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Jian Ghomeshi: The good soldier?

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Quite apart from whatever Jian Ghomeshi has done in his private endeavours as a so-called sexual adverturier, his (Navigator-assisted) self-fashioning on Facebook is troubling in itself. What possesses an individual, otherwise seemingly upstanding, to reveal the kind of detail that Ghomeshi has about his "private practices"?

Such revelation, as others have remarked and as he states himself, is to ensure that he gets his story told, that he seizes command -- like "a good soldier" -- of the rhetorical space in which the conversation is going to unfold.

I expect one would only contemplate disclosing that level of detail if future revelations are expected to be damaging in the extreme.

But what of this self-fashioning? While Ghomeshi's on-air personality was agreeable, relaxed, attentive to what his guests had to offer -- a master interviewer -- his carefully massaged Facebook post was nothing of the sort.

Gone is the façade of a kinder, gentler masculinity. Instead, he tells his listeners/readers that the allegations are false, that he is the victim of a scorned young woman (later joined by several others) and that the CBC has done him a huge disservice in terminating his contract while he is "in his prime."

The tone is not solicitous, nor even fully respectful. Rather, it has the aggressive undertone of someone who is desperate to get his version out before others speak. It is particularly aggressive in its assertions of Ghomeshi himself as the master of his sexual life and choices. 

Most troubling is his assertion that whatever people (women) say about his past sexual behavior, and his appetites, he only participates in consensual sexual practices and therefore, any complaints against him are invalid.

Let's think more carefully about the self-portrayal here: He only participates in consensual sex. If someone else thinks of it as non-consensual, then that must be her error ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman" comes to mind here -- Monica Lewinsky may have had sex with Bill Clinton, but he emphatically did not have sex with her).

These are the assertions of men in control of their sexual destiny and self-definition. It does not matter what the woman's point of view might be, these men have control over the rhetorical public space in which the accusations are being put forward.

Of course, as Canadian sexual assault law clearly states, consent is not something that one party can infer, assume or declare for others (and in any case, may be irrelevant if it leads to acts involving bodily harm, as Brenda Cossman has explained).

Although Ghomeshi insistently tries to remove any doubt for us, his attempt to do so indicates a conceptual block in his own thinking -- he is not the final arbiter of whether a sexual interaction has been consensual. That is a story that has two sides, and he is only in a place to speak about one of them. 

The Guardian has just published an article in which it is claimed that more talk is needed about consent. I would suggest that, while that can only be a good thing, consent is rather beside the point to the stories that are being told since it is quite clear that no consent was sought or given (rather like the famous "No Means No" case, which prompted Supreme Ct Madame Justice L'Heureux Dubé to say, "this case is not about consent since none was given.")

My point is that this case is really about masculine entitlement, a self-defining masculinity that can proclaim there was consent, even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary.

Finally, it's appropriate to address Ghomeshi's self-description as a "good soldier" in his prime, an unfortunate identity to adopt given the events of the last week in Canada in which actual soldiers have died.

Framing himself as a good soldier implies that he has done his part, has given to the CBC and to the country and is owed something in return. Now the CBC and the country need to show him their gratitude; it/we must validate his identity as a victim who was only doing what we are all entitled to do, which is carry out our sexual practices in private.

It is worth asking, in this mass of confusion and instant communication, who is owed what?

It seems to me that if anyone is owed the right to be heard, it is the women who viewed their chances of being believed as so minimal that they preferred to stay quiet. The days of women's enforced silence and shame regarding sexual and other forms of assault should be long gone, but the outpouring of support for Ghomeshi, and the persistence of his cult of personality, clearly shows that we have a long way to go.


Joanne Wright is a professor of Political Science and Co-ordinator of Gender and Women's Studies at the University of New Brunswick.

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