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Till it happens to her

April 4, 2016

If you don’t live in Canada, you may not recognise the name Jian Ghomeshi.

He was a popular radio host who was dismissed by the CBC after he was accused of physical and sexual assault by three young women. Ghomeshi responded with a long Facebook post in which he stated that, yes, he had some sexual proclivities which some might find unsavoury, but these encounters were always consensual. And therefore no one’s business.

When the accusations became the business of the courts, Ghomeshi did what any affluent male in his position would do: he hired a hot shot female lawyer and opted for a trial by judge, rather than a trial by jury.

The hot shot lawyer did her job, tearing apart Ghomeshi’s accusers on the witness stand. Turns out Ghomeshi had kept every email he’d ever received from the women, some of which were quite flattering – dare his lawyer suggest flirty – after the alleged assaults. The implication, not missed by the judge, being that no woman who’d suffered an unpleasant experience would behave in this manner. (As these cross examinations were reported on the news, I was having flashbacks to 1991 when Anita Hill dared to suggest Clarence Hill’s proclivity for sexual harassment might make him unfit to serve on the Supreme Court.)


The judge’s decision that the case was not proven and that the charges against Ghomeshi should therefore be dropped ignited yet another debate in Canada about the way in which  sexual assault cases are tried. (That, of course, would be the cases resulting from the infinitesimally small number of sexual assaults that are actually reported.)  On Twitter #IBelieveSurvivors exploded.

All of this is the back story. I offer no opinion about Ghomeshi, his accusers, his lawyer or the judge’s ruling. Others have tackled all these subjects at great length.

What got me to the keyboard this morning was a toxic throwaway comment made last weekend by Margaret Wente.

More back story required. Margaret Wente, if you’ve never heard of her, has been a columnist with the Globe and Mail since 1992. In the early years I quite enjoyed reading her column. Then I went back to London for nine years. When I returned to Canada in 2010 I discovered something strange had happened. Wente’s column was very seldom remotely enjoyable. Instead it had become an almost rabidly right-wing and all too frequently anti-feminist blood pressure test. (How high can she send my blood pressure this week?)

It was predictable that Wente would have things to say about the Ghomeshi trial and verdict. It was equally predictable that she would hurl petrol – and a match – at the I Believe Survivors movement. It was all bog standard Wente.

Then she wrote this paragraph: “It is also worth remembering that in criminal cases, there are asymmetrical consequences for complainants and defendants. If the complainant loses, life goes on. If the defendant loses, he stands to lose his liberty, his job, his reputation and much else. That’s why the standard of proof is so high. In high-profile cases, a defendant is likely to lose a lot even if he wins.”

Congratulations, Peggy. That’s the closest you’ve ever come to actually making my head explode.

Allow me to repeat, with added emphasis: “If the complainant loses, life goes on.”

What planet does she inhabit? And what, on that planet, is the definition of “life”? It must be pretty basic, something along the lines of: “Life: the inhalation of oxygen and exhalation of carbon dioxide; the intake of solid and liquid nutrition; defecation and urination; somnolence.” Well, yes, by that definition, life does go on for victims of sexual assault. Unfortunately, by any other definition, life, as they’d previously known it, is over forever.

Something completely unexpected happened to me at the end of February: I burst into tears whilst watching the Academy Awards.

First of all there was the surprise of Vice-President Joe Biden walking out on stage and making an appeal to the theatre and the global audience to take the It’s On Us pledge.

Then he introduced Lady Gaga, who was performing the Oscar-nominated song she’d written for The Hunting Ground, a documentary about campus rape. (This is a subject about which Margaret Wente has had plenty of dismissive things to say.)


And then there were tears streaming down my cheeks. Because Lady Gaga had nailed it: the “fuck off and stop telling me I’ll get over it” message every rape victim wants to scream at well-intentioned friends and family.

You never get over it. If you’re lucky, it gets bearable. It never gets better.

For Margaret Wente to so casually write the words “life goes on” says a lot about her, not least that she has never been the victim of sexual assault. Nor (to her knowledge at least) have any of her female friends or family members. I would never wish this on her or on any individual known or unknown to her.

What I do wish is that she, on this subject at least, would shut the fuck up.




By Lady Gaga and Diane Warren

You tell me “it gets better, it gets better, in time”.
You say I’ll pull myself together, pull it together,
“You’ll be fine”
Tell me what the hell do you know?
What do you know?
Tell me how the hell could you know?
How could you know?

Till it happens to you, you don’t know
How it feels,
How it feels.
Till it happens to you, you won’t know
It won’t be real
No, it won’t be real
Won’t know how it feels.

You tell me “hold your head up,
Hold your head up and be strong
Cause when you fall, you gotta get up
You gotta get up and move on.”

Tell me, how the hell could you talk?
How could you talk?
Cause until you walk where I walk,
It’s just all talk.

Till it happens to you, you don’t know
How it feels,
How it feels.
Till it happens to you, you won’t know
It won’t be real (how could you know?)
No, it won’t be real (how could you know?)
Won’t know how I feel

Till your world burns and crashes
Till you’re at the end, the end of your rope
Till you’re standing in my shoes, I don’t wanna hear nothing from you
From you, from you, cause you don’t know

Till it happens to you, you don’t know
How I feel
How I feel
How I feel
Till it happens to you, you won’t know
It won’t be real (how could you know?)
No, it won’t be real (how could you know?)
Won’t know how it feels

Till it happens to you, you won’t know how I feel.

From → Columns

One Comment
  1. I said I had no comment to make about Ghomeshi and that remains the same. But I do feel compelled to share Carla Ciccone’s sad and all-too-predictable tale:

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