Friday, February 12, 2016

Careful What You Wish For

I've been a feminist since I was about 14 and picked up at my high school library Susan Brownmiller's amazing book, Femininity. I was a snaggletoothed, awkward and (I felt at the time), homely child, and had actually been looking for a guidebook to becoming more feminine. Instead, I picked up a polemic on the patriarchy and I was almost immediately a convert to the cause of gender equality. Oh, Irony, thy name is public education.

Later, I took a degree in Women's Studies, with a minor in Canadian history before attending journalism school.

My feminism is of the same variety as my father's, and he acknowledged out loud in the 1990s that he was a feminist when I told him the definition of the sometimes controversial word: a belief that men and women should have the same rights, privileges and responsibilities.

My dad came to his conclusions about fairness while watching his parents navigate their life in the 1940s, 50s and 60s: his mother and sisters toiled in the farm fields alongside my Grandpa, and then back in the house, Grandpa and the boys sat while Grandma and the girls made the meals and tended the house. My dad observed this and thought it wasn't fair that the women had double duty. My mom, with a similar upbringing, tells me they together decided that each of them should only have the one job, and thus was born what looked like a very traditional marriage, but one that was more modern that it might have appeared from the outside.

I give this background as my bona fides as I illustrate my confusion and upset at the sex assault trial of Jian Ghomeshi, as the testimony of three women was parsed on the witness stand, and many pundits suggest a serial predator with bizarre predilections is about to get off (pun intended).

Generally, rapists and beaters have used one or all of three defences in court: "bitches be crazy", "women lie", or "she's a slut". Rape shield laws were created in Canada in the '90s to shut down the last one, but the other two were on very plain display during this trial, and the women testifying gave the defence plenty of fodder.

No, a woman shouldn't have to be a virgin in long pants lept upon from the bushes, calling 911 even while she's being raped to secure a sex assault conviction. Furthermore, four people telling strikingly (pun intended) similar accounts of events involving an accused should add weight to the testimony of each. (although reading accounts of the testimony, the fraction three-fifths kept drifting into my mind...)

And yet.
I go back to the definition of feminism: equal rights, privileges, and responsibilities.

We women can't expect special treatment while also demanding equality. We can't say we're delicate flowers entitled to withhold information in court at the same time we demand pay equity. Some of the commentary on the trial seems to come from people who think we women shouldn't need to be honest on the witness stand, since we're different from men. That's a dangerous argument in a society where 'different' has so often been translated into 'less'.

While there are special circumstances surrounding sex crimes, we must know that demanding less of women is also accepting less for women.

All that said, what kind of creep keeps every communication from every woman he ever dated over the decades, even the ones who he only went out with once or twice? Here's who: the kind of man who knows he might need it. Ghomeshi's hoarding of information tells me he knows damn well what he does is wrong and he has been preparing this defence for decades. Which could explain the small smirk that flashed across Ghomeshi's face as he left court yesterday. He was getting off. (no pun intended)

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