Jian Ghomeshi and the unbearable ignorance of men

In his 3400-word essay, Jian Ghomeshi wants it be publicly known that he feels bad. He also missed the entire point of the #MeToo movement.

September 17, 2018

I don’t think yelling “I’m tired!” is a strong or sharp enough way of capturing the precise, total exhaustion I felt in my bones having to think about this. To think about Jian Ghomeshi’s (the disgraced former host of CBC’s q) return to the public eye in The New York Review of Books. But that’s how I (and thousands of others in Canada and abroad) felt this past Friday when the confirmation of Ghomeshi’s return loomed. The most concise review of Ghomeshi’s 3400-word essay “Reflections from a Hashtag” can be summed up by two key takeaways: it is exhausting and it is a garbage read. (It’s certainly petty of me to take shots at his florid prose but it’s 500 million degrees in the middle of September and I’m mad and it is terribly written!)

A lot of very smart women have written very smart takes on his essay already and I earnestly, maybe naively, hope they drown out what Ghomeshi wrote, making the essay more or less a footnote in this specific part of history. But it still exists and that’s the unwavering point. Because what he wrote, and what the New York Review of Books gave him in a platform, was the ability to still attempt the erasure of the women who have vocalized ample grievances against him, and of woman, period. Anyone can see that situations have two-sides or a myriad of sides or multitudes of nuance.

What Ghomeshi does is still presume that his side is the only one that’s important to be told. Men prioritize their voice, which has historically never been something they weren’t able to do. Ghomeshi’s revelation of truth and empathy, of finally getting it that he can’t carry on as a…Lothario?—a generous descriptor of his dismissal of women throughout the piece—is, at its very best, rudimentary. He finally acknowledges that women are human beings and isn’t that great news! But, more often than not, this extension of perspective is rarely given to women who, for the most part, if you haven’t got it yet, aren’t lying.

At the core of his essay, though there is a lot one can take away, unpack, pull, etc. about Ghomeshi lying and bending the truth to serve his own purpose. He is wildly ignorant about the depth of his own casual, though still systemic, misogyny toward women, which speaks to the much larger issue of men simply and fundamentally not getting it. That for all the #MeToo movement has done in the last year—and before that with waves of feminism and generations of public discourse about the relationship among genders, and sex and consent—men are very good at doubling down on refusing to see the depth of their dismissive behaviour toward women. Still!

Ghomeshi thrives off of public validation, even in the face of accusation.

Ghomeshi goes to great lengths to communicate to us how angry, frustrated, sad, and confused he was about the entire experience, the latter of which should immediately be examined in laser-focus. Confusion. Men are, more often than not, confused that they could be perceived as callous toward women, failing to understand how they unconsciously perpetuate power imbalances through their actions. How could Jian, a very nice liberal feminist (who makes sure that he mentions that he once interviewed Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison), be accused of being a violent man, or one who intimidated women with his professional power? He says he took the time to figure out that he was using his liberal feminism (what?) against women by not being responsive or considerate towards them. He admits that he was part of the problem, and understands he leveraged both his fame and infamy in personal and professional situations. This essay is a public letter of congratulations to himself for listening, for taking years to reflect, for finally understanding his part in the system of patriarchy (words he didn’t write but what he’s writing around.) And yet, it feels like none of those things actually happened in the text.

This may seem like a shocking suggestion so bear with me: What if Ghomeshi directly apologized to women he hurt without having to write an essay and publicly perform contrition? Not saying these women have to accept it but what if he continued to do that work privately? Of all the things he wrote in this essay, the most meaningful bit is giving into reflection. No matter who you are, reflection and accountability serve you well in life. But this method only works when one does it without being praised publicly for doing so.

That’s impossible here. Ghomeshi wrote: “But if the opinion of others is how you define yourself, what happens when all of the outside props of status—the ratings, the followers, the social media likes—are torn away overnight? Who are you?” Ghomeshi thrives off of public validation, even in the face of accusation. He even included an anecdote of a well-known fellow broadcaster friend calling him a “king” for being seen with “a twenty-something date at a film festival event in Toronto” and the surge of affirmation he felt at the time, though he’s mortified at the thought now. How does the inclusion of that anecdote bolster his case for redemption? It doesn’t. Its only purpose is to further highlight Ghomeshi’s narcissistic practice of public apology and enlightenment. (Also, not to be that asshole, but barely anyone gets to be a tried and true king or queen in Canadian media because it is… Canadian media. Do you know how wild that sounds?)

Women don’t want a publicly apologize if what that apology exists to do is centre yourself in the spotlight again.

There is no other conceivable reason for him to carry on so breathtakingly fake deep throughout the piece than for his need of being acknowledged publicly. He wants to be seen again. He needs you to know that he feels bad and he is listening. And this is what men who have been accused of sexual assault and misconduct have done, not just in the time of #MeToo, but before as well. It’s this sort of if-a-tree-falls-in-the-woods-does-anybody-hear-it line of thought: If we don’t see you apologize, has it actually made any difference? If this essay exists as a lesson for anything it is that men should never be compelled to apologize only if it makes them look better. Because it doesn’t.

I don’t know how to articulate it any more clearly that men get priority when it comes to space or platform; that they can immediately walk through life, through a meeting room or courtroom and not be met with questions of authenticity. Systems and institutions in this life have been structured so men benefit from them, not women, and that’s the near daily struggle many women fight. Ghomeshi— and the editor of the New York Review of Books, who also paints quite the portrait of someone who doesn’t care about the genuine public concern of the former Q host’s return—are so casually ignorant of that truth, but I shouldn’t be surprised by that. While reading this man’s attempt at redemption—where he demands it, rather than simply asking—is exhausting, I am more exhausted by the reality that Jian Ghomeshi isn’t the only one who does this. Most conversation about what to do with the “men of #MeToo” are followed by the gesture that we have to forgive to really move on, and give men a chance to do so when they rarely give us any chance at all.

Women don’t want a publicly apologize if what that apology exists to do is centre yourself in the spotlight again. That contradicts the purpose of an apology. Ghomeshi, and most men for that matter, have to apologize for the ways they unconsciously (or consciously) prioritize their voices over women’s. That’s all we want, truthfully. To be acknowledged instead of a catalyst in your epiphany. Is it really that hard to believe that we are human, too, and deserving of space and time in the precise ways you are? I think that is the most baffling thing about this essay, and still the way men move online and in public, is that even in the most extreme of circumstances, they don’t want to give up the power they believe they have through sincerely atoning for their misdeeds. Asking men to simply “do better” isn’t enough anymore.  

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