For the October 11 issue of The New York Review of Books, Jian Ghomeshi was invited to pen a long essay about his life after sexual and domestic abuse allegations removed him from his post at CBC in 2014.
In the October issue of Harper’s magazine, John Hockenberry of journalistic and New York radio fame subjected readers to 7000 words (yes, 7000) after sexual harassment allegations forced him out of WNYC in 2017.
On August 26, comedian Louis C.K. performed in New York’s Comedy Cellar after a nine-month disappearance from the public eye following sexual harassment allegations.
After one year of awareness, is it comeback season for abusers in the age of #MeToo?
It would seem so, at least for some people – “some people” largely being men with a platform, as evidenced above. The backstage costume-change times keep getting shorter. The Comedy Cellar’s owner seems ambivalent at best; and the sitting editors for The New York Review of Books and Harper’s went on record to defend their publication choices.
Realistically, this is nothing unsurprising. Hegemony adapts. Patriarchy reasserts itself. The way that this sexual violence awareness movement has been interpreted by institutions one year after mainstream exposure simply puts abusers on a self- or manager-administered time-out before the abuser’s inevitable return, complete with defense and apologia. Said time-out may or may not include genuine efforts to become a better person. Results may vary.
I will not say we have nothing. Before #MeToo and #TimesUp, there were fewer time-outs.
Still, something is left to be desired. Maybe it’s that there’s a lack of understanding that sexual violence exists on a continuum, rather than in a hierarchy that places rape “above” all other forms of sexual misconduct. Sexual harassment is not “better” or “worse” than sexual assault; it’s a different experience that is also violent and harmful. They may come with different legal consequences, but that does not diminish either actions’ capacity for harm and they must be treated as such.
It’s this hierarchical thinking that Harper’s president and publisher Rick MacArthur gestures towards in an interview on CBC’s The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti, when he states that Hockenberry’s actions against his colleagues aren’t “as bad” as others because Hockenberry is a wheelchair user and therefore cannot physically abuse his victims. It’s this hierarchical thinking that allowed Hockenberry to put out a near-thesis length exposition on his life after being fired for sexual harassment and misconduct claims in a well-established and well-respected magazine.
Or perhaps it’s the inability to shake the cognitive dissonance that comes after our favourite artists, comedians, actors, or even friends have strong allegations against them. One of the ever-present debate of the past year is whether to “separate the art from the artist” so to speak, or to “cancel” the individual wholesale. While a whole conversation could be had about this topic alone, what’s important about this point is that this debate reframes one person’s contributions to culture as being more valuable than another’s safety and wellbeing. It recenters the accused while marginalizing the alleged victims.
Which leads me to the final point I’d like to make.
In a bizarre interview for Slate.com, the editor for The New York Review of Books at the time that Ghomeshi’s piece was published, Ian Buruma, defended his choice to publish the article.
“I think nobody has quite figured out what should happen in cases like [Ghomeshi’s], where you have been legally acquitted but you are still judged as undesirable in public opinion, and how far that should go, how long that should last, and whether people should make a comeback or can make a comeback at all—there are no hard and fast rules. That’s an issue we should be thinking about,” Buruma stated in conversation with Ian Chotiner. “The reason I was interested in publishing it is precisely to help people think this sort of thing through.”
While this may seem a noble cause to pursue and a worthy conversation to “start,” I think it should be obvious that it should be started and moderated by victims and survivors (you know, the relevant and affected people), not sympathizers — especially not perpetrators themselves. Especially not perpetrators who have trouble apologizing for serious wrongdoings. Especially in publications that make little effort to contextualize the depth of the claims against a perpetrator.
So this is where we are, approximately a year into an era of holding sexual predators to account.
Buruma has since left The New York Review of Books.
I wonder which publication will host his navel-gazing opinion piece a few months from now. I hope it will be none, at least not without a genuine apology. I also hope we do a better job holding these institutions accountable.