ‘prove’ to the executives that bruising was a natural consequence of consensual rough sex.
After all, hadn’t the executives read the enormously successful novel by EL James, Fifty Shades of Grey on BDSM (Bondage-Discipline and Sado-Masochism) the film version of which is being marketed as ‘an old fashioned love story’. Surely, the CBC executives could not be such prudes in an age where female degradation is simply regarded as spicing thing up in the bedroom. So, someone like Ghomeshi might think. As it happens, Mr. Ghomeshi’s pre-emptive pornographic strike backfired, resulting in his dismissal – not much of a surprise for the majority of people following this story. Still, he see’s it as an outrage.
He has since filed a $55 million lawsuit against the CBC, saying he was fired for their moral judgment of him – not because he had done anything wrong. (I am assuming he didn’t grab any executive’s buttocks or express his desire to hate-fuck any of them on the way out.)
In a lengthy Facebook defence, he argued that engaging in BDSM is a sexual preference that is tantamount to a ‘human right’. Apparently, to Jian he had become a victim of the oppressive containment of his libido by the fierce and active anti-sadomasochism lobby.
When the Toronto Star report ran last week, it cited four victims. Since then, four more have claimed Mr. Gomeshi performed brutal non-consensual sexual and physically abusive acts on them.
Here is a brief but disturbing and explicit extract of the The Toronto Star article:
In 2012, a CBC producer in her mid-20s attended a book signing by Ghomeshi in Montreal. She waited in line to have her book signed, and once standing in front of Ghomeshi, she recalls telling him that her dream was to work on his radio show, Q . He asked her if she would like to join him and his friends for drinks after the event, she says. She agreed, and later remembers meeting him at the lobby of the Opus Hotel, where he was staying. He arrived alone and embraced her, she says.
“This isn’t a professional meeting,” she recalls Ghomeshi saying to her on the way to McKibbins Irish Pub. Seated in a booth, she says he rubbed her legs with both hands, explaining, “I have anxiety. Touching helps.”
“The two worlds can co-exist,” she alleges he told her. “I’ve done it before.”
She remembers telling Ghomeshi, “I want to work for you, not date you.” She said Ghomeshi kept complaining that his eyes were dry and he had to get his contact lenses out… later invited her to his hotel room, saying he had to take his contact lenses out.
“I feel like a big moron now,” said the woman, who is no longer with the CBC. “I should have seen it coming.”
In the hotel room, she recalls going to the bathroom and, as she was leaving it, discovering the lights were dimmed.
She alleges Ghomeshi roughly threw her against the wall and kissed and fondled her forcefully. She states that she then performed fellatio on Ghomeshi “just to get out of there.”
“I was saying to him, “I don’t want to do this, I want to work for you.”
As she was leaving the room crying, she says, she heard Ghomeshi say, “I’ll talk with my executive producer about you.”
The next morning she received a text from Ghomeshi. “Happy Thursday,” it read. She was shocked.
She says she did receive an invitation to a job interview from Ghomeshi’s executive producer shortly thereafter. In Toronto, she recalls, she was surprised to find Ghomeshi present at the interview.
Immediately after she left the CBC building, she says Ghomeshi texted her to say that she looked sexier than ever in the interview, and he invited her out that night for drinks.
Unfortunately for Canadians, the antics of Mr. Ford and Ghomeshi are not isolated incidents.
Whilst I worked in Canada, I became aware of stories of sexual misconduct among those in power. Sometimes, it wasn’t a case of predator-on-victim with women looking to get ahead as willing participants – more often, it was a case of the boss hitting on a subordinate. None were as sensational as Mr. Gomeshi’s those involving violence for sexual pleasure, nor as absurd as Mr. Ford’s denial and ‘I get enough to eat’ defence – but the result was the same: women left fearful of retaliation if they came forward.
One of the most glaring accounts was told to me by a woman whom most knew was the boss’ girlfriend in a department of the Federal Government of Canada. Let us call her Cassy, and her boss, Tom.
What most didn’t know – and this, she confided in me as we both stayed late working on night – was that the affair started when they were both married to other people. Tom was Cassy’s direct supervisor.
Knowing the situation was dicey, she managed to find a lateral transfer, facilitated by Tom, but owing to being in the same field, she had regular professional contact him. Later, Tom became an equivalent level to her boss’ boss, and was a member of an executive committee reviewing the work of Cassy and her colleagues. As the years passed, he rose, three levels above her management hierarchy.
I had also worked under with Tom’s authority but had a level of management in between. He was assigned to me in a management mentoring program, at first. As my career progressed, later we worked side-by-side as colleague when we both served on a high profile committee for a Deputy Minister. It was, on the whole, a pleasure to work with Tom. He was smart, and recognized good work. He was also full of good humour. he had completely camouflaged himself, cagily concealing the inner scumbag lurking inside of the two thousand dollar suit from my view. Perhaps, too, I didn’t want to know.
Cassy’s marriage was already in trouble when Tom made his advances on her. She and her husband had grown apart, and her inability to conceive was an issue. The couple spent tens of thousands of dollars on in-vitro fertilization in an attempt to have their own child. All attempts were tragic failures.
Starting up with Tom put a full-stop on the meaningless run-on sentence that had become their marriage. She fell quickly and hard for the charismatic manager, who was clearly being groomed to run the whole department someday.
Then, Cassy missed her period; a pregnancy test revealed she was with child. She and her husband had not slept in the same bed for a sufficiently long period to know that the unborn baby was a product of her affair with Tom – a miracle because she had no idea she could conceive without the help of a fertility specialist, and it was a vindication of their forbidden love.
Surely, Tom would now leave his wife.
Well, he didn’t. He coerced her into getting an abortion, saying that his fragile young children would not be able to deal with the news. But if they could have one love child so easily, surely, they could have another, this time within wedlock. It was not quite a proposal, so much as a promise– the kind married men in troubled marriages are prone to make when their backs are up against a wall.
Years went by, and Cassy was ever-conscious of her biological clock. She had it out with Tom, now separated but still married to his wife.
This time it the financial advisory and tax practice he had on the side (likely a violation of his conflict-of-interest agreement with Government of Canada) was his excuse. It was in his wife’s name, and he needed to wrap up the business, pass on the clients to others.
She didn’t buy it.
Soon after, there was a fire in the offices where his client’s files were kept. How this happened remains a mystery but it was of no concern to Cassy who had by then dumped Tom, and taken up with a new man.
A few months into the relationship when it seemed things were getting serious, the man got hand-written letters in the mail telling him his new girlfriend was a woman of loose moral character, and got friendly with other men after a few drinks.
Cassy was shocked and denied the allegations.
The slanderous letters continued revealing intimate details about Cassy’s body, likes and dislikes in the boudoir. Her boyfriend soon ended the relationship. It’s not that he believed the slurs against cassy, ‘I just don’t need this in my life,’ he said.
By then, Cassy had seen one of the letters and recognized the handwriting. It was Tom’s.
She confronted him. By then he was a Director General, and about to be named Assistant Deputy Minister, and he counseled her to ‘be careful.’ The intimation was clear, if taken further, Cassy would be punished.
I wasn’t entirely convinced of Cassy’s story. She was prone to bouts of emotion, and I had known Tom to be professional, and very competent at his job – that is until, one day, he summoned me to his office, and accustomed to just walking in if the door was ajar, I found his hands cupped around the buttocks of a subordinate.
‘She’s running the half marathon,’ he quipped, ‘and I just wanted to make sure she had the buns to do it,’ he said letting out a gregarious laugh. She smirked and giggled nervously before virtually bounding out of the office.
Before leaving for India, I had learned that Cassy had started a new life, meet someone new, and moving in with him. By all accounts, they were happy, and considering adoption.
Tom was still married and separated from his wife.
But, while in India, I found out that Tom had abruptly resigned, under suspicion of influence peddling, an RCMP investigation on his heels.
Tom’s undoing did not lie in his sexual misdeeds. Rather, it was due to alleged favours, possibly kickbacks, received for awarding contracts. I’m sure when the news circulated of his sudden departure, at least two women breathed a sigh of relief.
While sexual harassment in the workplace is of epidemic proportions in India, and it is not safe for women to walk the streets at night in most cities, it is hypocritical for those in the West to turn their noses up at the ‘savages’ in the east, who can’t seem to control themselves.
Sexual exploitation knows no language, culture or border, and must be battled both at home and abroad. Maybe then will the Fords, Ghomeshis and their ilk become relics of the past rather than being only the most public examples of an all-too-common malfeasance.