Taking stock of a moment of real societal change
With full acknowledgment that sexual assault isn’t gender specific, many outstanding men in our lives struggle with discussing #MeToo – so in today’s edition of The Middle, I offer an open letter to men.
The #MeToo Movement has changed the way we conduct ourselves – all of us.
For many women, this movement has seen long-untold tales of sexual assault surface. For many men, it’s coming as a complete and utter shock. For others, it’s a wakeup call. It’s a turning point for everything from inappropriate dance floor dalliances, to workplace behaviour between bosses and subordinates —all the way to full-on sexual assault and rape.
Not long ago, none of this would be reported.
In the past, the victim would be challenged, even punished, for speaking up without hard evidence. Many who did find the courage were blackballed in male-dominated industries. If accusations made it to court, the victim has often been dragged through a justice system that relied on hard evidence to make a ruling.
Victims required a “smoking gun.”
It’s messy. It’s imperfect.
There is very little Middle in #MeToo, which has so many taking sides, finding tribes, and choosing party lines.
In pursuit of middle, let’s begin with a bit of unsolicited advice on how to discuss the #MeToo movement in late 2018: start with “believing survivors.”
Whether it’s a story about a Catholic Diocese sexually assaulting one (or many) of his flock, or a US Supreme Court nominee in his late teens allegedly laughing with a buddy while attempting to sexually overpower a 15-year-old at a party, or a big-name radio host who likes to punch his dates, let’s set a new default position.
We should start with believing the survivors brave enough to step forward — and put the microscope on the perpetrator.
We’ve all heard, and overheard, things like: “you can’t even compliment a woman on her skirt without it being harassment…it’s gone too far.”
Would you ever complement a male colleague about the fit of his slacks? Likely not. Things labeled “locker room talk,” or “old boys club,” need reflection.
When it comes to consent, think to “back in the day.” Did you ever see/hear of a time where boundaries were crossed – and no one did a thing? Inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, or “taking liberties” at a party?
Those are the things that women didn’t push back on then, but they are now. Would you look away now? Likely not – and that’s progress.
Many, many, good men are appalled by the questionable behaviour more and more people are speaking up about. At social gatherings, dinner parties everywhere, the stories are surfacing and are being met by greying shocked faces. This speak volumes. It’s important that we all realize how deeply this runs through our society, for generations.
I’m seeing a lot of “if you have sons, you should be scared.” I have a son and I’m not scared.
I’m raising him to see equality in genders, sexuality, lifestyle. Being kind isn’t that difficult. Being respectful isn’t that difficult.
The Middle here is not taking it to extremes.
Of course, there will be arguments made that some accusations might be made up or embellished. And yes, of course there will be. Those few should not discount the truth of legitimate allegations.
Lots of folks are saying things like “what happened to innocent until proven guilty?” When it comes to sexual harassment and sexual assault, the victim should have the default of being believed, rather than needing to prove they had not given consent. One day this will be the norm.
The percentage of lies are akin someone faking a cancer diagnosis – vanishingly rare. There’s no glory in admitting to being a victim of sexual assault. NONE. Nada. Zero.
Let’s return to where #MeToo began for many of us: Jian Ghomeshi.
There has been no accountability, and no real apology; he’s basically been in hiding.
Until last month.
Like so many Canadian women, reading Ghomeshi’s New York Review of Books piece came with great hesitation.
I clicked. I had to. The Journalist in me needed to see his words, not a summary, to form my opinion.
The article left me gobsmacked. He’s learned nothing.
Apparently, Jian Ghomeshi is a victim. So far removed from today’s climate of #MeToo, he even had the gall to share the jokes friends made about him being a “#MeToo pioneer.”
Just a couple of weeks later, millions watched US Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh literally yell in anger about how his life has been ruined by allegations against him. His accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, shared the detailed account of her experience. A 15-year-old at a high school party, Kavanaugh and his buddy Mark Judge allegedly laughed while attacking her.
She was stoic. He yelled, he cried, he snarled, he dodged direct questions — he stumped to his Republican base — he tried to make this political. It is not.
Ghomeshi wasn’t the first powerful man accused by many, but he was the first to pay with his career. As we wait to see how Kavanaugh’s nomination plays out, no matter what happens, this is a watershed moment.
Should there be redemption? Shouldn’t the accused be allowed a path to normalcy? Honestly, I don’t know that there is an answer to that…yet.
If the behavior puts others at risk, moving forward, without serious intervention and treatment, I say no.
Put it this way: if a surgeon was accused of allegedly sexually abusing patients, should the doctor be allowed to continue practicing?
With positions like Ghomeshi enjoyed at CBC come great public responsibility – and he went far beyond using his status for his own benefit, but to find vulnerable women to manipulate and allegedly attack. Kavanaugh is a whisper away from the highest court in the world’s most powerful country – a lifetime appointment – and he’s accused of predatory behaviour.
Zero accountability and a search for plausible deniability have been used to push back on #MeToo — but they are failing.
The fact that Ghomeshi’s article made it to print was shocking. But within weeks, the editor who published it, Ian Buruma was gone. And in the US, Senator Jeff Flake asked to postpone for a one-week FBI investigation. It proved there ARE consequences, regardless of age or wealth.
#TimesUp means exactly that. The time has come to believe survivors — to believe that Christine Blasey Ford would not blow up her life in the name of some political “hit job.” A full investigation, with no restrictions, should have been required.
#MeToo is not a fad, and it’s not going away. It’s one step closer to equality.
Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who has spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.