Jonathon Van Maren

From the front lines of the culture wars


A man shouldn’t hit a woman…unless she’s asking for it?

The Jian Ghomeshi trial exposed our cultural schizophrenia on sexual violence.
Tue Mar 29, 2016 - 1:10 pm EST
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March 29, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – When former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted last week of sexual assault and choking, the Internet exploded. Many accused the judge, who excoriated the accusers in Ghomeshi’s case as unreliable, evasive, and even deceitful, of victim-blaming. Others, including Christie Blatchford of the National Post, announced that justice had been done. She had been writing incredulously about the unravelling of the witness testimony since the trial began.

It shouldn’t be surprising to us that in a culture that regularly glorifies sexual violence, it becomes harder to convict someone of sexual violence. 

Besides the typical outrage from the #feminism crowd, the reason so many people are genuinely stunned at Ghomeshi’s acquittal is because the evidence seemed so overwhelming. Not the evidence presented in court, mind you—that was clearly lacking. I mean the evidence presented in the media when the scandal first broke. While Ghomeshi has been legally acquitted of four counts of sexual assault and one count of “overcoming resistance by choking,” he was accused by 22 different women of 23 different incidents.

For weeks, blogs and news outlets featured stories of different women who had gone on dates with Ghomeshi, only to have the smooth-talking radio host suddenly turn into an ugly, violent misogynist. Those who didn’t experience Ghomeshi’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde impression did report that he was a wildly insecure, hyper-sexual playboy who often crossed the line, usually with women a couple decades younger than him. In short, we all found out that Jian Ghomeshi was a creep. But it’s not illegal to be a creep. In fact, it’s very likely that Jian Ghomeshi is guilty of sexual assault, but that he can never be convicted of it. As I wrote two years ago when the scandal broke:

Every so often, media outlets accidentally say more than they intend to. The sub-headline to the Toronto Star’s breaking news story “CBC fires Jian Ghomeshi over sex allegations” is one such time: “Ousted host of Q denies claims by three women of unwanted sexual violence and threatens to sue…”

Got that? There doesn’t seem to be a debate here over whether or not the practices the upstanding Mr. Ghomeshi was engaging in were, in fact, sexual violence. This debate hinges on whether or not that sexual violence was “unwanted.”

The Ghomeshi case was not about whether or not Jian was a connoiseur of sexual violence. He admitted that up front, in the nauseating open letter he posted on Facebook prior to being charged with sexual assault. He admitted that his “sexual tastes” would be “unpalatable” to many people. He admitted that he enjoyed “all kinds of unsavoury aggressive acts in the bedroom.” He admitted to relationships that resembled “50 Shades of Grey,” a porn novel featuring an aggressive, violent stalker and his naïve female subordinate. Basically, he admitted that he got off on all of the violent things he was accused of. He just said that they weren’t illegal.

It shouldn’t be surprising to us that in a culture that regularly glorifies sexual violence, it becomes harder to convict someone of sexual violence. 50 Shades of Grey, after all, sold over 100 million copies and became a blockbuster film. Over 80% of the male population is viewing pornography regularly, and most mainstream pornography now features violence against women and repulsive name-calling, precisely the type of the thing that was purportedly Jian Ghomeshi’s mo. The raw sewage of violent porn that has been pumping into our cultural consciousness for the last decade or two has been having an effect. From Fight the New Drug:

A brand new national survey was just published that asked participants what type of images they considered to be “wrong” in porn. Among the 1188 adults surveyed, 46% of those who use porn replied that images of “sexual acts that may be forced or painful” are not “wrong.” Yes, you read that correctly. Almost half of porn users think pain and abuse in pornography is fine. Even further, only 50% of teens and young adults surveyed (ages 13 to 25) think it is wrong to view these images of violent porn.

This is the problem. Our society is schizophrenic about sexual violence. On one hand, hundreds can turn out to protest Jian Ghomeshi’s acquittal. On the other hand, hundreds of thousands can buy tickets to go watch 50 Shades of Grey, and millions can log in to watch women and girls get degraded, humiliated, and violated for entertainment. In a society like this one, defence lawyers can actually ask victims if they wanted to get slapped, choked, or beaten up by the creepy dude who got his jollies from doing such things, because the culture has collectively accepted such things as legitimate avenues of sexual expression.

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I’m not too optimistic, but I hold out hope that the Jian Ghomeshi scandal can still provoke a broader discussion about sexual violence. Sexual violence isn’t just wrong when a creepy radio host does it. It’s also wrong when we head to the theatre to be entertained by it in films like 50 Shades of Grey. It’s wrong when we surf the Internet for pornography. It’s wrong when we as a culture respond to the statement “Men shouldn’t hit women” with the reply, “Unless she’s asking for it, of course.”

Jian Ghomeshi hasn’t managed to escape all of the charges just yet. He’s heading back to court in June to face another accuser, and perhaps this time he will be convicted. But in the meantime, perhaps the breathless outrage of those incensed by Ghomeshi’s acquittal could be rerouted in another direction. Jian Ghomeshi is just a symptom of a broader cultural problem, a sad, sex-obsessed bachelor who got carried away enjoying the new sexual freedoms infecting our pornified culture. So let’s not just swat at mosquitos like Ghomeshi. Let’s drain the swamp. Let’s address the real problems. 

  jian gomeshi, sexual violence

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