On Tuesday, Kathryn Borel published an account of her experiences working as a producer for Q in The Guardian. Borel is the previously-anonymous woman who said that Ghomeshi told her he wanted to “hate-fuck” her in a story meeting.
The sexual harassment was ongoing. After Borel yawned during a meeting and Ghomeshi responded by saying, “I want to hate fuck you, to wake you up,” she was subjected to “uninvited back massages at my desk to which it was clear I couldn’t say no, during which my host’s hands would slide down just a little too close to the tops of my breasts.” The former host also grabbed Borel’s rear end, claiming “he couldn’t control himself because of [her] skirt.” Sometimes, she wrote, Ghomeshi “would stand in the doorway of his office when no one was around and slowly undo his shirt by two or three buttons while staring at me, grinning.” He also grabbed her waist from behind “and proceeded to repeatedly thrust his crotch into [Borel’s] backside.” As other Q staffers have also said, Ghomeshi subjected Borel to emotional abuse, gaslighting, and psychological games “that undermined [her] intelligence, security and sense of self.”
She claims she went to her union and her executive producer at Q, neither of whom took action.
Like me, Borel says there was a part of her that was shocked when Ghomeshi was actually charged. I have become so accustomed at seeing powerful men get away with abuse and assault, that I was convinced Ghomeshi wouldn’t be held to account. What Borel had learned, during her time at Q, was that Ghomeshi was untouchable: “It felt like the power dynamics of his fame — and those complicit in maintaining that fame — had inured my host to all consequences of his actions.”
She had received the message, loud and clear, that she was disposable.
“Confronting Ghomeshi directly seemed like a nightmare. His star was rising fast. He was inextricable to the brand of the show. I worked behind the scenes and could be replaced at a moment’s notice. My feeling was that if it came down to firing the ‘problem employee,’ Ghomeshi certainly wasn’t going to be the one whom the radio station let go.”
Borel didn’t report the harassment for years because she was aware of her vulnerable position. Women learn that they won’t be supported when they come forward with these kinds of claims — that they will be the ones to suffer, not the perpetrators. We are all so obsessed with the question “why didn’t she report,” but realistically, what woman would come forward when they’d been sent a pretty clear message that they are insignificant and that their abuser/harasser/rapist can do no wrong? Particularly in journalism, a small, struggling, and competitive industry, long dominated by men, those who are fighting for a job or are new to the field feel they have little power — that they should be grateful even to have a job — especially at somewhere like the CBC. In Borel’s words, “getting asked to be part of the original production team behind Q was the biggest break I’d ever had. It was my first permanent, full-time job. I had stability, many excellent colleagues and a dental plan.”
Working under a man who is as big a celebrity the CBC has ever seen and is permitted to behave in emotionally abusive, controlling, narcissistic ways and never held to account or challenged on that behaviour, would do even more to convince victims they had no choice but to remain silent. Then, on top of all that, to quite literally be ignored by those very people who are supposed to have your back… I mean, it’s appalling, but it’s exactly representative of the kinds of experiences women have all over the world. That message impacted Borel but it also impacts women everywhere, telling us all: if you come forward, no one will care. If we can’t expect accountability from the CBC why would we expect it from individuals? If not even our union will support us and believe our claims, how can we possibly expect Joe Blow to respond in an effective way or in a way that respects victims?
After Borel went to the union she says she was told by her executive producer “that Ghomeshi was the way he was, and that I had to figure out how to cope with that.”
So what I’m hearing is “boys will be boys.” Again. And isn’t that always the message? Men rape, it’s our responsibility to take precautions to avoid being raped. Men are violent, don’t piss them off. Men have needs, they can’t control those needs — it is the responsibility of women to provide sex and a class of prostitutes in order to fulfill these “needs.” Men must use porn, go to strip clubs, use prostitutes — it’s just “how they are.” Men are biologially inclined to objectify women, they can’t help it, get used to being gawked at. We, as women, are constantly told that we just need to “figure out how to cope” with it. And what women hasn’t done that in an abusive relationship? Struggled to figure out what we are doing wrong, how we can change and alter ourselves and in order to behave in a way that will ensure our partners don’t become angry and violent. (Hint: that never works.)
Many people talk a good game about “victim-blaming” but then turn around and tell us that men will become violent if they don’t get laid enough and that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world and is a necessary part of society — so get used to it. Or they will say that hooting and hollering at women on the street is unacceptable but that doing it at a burlesque show is ok.
The reason women don’t come forward about abuse and harassment is because we know that this is what the response will be. We know we will ruin our careers, our relationships, that we will lose friends and family and intimate partners, that we might be threatened or even be brutalized, that we might lose our jobs or our kids or our communities. It seems easier just to “figure out how to cope” with it.
Borel says that even after all of this, she is “increasingly convinced little will change” — people seem more invested in protecting themselves than in the well-being of victims or in preventing something like this from happening in the future.
While Ghomeshi is “just one disgusting man,” she writes, it is the system that needs to change.
But it’s hard to have faith that change will come when women keep coming up against the same response — whether it’s from their employer, from their partner, from the media, or from their friends. Like we haven’t spent enough time and energy strategizing — trying to figure out how to cope in a world that reminds us over and over and at every turn that we don’t matter, our lives don’t count, and that all we can do is try to make the best of it. Put on some lipstick, get a boob job, watch some porn with your boyfriend (just try to keep him happy!), convince ourselves the sex industry is here to stay (and, hey, those ladies are all happy-hookers-by-choice anyway!), and head out to your pole-dancing class. Maybe if we just keep on trying our best to fit into this woman-hating world and keep our men happy, the violence will stop. Think it’ll work this time?