I tried with everything in me not to write this post. I hate bandwagon jumping and tidal waves of current topics. I am disgusted by the whole sordid mess. I feel for the women involved who once again will shortly be forgotten. I never liked the perpetrator because he was a dick to me on Twitter once (ya, I am that judgy and unforgiving - oh well). I have tried not to read any more "Me Too Me Too" articles that come across my newsfeed, particularly those of the 'we all knew but we did nothing' variety, written as though these standers-by want our absolution.
I have not jumped in because I am angry that the statistics - that knowing how many Canadian women are beaten, raped, murdered, missing, abused, terrified day in and day out - are not enough for anyone. I am disgusted that it is only the (very minor) status of a "CBC celebrity" (which is right up there with being 'internet famous') that has anyone paying attention.
I cynically anticipate that the story will run its 10 day news cycle and life will once again go back to normal. Women will carry their keys in their hands when they walk to their cars after dusk. People will ask what a young woman wore to a party before she was drugged and molested. First Nations women will disappear from the sides of highways or downtown streets. As I said, life will go back to normal.
I really wanted to say nothing. To let it die down. To do what I can to support those women I can support in the ways I know how, resigned to more of the same from the country I love that claims to be a place of peace and justice despite all evidence to the contrary.
Then this morning a friend shared this intelligent and compassionate article by former MTV VJ Jessi Cruickshank that reframed the story in a way I found naïve and yet helpful. Yes, as someone in Canadian media circles she had met the creep in question. Yes, as so so so very many Canadian women she has a story of a man abusing his power in order to impose his sexual desires on her body. But most importantly, in my opinion, she speaks to the women - to those who choose to tell their stories, to the shift available in creating a culture in which telling those stories in safe.
I still wasn't going to say anything until I read this comment in response to Jessi's post:
"As the sordid tales about Ghomeshi continue to be investigated and disclosed, we will learn a lot about the culture within the CBC. This story is not going to end well for Ghomeshi, the CBC and his CBC enablers."
And I wanted to scream. Who could possibly give a damn about some minor celebrity or the reputation of a CBC that has already been gutted and abandoned by the government? We lose any learning opportunity and deflect any responsibility if we pretend this is about Ghomeshi or the CBC - and let's be honest, if anything good can come out of these despicable acts it's only in that we learn from them and our country grows just that tiny nudge closer to actually being a nation of peace and justice.
One of the movements to arise out of this festering heap is an encouragement for women to tell their stories, and a pretense that Canada is now a safe place to do so (as, admittedly, Jessi optimistically declares). I call bullshit. Blanket statement like that help no one. It is not safe for all women to tell all their stories to everyone. It is important for every women to tell her story to someone, but that does not have to be public.
Back when I still had an agile brain I did my Masters thesis on trauma theory, a concept which developed from research on the restorative power of personal storytelling for Jewish survivors of the holocaust. One of the important learnings of that research was that not just anyone can hear the story - there has to be enough emotional distance between the teller and the hearer for the story to be safely heard and believed. Both the teller and the hearer are important parts of the healing power of the conversation For example, very few survivors told the details of their stories to their spouses or children; it was a much more healing to tell those stories to a friend or grandchild. That relational difference meant that the survivors could tell their stores without having to worry so much about how upset the listener would be.
A story that is heard and believed helps a survivor integrate that trauma into their concept of themselves more fully, restoring them to themselves and their loved ones. But - let me reiterate - telling your story is only healing if you are believed, if your audience is emotionally able to hear and receive the story as presented, and if your concern for their reaction is less powerful than the opportunity of being heard.
I fear for many women who get tossed up in the wave of story telling without consideration of what that will do for their sense of self or of safety. Absolutely, for many women - especially those who have never said anything or for whom enough time has passed - that choice will be freeing. A monkey off their back. A light shone in the corner.
But what about all those other women? What about the ones who have already told and weren't believed? What about the ones who pressed charges only to be told "he says that's not what happened" or "that's not enough for us to do anything." What about the thousands or women who have been asked what they did to cause the crime against them. For someone whose story has already been discounted or used against them, retelling the story is as potentially devastating as not being believed in the first place.
For the record, yes I have experienced both sexual and relationship violence. Stating that publicly is of no value to me. I don't tell those stories publicly because they are difficult to tell without giving them more power than they actually hold. In both cases I reported. In both cases I retorted, blocked the aggressor after the fact, and moved safely out of reach. In both cases I had supportive people who listened, who believed me, and who actively supported my healing. I had only one or two really stupid people say really stupid things (no, as a matter of fact my height is NOT enough armour to keep a shorter criminal from committing a crime against me), but by far the most immediate and persistent experience for me was of being supported, believed, and listened to. No, not by the police, as it happens, but by people I respect. Most days those experiences are fully integrated into my understanding of who I am now, and they inform both my anger and my compassion on these issues. Some days they unexpectedly re-emerge and I'm left to curse the impact on present relationships and experiences. I mourn those moments when a man who is my safe place to fall appears as a threat because of those long-past experiences.
I am deeply deeply privileged to have all of the elements that are ideal for moving forward from trauma - I had both immediate and ongoing support. I have a believing circle of friends who let me tell what I wanted to tell when I wanted to tell it. I had and have access to professional support. I had knowledge. I had a safe place to turn. I have a lifetime context of love and safety that let me know instability was a temporary state.
To ask women to tell their stories when they have few to none of those elements in place is both cruel and reckless. Everyone knows the statistics. And I believe, despite the statistics reported by the Canadian Women's Foundation, that everyone knows someone who has been abused, raped, hit, locked in her own home, denied basic human rights, and bullied because she's a women. If you think you don't know anyone it's because they haven't chosen to tell you, and that is one right they NEVER have to give up.
It's time to grow up. It's time for Canadians to stop acting as though some egotistical dink is an outlier and the women he abused are unique. They are very very sadly not unique at all.
What are we to do about that? I ask myself these questions, and encourage you to do the same -
- Are you the kind of person who would remain silent in the company of a man who is being creepy with women, or a woman who seems scared of someone, or to a friend who has just met 'the perfect guy' about whom you know other truths?
- Are you the kind of person a woman wouldn't tell her story to because she doesn't expect to be believed and appropriately supported?
- Are you someone who has commented on a young woman who is "asking for it" because her shirt is too low or her skirt too high?
- Are you someone who has asked why a woman stayed with her aggressor?