After the popular radio host Jian Ghomeshi was fired from CBC last week over allegations that he had attacked several women during sex, it quickly became clear that Ghomeshi's reported penchant for nonconsensual violent sex was already widely known.
As one podcaster tweeted, "Say 'Jian Gomeshi' around any reasonably sized group of musically involved women 25-40 in Toronto and you might get a hunch about what's up." Internships on Ghomeshi's show, Q, were off-limits to students at University of Western Ontario because of fears he would "prey" on the female interns. Carl Wilson, Slate's music critic, writes "There was chatter at parties, stories of pushed boundaries, of Jian hitting on woman after woman [...] whenever there is a profile of Jian in a paper or a magazine, you wonder if it will confront the subject." Even those who didn't have firsthand knowledge had heard the gossip.
Some people reading stories abut Ghomeshi will be shocked at the weird, complicit silence of the communities in which he lived and worked. If "everyone knew," how did Ghomeshi succeed for so long without ever being held to account for accusations like these? Wilson compares Canadian arts scenes to Catholic dioceses that covered up child abuse:
It's as if no matter where you go, you are in the position so many Catholics have unwillingly found themselves in: You are always in some way part of a community that is studiously ignoring the wrong some man is doing. In this case it was the Canadian arts and media scene. But friends have told you these patterns occur among scientific researchers. In education. In medicine. In theater. In an activist group, an ethnic community, a queer community, a kibbutz. Men at the top, abusing their influence. Objections murmured mostly behind their backs.
There was a round of similar allegations against men in the literary world just a few weeks ago. Some of your friends knew the accused parties. Some knew the aggrieved women. Not all of the stories were straightforward. Some friends felt torn about accounts being aired online, in public, destroying reputations—about whether to call certain incidents "rape." Others had no such hesitations. Tempers flared.
What do you do, you thought then, about actions that make women feel unsafe, violated, but do not cross the line of criminality? About gray zones? About the creeps in your midst?
Another way of asking this question is: What do you do with gossip? The answer is: You tell us.
We want to hear about the creeps in your midst; the violent men propped up by silence and politness; the prominent abusers kept safe by a community's fear of upsetting the delicate networks of power and favor at whose center men like Ghomeshi can thrive.
We know some rumors, but the more sources we have, the better off we are. Has that beloved comedian who likes to force women watch him jack off done that routine with you? Has the conservative journalist with a drinking problem hit you or your friend? Has the aging punk legend boasted of his passed-out "conquests"? You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or me at email@example.com. We can assure anonymity.
Three women spoke to the Star for the article that broke the story of Ghomeshi's alleged abuses. Within days, at least five more were talking. Often the only thing allowing powerful abusers to live without interruption or accountability is collective silence—or gossip kept at a whisper. One person talking might be all it takes.