I probably shouldn’t be posting on my blog right now, what with the stack of student papers to grade and a chapter to write. But in the wake of the news that Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted, I feel so overcome with grief that I can’t not talk about it. After hearing the verdict, I posted this status update on my Facebook and I’d like to expand upon it here — although I feel the need to note that what I will say below isn’t anything new, because women’s wounds, as Leslie Jamison puts it, are never new — they’re one of the oldest stories that we have:
I feel overcome with grief for the women who bravely stood up and pointed the finger at the man who sexually assaulted them — and not just any man, but a high profile man, one who many had come to know and respect. They spoke up despite his fame, despite the fact that their stories weren’t “perfect.” They put themselves in the spotlight and thus under the microscope of public scrutiny — as well as legal scrutiny. As many have remarked, this turned into a case that was more about proving that they were bad witnesses, that we couldn’t trust their accounts because they didn’t act the way one should have right after being assaulted.
This line of thinking is perhaps the most depressing to me. That not leaving the person’s house right after they assaulted you = it wasn’t assault is such a simplistic understanding of human behaviour that it’s almost ridiculous. I wish it could be ridiculous. But many see a victim’s action post-assault as defining whether the experience was assault or not. Luckily many have commented on how one’s actions post-assualt might not line up with would be considered “appropriate” behaviour. I really appreciated reading Zosia Bielski’s “How politeness conditioning can lead to confusion about sexual assaults.” She begins the piece with the following:
“I didn’t want to seem frosty and I didn’t want to seem mad.
That was complainant Lucy DeCoutere during her time on the stand last month at the sexual assault trial of former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi, who faces a verdict Thursday. Asked to account for why DeCoutere had stayed at Ghomeshi’s house for an hour after he allegedly slapped and choked her, she explained that she had been brought up to make the people around her happy and comfortable, to ‘foster kind thoughts’ with a ‘pleasing personality.’ She said she’d been raised to be polite to a host – even an allegedly violent one, apparently.”
What Bielski’s article highlights is how women are conditioned to appease men. This shouldn’t feel like news in 2016, but somehow it still is. Despite all of the work that feminism has done, we still live in a patriarchal, misogynistic, rape-culture world. Women are conditioned to be nice from Day 1 — and if your life is like mine, you don’t find out what feminism even is until the damage has been done. The narrative is in there. That the Ghomeshi trail failed to note the larger systemic issues that cause women to act in a way not in accordance with her experience, well maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. Maybe one day it will be the case that a woman will get up and walk away and straight into the police station right after a sexual assault occurs. Maybe. But that maybe is predicated upon that woman knowing, trusting that she can press charges and actually be heard; knowing, trusting that the man who assaulted her will be convicted.
What the Ghomeshi trial also failed to note was just how effing complex trauma is. Could someone ask them to read a little Cathy Caruth? As Caruth explains (following other psychoanalytic thinkers such as Freud), we cannot fully process the traumatic event at the moment that it occurs or even right after. Our psyche can only handle so much stress. And so our unconscious represses the experience, for the time being, so that we can process it in a way that’s not totally self-destructive (although often that self-destruction comes anyways — but the source is not always just the trauma, but rather the way that the patriarchal world that we live in refuses to hear that trauma).
In my last blog post, I talked about how after I lost my virginity — an act that wasn’t consensual but not exactly rape — I continued to see that boy. I wanted him to like me because maybe if he liked me, then I could rewrite the narrative of what took place. If he liked me then I could go on pretending that nothing happened. I remember reading a similar account in Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis. In her memoir, Matis recounts how after she was raped, she asked her rapist if he wanted to spend the night. This request was what led to him not being charged with rape after Matis went forward and reported the act to her school.
The Ghomeshi trails have left me asking: why does it seem inconceivable that a woman wouldn’t want to acknowledge that she was just violated in the worst way possible? We tell ourselves stories all the time in order to feel better. You get dumped by someone and you say “I didn’t care that much about her anyways.” You get harsh feedback on a piece of writing you’re working on and you reframe it as “constructive” criticism — even if it’s not. That we are not sophisticated enough to understand a) what it means to live in a patriarchal, misogynist world and b) what it means to experience a traumatic event — well, that really baffles me.
I could say more about how sickened I am that a woman represented Ghomeshi. I could say more about how much I hate the justice system. I could tell you how angry I feel that I could see Ghomeshi walking down the streets, a free man, free to commit more acts of sexual assault. I could say so much more on those topics. But all I can do right now is sit with the sadness and despair that I feel — for Ghomeshi’s victims, for myself, and for the rest of the women in the world, many of whom are at a much greater risk of violence, including women of colour, indigenous women, trans women, queer women, and women living in parts of the world where the word feminism can’t be spoken.
As I said at the end of my Facebook post — I really need to feel hopeful right now, hopeful that one day the justice system will be able to make space for the complex experience of being sexually assaulted, that it will support the victims, that it will acknowledge how much bravery it takes to step forward. Actually, what I hope for is a time when stepping up and saying “I was assaulted, I was raped” no longer needs to be thought of as a brave act. That it can be something that you do because the world you live in wants to change, wants to be better, and wants to acknowledge the pain of being a womyn.
Categorised in: Uncategorized
This post was written by Margeaux