Like so many of you, I am heartbroken over the allegations of our silky-tongued radio host, Jian Gomeshi. I love ‘Q’ and I think Jian is one of the finest, most intelligent and sensitive interviewers I’ve ever heard.
Ka-thump! (That was my heart sinking) – but he may or may not be predator.
It is currently impossible to judge whether the allegations against him are true or not, so I will reframe from speculating. Instead, what draws my attention is this question: What does a sexual “yes” mean?
Years ago, when I worked at a sexual assault centre, I was drilled with the mantra: “No means no”. I embraced this philosophy: it gives the right to women to decline, avoid, and move away from sex at any point. It is clear, pointed, clean. If I had a daughter, I’d teach her this. When it comes time, I’ll teach it to my son.
But does it mean anything? Is it realistic in the world we live in?
Here’s what we know:
- One in three girls will experience sexual violence in their lifetime
- It is extremely rare for someone to lie about sexual violence, but it does happen
- Often, when women lie about it, they are not lying that the act happened, but rather, who the perpetrator was
- To come forward with a complaint of sexual assault takes courage, conviction and incredible resilience at a time when you are the most beaten down
- In the age of the Internet, to come forward with a complaint about a wildly loved radio host is tantamount to inviting persecution and more violence for years to come
With this as our background, let’s assume that we said “yes” to someone as charming, good-looking and powerful as Jian. ‘Okay, he likes to play… maybe I can play along’. That’s a yes.
Maybe. I know that some women explore submission in very edgy ways, and this is their right. But is there any clear “yes” to being slapped, gagged and choked almost to unconsciousness during sex for a woman living in dominator society? Are we really free to say “yes” to such acts in a world where sexually, we are still prey? Where girls are abducted and sexually enslaved in many parts of the world? Where date rate drugs are rampant? Where violence against women still faces a conspiracy of silence?
Where does our cultural dominance end and our individual proclivities begin?
It’s messy, my friends; very, very messy.
And what happens to that ‘yes’ when the ‘play’ gets violent? Gets mean? Gets dangerous? What does our ‘yes’ mean then and how can this turn to a ‘no’ when we are already in situ, in progress, involved? How can we find our ‘no’ when we have already agreed? How can we find our ‘no’ when we are with, arguably, one of the most powerful and persuasive men in the country?
I want to invoke Pierre Elliot Trudeau and say that the government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation. I believe this, I really do.
But it infers that ‘consensual’ is always consent.
And I’m not so sure that’s always true.