I’m a modern man, and I don’t come on, anymore
As you can see
What I won’t do if
I get uptight
Oh I do it anyway
I get mine (I get mine)
Are you lonely?
Do you need me?
You can hold my silver hand
Just what do you take me for?
Well, if you need it, if you need
I get mine (I get mine)
Last week I predicted how the shooting on Parliament Hill would play in the press. I was close to the truth, though of course I didn’t predict that we’d also get caught up in the reports surrounding Jian Ghomeshi’s sexual assault scandal. ’Round these parts, news doesn’t usually come all at once like that. And when there is news, it tends to be a bit less sensational — it’s not at the forefront of everyone’s minds quite so much. Previous to these incidents, my recollection of Canadian news is that it revolved a lot around Thomas Mulcair saying pithy things in Parliament, Stephen Harper upsetting most of the country for no discernible reason, and no one paying any sustained amount of attention to the impoverished. Now, we’ve got scandals all up in here.
It’s been a strange month to be Canadian. It’s been interesting, too, though, to watch how things have unfolded — or, in some cases, how they haven’t. On the one hand: I haven’t been able to log into Facebook without seeing a dozen new articles about Jian Ghomeshi, and I haven’t had many conversations where he doesn’t come up at some point. Even most work emails I’ve gotten seem to have an addendum at the bottom about how the sender feels about this whole thing. There has been precious little news about the story, but that hasn’t stopped the speculation, the conversations, the unearthing of videos from 20 years ago.
On the other hand: I have heard very little about the shooting on Parliament Hill since the few days after it happened. We mourned the loss of these soldiers. One particularly pedantic columnist declared that neither of the fallen soldiers should be considered heroes in the strictest sense of the term. There has been a bit of news about heritage experts examining bullet damage in the Centre Block. There were also some articles about new security measures that might compromise our privacy and our freedom in a way that didn’t seem equal to what happened, but those have yet to lead to nearly as much conversation as this Ghomeshi business has.
It could be that the Parliament Hill shooting, while tragic and unprecedented, turned out also to be quite cut and dried. The shooter wasn’t part of a larger organization that Canada would now have to guard against; he was an individual acting individually. Perhaps there’s not much more to say about it.
The case of Ghomeshi, however, is anything but cut and dried. There is no smoking gun, literal or figurative. There’s only a series of allegations, a semi-documented history of Ghomeshi’s creepiness (for lack of a better term), and a society that has no idea how to deal with sexual assault. There are questions of what due process means, what consent is supposed to look like, whether an anonymous complaint can or should hold weight in a public discussion, how male privilege affects women adversely, why women are afraid to come forward in cases of sexual assault, and how we as individuals and as a society can support people who do come forward. The conversation is about Ghomeshi and those he assaulted, but it’s about far more than Ghomeshi, as well.
It’s a conversation that needs to happen, in Canada and abroad. Just this past week, a scandal erupted in Cambridge, U.K., when a troop of visiting soldiers sexually assaulted women and men in the Market Square area of the city, and offered as a defence, essentially, “no one told us this was wrong in the U.K.” As my sister said: “Of course. How silly of the British army not to tell Libyan soldiers that rape is illegal.” She is particularly shaken up by this, as it’s the part of town she lived in while she went to university there.
That’s a particularly extreme example of these things, though — and in some ways, it’s the extreme examples that undercut the more common ones. We expect assault to look like a stranger attacking someone in a park or on the street, but it doesn’t always look like that. And when you’re talking about being assaulted by an acquaintance, a friend, a writer you admire, or a boyfriend, it’s a much more difficult topic to discuss. I know exactly why those women didn’t come forward, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a lot of women who wouldn’t understand it. Most of us don’t come forward.
Perhaps, actually, to watch the way these respective news items have unfolded should give us hope. In another era, the allegations against Ghomeshi might have been overpowered by a call to arms over the death of two soldiers. But here, that’s not what happened. Instead, we’re having a national conversation about assault and consent. And that is something of which to be proud.
Ward is a freelance writer and aspiring documentary filmmaker based in Saskatoon. You can find her short bursts of insight and frustration at www.twitter.com/newsetofstrings