Hub and I had another interesting conversation tonight about why the majority of the women in the Jian Ghomeshi debacle remain anonymous.
He argued that it wasn’t fair for men to be targetted by allegations of impropriety and to have their reputations shredded by the court of public opinion without them having an opportunity to defend themselves. Now, Hub does like to be provocative but as much as I adore him, I have my limits to what he can say without a full and sharp response. This is one of those times. That kind of stupid comment, no matter what the intention, causes me to uncoil and bare my fangs. He was shocked by the intensity of my response but he listened and was shocked again by the stories I told him.
I reminded him of my experiences, starting when I was TWELVE years old. I did absolutely nothing to encourage that disgusting troll who felt he had some right to touch me without my consent (which I couldn’t have given anyway even if I had a clue about what was going on). He asked if I had told my mother. I recoiled and shouted, Never! She was still recovering from my father leaving her with four children under 12, with the youngest 3 years old. How could I say anything that would make her feel guilty about leaving us at home so she could earn a living and not take charity? Of course I kept my mouth shut. As I did every time afterwards. There was always a reason for not speaking out.
I wrote about one incident in my short story, Stop a Minute on my book blog. On my way to the subway in downtown Toronto early one morning, I was accosted by two rubbies on the street, in broad daylight. They felt totally unmoved by my discomfort. I was too polite to say what I’d say today – a vigorous spew of scrotum-shriveling insults. Back then, they had the entire ‘man as conqueror’ thing on their side.
I was a young graduate from York University trying to start my career, all eager and hopeful. I couldn’t find a job right away with my degree in English and Sociology. After pounding the pavement for weeks, I did find work as a waitress in a seafood restaurant (long gone) in downtown Toronto at Richmond and Victoria streets.
The patrons were mature and moneyed – I’d never seen so many diamonds, lacquered hair and fur coats. They all knew the owner because they attended the same synagogue or they’d done business with him. The specialties of the house were steak and lobster – both of which were expensive and delivered with great flourish. I learned to French serve and keep my eyes modestly towards the white-clothed tables.
I was young and fresh and almost-a-virgin ripe. As an athlete, I was well-built and strong. I’d never heard of sexism or abuse. Yet, most nights, that’s what I was subjected to after I’d donned my tight black and white uniform. Invariably when I was taking their dinner orders, the men and often the women would comment on my hair, the colour of my skin, the shape of my body. Since they were old and most of them were unattractive, I blocked that out as envy.
But when my hands were filled with a huge metal tray laden with plates of broiled lobster dinners, medium-rare steaks and garlic shrimp platters balanced on my shoulder and obscuring my vision, I’d frequently be patted on the behind or stroked on the breasts. They’d call me a ‘schwartze’ (a Yiddish racial slur) to my face with impunity.
Did I have a choice? I suppose so – drop the tray of expensive meals and have the cost deducted from my minimum wage pay cheque, or bite my lips and take it so I could continue to pay the rent and buy groceries. Were the sly, egregiously casual assaults on my person all that awful? In the greater scheme of things, I guess not. But the soul-destroying sting of being treated like an object still makes my gut clench today.
I remember having to encase my ass in a tight girdle as protection against the groping of ignorant wrinkled men. As I struggled – heavily weighed down by food orders – from the kitchen to the tables in my zone, I’d say a mantra of prayers to drown out the comments and tamp down my embarrassment. What happened wasn’t right, but those were the times we lived in, long before the words ‘feminism’ or ‘women’s liberation’ were ever spoken.
I ask myself now, as this sordid he-said/she said saga unspools in the media, has anything really changed? Women are still bullied/abused/beaten/shamed. The scrutiny is not fair, especially in court, when attorneys defending the indefensible pull out all the stops to discredit a female complainant – what were you wearing, how did you entice him, why didn’t you leave? A woman who’d been asleep in her bed with her toddler at her side was raped by an intruder. At court, she was the one who became the story. Yes, it’s shameful, but not unusual.
The physical power and psychological damage dynamic are unimportant in the battle of the sexes – it’s the predatory woman who preys on the poor man. Even today, men who make a lot of sexual conquests are considered studs or cool or popular. Women who have more than a few partners are considered sluts or called whores. End of story.
Because women continue to be fearful of their lives being put under the microscope if they step out of the shadows and name their accusers, a lot of men (and a few women) will continue to escape justice. Sordid, disappointing, unfair. On the positive side, Hub has heard me.