Jian Ghomeshi’s ‘consent’ defence shows why ‘consent’ isn’t good enough

The CBC announced yesterday that they would be ending their relationship with Jian Ghomeshi, host of cultural affairs radio show Q, and probably the most famous radio host the CBC has ever had.

“The CBC is saddened to announce its relationship with Jian Ghomeshi has come to an end. This decision was not made without serious deliberation and careful consideration. Jian has made an immense contribution to the CBC and we wish him well,” the network said in a statement.

Before Ghomeshi himself dropped the bomb of all bombs, via an explanatory post on his Facebook page, it was clear something sketchy was up. It would take something pretty serious in order to fire Ghomeshi. He is widely beloved across Canada and the show, I’m certain, is the most popular on the CBC.

Shortly after the announcement, it was reported that Ghomeshi had hired the services of Navigator, a “high-stakes public strategy and communications firm” and that he planned to sue the CBC for $50 million.

It was clear Ghomeshi was going to be trying to save his reputation.

We didn’t have to wait long before learning what was behind the firing — Ghomeshi posted his defense, only a few hours after the announcement.

I’ve long admired and respected Ghomeshi’s work and was beyond disappointed, not only by what Ghomeshi revealed, but by his defense which, as far as clichés go, was way up there.

He immediately positioned himself as a victim, pulling out trope after sexist trope as he went along:

“This has been the hardest time of my life. I am reeling from the loss of my father. I am in deep personal pain and worried about my mom. And now my world has been rocked by so much more.

… Today I was fired from the company where I’ve been working for almost 14 years — stripped from my show, barred from the building and separated from my colleagues. I was given the choice to walk away quietly and to publicly suggest that this was my decision. But I am not going to do that. Because that would be untrue. Because I’ve been fired. And because I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Give me a moment to let the nausea pass…

Ok. Moving right along.

“I’ve been fired from the CBC because of the risk of my private sex life being made public as a result of a campaign of false allegations pursued by a jilted ex girlfriend and a freelance writer.”

So we have the male victim, falsely accused by your classic jealous, bitter ex — out to get revenge because a man didn’t want her. We also have the beginnings of what becomes the crux of Ghomeshi’s defense: what he does in the bedroom is none of our business, even if it involves violence against women, because 1) Sex is private — anything we do that involves sex is “ok” because it’s just our personal, private, sexy sex times. Mind your own. And 2) “Consent” — anything that can be said to be “consensual” is allowed to exist in a magical bubble, safe from any criticism whatsoever, because consent.

And away we go.

“I have always been interested in a variety of activities in the bedroom but I only participate in sexual practices that are mutually agreed upon, consensual, and exciting for both partners.

About two years ago I started seeing a woman in her late 20s. Our relationship was affectionate, casual and passionate. We saw each other on and off over the period of a year and began engaging in adventurous forms of sex that included role-play, dominance and submission. We discussed our interests at length before engaging in rough sex (forms of BDSM). We talked about using safe words and regularly checked in with each other about our comfort levels. She encouraged our role-play and often was the initiator. We joked about our relations being like a mild form of Fifty Shades of Grey or a story from Lynn Coady’s Giller-Prize winning book last year. I don’t wish to get into any more detail because it is truly not anyone’s business what two consenting adults do. I have never discussed my private life before. Sexual preferences are a human right.”

There you have it. It is no one’s business what anyone does in the bedroom. It’s private. Abusing women because it gives you a hard on — ahem, “sexual preference” — is a human right.

We’ve heard this bullshit a hundred times over. To hear it from Ghomeshi, someone who is extremely intelligent, and who has spent much of his life thinking, questioning, learning, interrogating, feels particularly disappointing in its mundaneness and in its predictability.

He goes on to discredit his accuser in an equally banal (and sexist) way:

“Despite a strong connection between us it became clear to me that our on-and-off dating was unlikely to grow into a larger relationship and I ended things in the beginning of this year. She was upset by this and sent me messages indicating her disappointment that I would not commit to more, and her anger that I was seeing others.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We get it. You are so sought-after, so desired — she just couldn’t take the rejection. We’ve heard it all before. Does anyone still fall for this crap?

“It came to light that a woman had begun anonymously reaching out to people that I had dated (via Facebook) to tell them she had been a victim of abusive relations with me. In other words, someone was reframing what had been an ongoing consensual relationship as something nefarious.”

Really? Are they “reframing what had been an ongoing consensual relationship as something nefarious?” Or are they saying that, from their end, the relationship was actually not so great? That they felt abused or victimized or exploited? Is it really up to you to decide what the relationship was or was not? Based solely on what you would like to believe? Oh. Of course it is. Of course. Because you are a man and it is your right to orgasms at any cost. And if you can claim or coerce “consent” from she who is to provide you with orgasms — your human right goddammit — all the better.

“I learned — through one of my friends who got in contact with this person — that someone had rifled through my phone on one occasion and taken down the names of any woman I had seemed to have been dating in recent years. This person had begun methodically contacting them to try to build a story against me. Increasingly, female friends and ex-girlfriends of mine told me about these attempts to smear me.”

You hear that? He has female friends. He is legit, he is ok. Even the women are onside. His accuser is just a lone crazy. Gotta love a man who pits women against one another.

“Someone also began colluding with a freelance writer who was known not to be a fan of mine and, together, they set out to try to find corroborators to build a case to defame me. She found some sympathetic ears by painting herself as a victim and turned this into a campaign.”

What the honest fuck, Jian? “She found some sympathetic ears by painting herself as a victim??” Or could it be that she felt victimized. Could it be that you victimized her. And god forbid anyone “sympathize” with her story of being abused. What a bitch. What a world of bitches, right bros?

“The writer boldly started contacting my friends, acquaintances and even work colleagues — all of whom came to me to tell me this was happening and all of whom recognized it as a trumped up way to attack me and undermine my reputation. Everyone contacted would ask the same question, if I had engaged in non-consensual behavior why was the place to address this the media?”

Me me me me memememeeeeeeeee! This is, lest we forget, about his reputation. Not about the abuse he inflicted on other women (there are four, apparently, who have come forward with similar allegations) — not about those who Ghomeshi allegedly “struck with a closed fist or open hand, bit… choked until they almost passed out,” tried to suffocate, and verbally abused. What really matters is Ghomeshi’s rep. Those are just bodies after all — they exist to be used and abused — this is a man’s right… I’m sorry, a human right.

“And this leads us to today and this moment. I’ve lived with the threat that this stuff would be thrown out there to defame me. And I would sue. But it would do the reputational damage to me it was intended to do (the ex has even tried to contact me to say that she now wishes to refute any of these categorically untrue allegations). But with me bringing it to light, in the coming days you will prospectively hear about how I engage in all kinds of unsavoury aggressive acts in the bedroom. And the implication may be made that this happens non-consensually. And that will be a lie.”

Remember consent? There was consent. The great conversation-stopper. Consent. Shut up. Didn’t you hear me? Consent.

“On Thursday I voluntarily showed evidence that everything I have done has been consensual. I did this in good faith and because I know, as I have always known, that I have nothing to hide. This when the CBC decided to fire me.

CBC execs confirmed that the information provided showed that there was consent. In fact, they later said to me and my team that there is no question in their minds that there has always been consent. They said they’re not concerned about the legal side. But then they said that this type of sexual behavior was unbecoming of a prominent host on the CBC. They said that I was being dismissed for “the risk of the perception that may come from a story that could come out.” To recap, I am being fired in my prime from the show I love and built and threw myself into for years because of what I do in my private life.”

No, Jian. You’re not getting it. This is not — despite what even many feminists will claim — about whether or not you can “prove” there was “consent.” It is not about whether or not these women technically consented. This isn’t about all the prudes who find your behaviour “distasteful” (read between the lines — this is, of course, what he believes and wants to convey — that we are just “personally” uncomfortable with his “sexual preferences”) — this isn’t about CBC execs thinking your behaviour is “unbecoming.” This is about the fact that beating up women turns you on. And that behaviour is abusive. It’s abusive despite your hard on. It’s abusive despite the fact that society has decided dominance and violence is a “sexual preference.” It’s abusive despite the fact that many will argue they enjoy it.

And the law agrees. As Brenda Cossman wrote for the Globe and Mail,

“… when it comes to BDSM — or at least its more intense versions — the law doesn’t actually care about consent. The Supreme Court has said that a person cannot consent to assault… if a sexual activity causes bodily harm, a person cannot consent to it.”

You cannot “consent” to abuse. I mean, imagine how would that play out in a situation of domestic abuse. “She stayed,” would be the defense. “She stayed,” meaning “she consented.” Women everywhere would have “consented” to their own abuse if “consent” were the key factor in decided whether something were right or wrong.

Since Ghomeshi posted the statement, it’s come out that there are allegations from three women, all about 20 years younger than him. A fourth woman, who worked at CBC, said Ghomeshi told her at work: “I want to hate f— you.”

BDSM, aside, a 47-year-old man who has a pattern of dating much younger women has issues with power — his power, to be specific. Good, normal, healthy, men who respect women as their equals do not exclusively pursue women who are 20 years younger than them. Good, normal, healthy, people who respect human beings as human beings do not get turned on by beating people up. Yell at me all you want, but it’s the truth.

Ghomeshi concludes by repeating the BDSM mantra: You may think I’m a weirdo, but MYOB, keep the state out of my bedroom, me, my life, meeee.

“Let me be the first to say that my tastes in the bedroom may not be palatable to some folks. They may be strange, enticing, weird, normal, or outright offensive to others. We all have our secret life. But that is my private life. That is my personal life. And no one, and certainly no employer, should have dominion over what people do consensually in their private life.”

But Jian. Violence against women is our business.

“I am still in shock,” he writes. “But I am telling this story to you so the truth is heard. And to bring an end to the nightmare.”

I think we’re all probably in shock. But Ghomeshi’s experience is not the nightmare. The nightmare is Ghomeshi. The nightmare is the fact that we live in a world wherein we are to believe that abusing women is not only acceptable, but sexy. Abuse is just an exciting thing to try in the bedroom — something “fun,” “safe,” “adventurous” people do. The “nightmare” is not that a 47-year-old, powerful man is, for once, being held to account for sexualizing violence against women — that he is being judged for his “private sexual practices.” I imagine that if we all were a little more judgemental — if we judged others (and ourselves) a little more harshly when it comes to acceptable, normal, healthy practices in the bedroom — ones that are based on treating one another with respect, kindness, love, and humanity — we would be less inclined to twist male violence into a “personal sexual preference” that is no one’s business but the perpetrator’s. Certainly we’d be less inclined to claim violence against women as an inalienable human right.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.