Why Jian Ghomeshi's bedroom IS my business

Many recoil at the notion that a person’s private affairs are of public interest, but when it comes to the details Jian Ghomeshi’s recent firing, the public is right to want to know more.

While we don't yet know all the details surrounding the CBC's decision, the allegations we have heard – which include the physical and verbal abuse of a number of young women, as well as the sexual harassment of a former CBC employee – are disturbing. 

Ghomeshi's own explanation of the situation, posted on his Facebook page, written with the guidance, one would assume, of Navigator, the PR agency he hired to manage his crisis, has provided us with perhaps more than we ever hoped to learn about what goes on in Ghomeshi’s bedroom – his "secret life," as he calls it.  He has made it our business whether we like it or not.

I would not deny that Ghomeshi deserves a private life. Certainly I think most of us have behaviours, experiences, thoughts and desires we would prefer be kept out of the public realm – we don't need to know all the dirty details of one another's relationships and sex lives, even if we are talking about those who are in the public eye, as Ghomeshi is. That said, he is wrong that what he does in his private life, considering the circumstances, isn't his employer's business – or ours.

The issue is not only alleged abuse, but abuse of power – and Ghomeshi's position of power is very much connected to his job at the CBC. As reported by The Star, the women making the allegations – all at least 20 years younger than him – met Ghomeshi as fans. Two of the women claim he met them at CBC events, after which they said he contacted them via Facebook to ask them on dates. If this is true, it means Ghomeshi very directly used his position at the CBC to prey on younger women. Whether or not he can prove the women "consented" to  violence  in the name of sexual play does not change the power imbalance that is inherent in these scenarios. One of our readers calls this imbalance, "celebrity sorrow." 

There are scores of men who have used fame, power, money, and status to victimize, manipulate, and abuse young women and girls -- from R. Kelly to Jimmy Savile to Bill Cosby to Jimmy Page. Often celebrity men present warm, pleasant, endearing personas to the public that convince us they are incapable of harm. Meanwhile they take advantage of young women who desire attention from their idols and are eager to please. These men will then employ that same power and influence to intimidate the women they victimize into compliance and silence. More often than not they get away with it, sending a powerful message to both victims and perpetrators. 

Ghomeshi is a man, which immediately grants him a certain level of power and privilege in a patriarchal society. He is a celebrity, which means he is looked up to and admired by many, including the young women he dated or tried to date. In the workplace he would have been in a position to sexually harass women (and did, allegedly, at least once) who would likely feel too vulnerable to come forward, lest they negatively impact their current or future employment opportunities.

And he was much older than the women he pursued, a power differential often employed by men who enjoy the feeling of superiority they get from dating women who are less confident, less experienced, less financially and socially privileged and, generally, more susceptible to exploitation and manipulation at the hands of men who are willing to take advantage.

The absolute truth is not something we currently have access to – we may never learn all the facts in this story. It is fair to assume that the CBC has information that has not yet been made public. It is not easy to fire a unionized employee from the network and this is not, by any means, a decision they would have taken lightly considering the audience, attention, and accolades Ghomeshi has brought to our ever more vulnerable public broadcaster. Despite what he would have us believe, the CBC would not fire someone as widely beloved as Ghomeshi simply because they found his bedroom practices distasteful.

You never know what really goes on behind closed doors. But if we ever intend to address the power dynamics and patterns that play out time and time again between powerful men and the women they victimize, sometimes at least, it is our business to find out.

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