Sunday, 4 December 2016

Galloway's fitness for UBC position questionable by 2015

Much of CanLit has been in a tizzy the past couple of weeks, fulminating over issues surrounding Steven Galloway's suspension—later dismissal, without severance--from his post as head of creative writing at the University of British Columbia.* According to media reports, complainants accused Galloway of sexual assault, sexual harassment, inappropriate behaviour, threats, favouritism, and bullying. 

The dismissal followed a months-long investigation by former BC Supreme Court judge Mary Ellen Boyd. Though not all complaints were deemed founded, UBC’s then-president Martha Piper met with Galloway, considered the dean's recommendation and Boyd’s findings, and concluded “a record of misconduct” existed “that resulted in an irreparable breach of the trust placed in faculty members by the university, its students and the general public.”

In other words, he comported himself in a manner unbefitting a UBC professor.

In the hysteria following the UBC Accountable letter, an earlier incident demonstrating Galloway’s unfitness for his position appears to have been forgotten. I was hardly surprised, nearly two years later, to hear he’d been suspended and subsequently fired.

As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

After Raziel Reid’s When Everything Feels Like the Movies won the $25,000 Governor General Literary Award for Children’s Literature (Text) in 2014, some voiced their concern the book was inappropriate for young adults; so inappropriate, they petitioned the Canada Council to reconsider the award. Prominent early critics of the book were award winning author Kathy Clark (first signatory of the petition) and columnist and author Barbara Kay.

What were Clark and Kay objecting to? A boatload of vulgar words, deeds, and images—a crack pipe cum anal dildo, masturbation by crucifix, anal sex, deathless prose (“His thick eyelashes were so dark that it looked like he bought them at the drugstore…I fantasized about gluing them on his eyes and then ripping them off when he climaxed”, juicy lips that look “like she had just sucked on a tampon”)--with pervasive cynicism and hopelessness the cherry on top. There’s little doubt Reid set out to ignite a minor Mapplethorpian sensation. Which he got. Clark declared:

I am a strong supporter of the freedom of speech and the petition does not suggest censoring the book. It states that this is not quality literature and should not be rewarded as such. Raziel Reid is free to write what he wants, and I actually commend him for his intentions…

Did WEFLTM really qualify as YA lit? Even CBC didn’t seem to think so, assigning it to the adult Canada Reads competition.

But if one thought it was undeserving of an award, what could be more Canadian than starting a petition in protest? Is it different from writing a letter protesting a university’s handling of a personnel matter?

Reasonable people can differ in their opinion of whether a book merits a children's literature award or YA designation. But Galloway's rejoinder to Clark was anything but reasonable:

I am writing to let you know that your attack of [sic] a fellow writer is disgusting. You may not agree with the content of his book, but if you don't value free speech and think that transgendered [sic] youth have a place in literature, and if you don't understand that your viewpoint is not absolute and privileged above other voices, then you don't deserve to call yourself a writer... here in Canada we don't censor literature...I am ashamed of you, and ashamed to share a profession with you. [Facebook]

Elsewhere, he mentioned that writers he’d spoken with shared “a mixture of support for [Raziel Reid], the desire to forcibly extract Ms. Kay and Ms. Clark’s heads from their rectums, and shame that we are actually having to have a freedom of expression debate in 2015.”

Was this grab bag of insults the way a mature adult handles a difference of opinion? Hardly. This was the hyperbolic language of the social justice warrior, a twining of bullying and ad hominem attack. This was Steven Galloway as pitbull, demonstrating beyond a reasonable doubt that UBC erred in elevating him to head of creative writing.

Where is the moderation one should expect of a professor and university leader? Where, even, is an understanding of the term “censorship,” which could reasonably be expected of a person in his position?

Censorship, as I imagine most thinking people comprehend it, arises when those in authority withdraw a book from publication, remove it from schools or libraries, burn it, or otherwise prevent people from reading it. Only a fanatical ideologue imagines petitioning a granting agency to reconsider an award to be censorship.

In a lengthy** public Facebook conversation with me on January 29th, 2015, Galloway finally accepted Clark, Kay, and the petitioners, in his words, “have a right to voice their dislike of the book. They also have a right to ask the [Canada Council] to revoke the prize.”

What Galloway would not reconsider was his essential position: disgust and attack. He again assaulted Clark and Kay’s “privilege,” calling them “a couple of elderly women who have no real standing in the world outside of a small, insular bubble,” accusing Kay of “delusion bordering on psychopathy,” and capped his remarks to her with: “You have a newspaper column. I or any one of a number of other people I will see this week could also have such a thing with one phone call. We wouldn't even need our son to be on the editorial board.”

In sum, my contention is that Steven Galloway’s racist, sexist, and ageist insults over the Reid book protest revealed that by 2015, he was clearly unfit to head a university department. Given his propensity for shooting off his mouth, I suspected his dismissal was only a matter of time. Seeded from his own nature.

Read all about it in the dictionary, under the word “hubris.”



* The university may have erred in implying they suspected sexual assault. However, given the recent history of events on campus (see here and here), perhaps they were finally attempting to put protecting potential victims first. What would you have them do when an illustrious professor was accused in this way? The complainants must have been pretty credible, to merit the independent inquiry that followed. 

**My pdf transcript runs to 17 pages.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Ghomeshi: he haunts us still

I've been travelling for a bit, but one of the few issues I've kept up with these nearly four weeks is the Ghomeshi trial.

Sad, sad, sad. Angrifying. Sickmaking.

I think, from all the stories we've heard, there can be little doubt that the man is, allegedly, lolz, a consummate manipulative sh*t. If you're still on the fence about this, and you must be quite an acrobat, not to mention a charter member of the flat earth society, please consult the following offerings (in no particular order):

"Former York University student alleges Ghomeshi fondled him" (by Kevin Donovan)

"Why I can't remain silent about what Jian Ghomeshi did to me", by Reva Seth, who goes to some pains to explain what makes her such a reliable witness--

I've been married for 11 years to an incredible man. We have three kids, and I know that I am very lucky to be at that place where this feels possible...I was 26 and after two years with the firm, was just leaving a job as a Bay Street lawyer...about to start a job at Toronto City Hall as well as a Masters in Trade and Competition Law at Osgoode. I share this because one of the themes that his supporters seem to suggest is that the women now accusing him all wanted something professionally from him at the time or were somehow star-struck by him. 
Not so with me. 

--and provides the following case report:

I remember thinking "what the fuck is going on here? What's wrong with him?" Jian had his hands around my throat, had pulled down my pants and was aggressively and violently penetrating me with his fingers. When it was over, I got up and it was clear I was really angry... 
So why didn't I do anything? 
This is the part that I think is so important to understand if we are ever going to change the context in which rape culture and violence against women is perpetuated. I didn't do anything because it didn't seem like there was anything to do. 
I hadn't been raped. I had no interest in seeing him again or engaging the police in my life. I just wanted to continue on with my life as it was. And even if I had wanted to do something, as a lawyer, I'm well aware that the scenario was just a "he said/she said" situation. I was aware that I, as a woman who had had a drink or two, shared a joint, had gone to his house willingly and had a sexual past, would be eviscerated. Cultural frameworks on this are powerful.

"The cult of Jian: his life as an outcast, who's standing by him, and why he's sure he'll walk" (by Leah Maclaren, who's known JG for nealy 20 years):

...Jian wove the most cherished and sacred liberal values of Canadian society into an ingenious disguise that he used to hide in plain sight. He was a wolf in organic, fair-trade lamb’s clothing. One woman I spoke to for this story who is now accusing Jian of sexual assault believes his persona was a deliberate cover for his predatory behaviour.
Jian used liberalism and feminism the way Roy Cohn used McCarthyism—as a grand screen of moral superiority that hid his deeper, more urgent desires. Did it turn him on to correct his Q staffers for using sexist language like “manning the phone” and then punch women for pleasure in private?
...The fact that we believed the cuddly, wholesome version of Jian makes the crimes he’s accused of doubly galling. Though he never mentioned anything about bondage, domination or a fondness for choking his dinner dates to me, he did enjoy trying to shock me. He once dropped an offhand comment about sleeping with a mutual male friend who was ostensibly straight and had a girlfriend. “It’s no secret I’m bisexual,” he said. His equal-opportunity orientation was known among his close friends, but I always thought of it as more of a political stance than a burning desire. Jian slept with men whenever he felt like it, which was occasionally but not that often. His real preoccupation was women. There were so many I couldn’t keep up...
Soon the volume of accusations crushed any lingering doubt. Why would so many unconnected women fabricate such similar stories for no conceivable benefit to themselves? 

And, from Ruth Spencer, a young woman I knew personally some years ago, this ("I dated Jian Ghomeshi, Canada's fallen radio star"): 

I now believe that Jian was grooming me for the same violence he inflicted on other women. I think he was pursuing and encouraging me because of the existing power imbalance, creating a level of emotional intensity as a preface to his “big reveal” so that I would either acquiesce or never tell. He trained me to feel sorry for him, to feel guilty about not giving enough of myself to him, to believe I was special to him. And for what? So that one day, when he thought the time was right for us to be more physically intimate, he could hit me? Smash my head against a concrete wall, like he allegedly did to one woman? Choke me with a leather belt, like he allegedly did to another?

In Anne Kingston's Macleans piece, "Jian Ghomeshi: how he got away with  it," the deck reads "Jian Ghomeshi's behaviour was an open secret going back to his university days. Not that anyone took action. In fact, the CBC made him a star."

Kingston reports the following of Ghomeshi's years at York University:

...years before his rise as a feminist hero, he had a reputation as a male feminist pig, at least according to Kerry Eady, who attended York in 1988-89 and lived in Stong residence. Eady recalls attending a meeting with 25 other women convened by female residence advisers at Stong before Christmas 1988 to warn them, after a few women had reported having “bad dates” with Ghomeshi. Those allegations involving hitting; one women claimed she’d been choked in the stairwell. In echoes of responses to alleged harassment at the CBC 25 years later, the York women were told to be vigilant—and to work around him, Eady told Maclean’s. “We were told to report his presence in co-ed floors or at house parties, so residence advisers could escort him out. He was considered a creep.”

I could go on and on.

Kingston cites 11 women as having come forward with Ghomeshi allegations. Maclaren quotes De Coutere:  
“I know of a woman who he hospitalized. I’d say there are over a dozen who never went to the police or the media.”

Ghomeshi's creepy, manipulative, and needy behaviour is a sad commentary on the employment atmosphere of  what should have been Canada's premiere media employer, the CBC.

In a way, this story is a metaphor for the corporatization of what used to be a sacred trust (before Brian Mulroney debased the phrase), the so called fourth estate.

I never liked Q and could barely stand to hear JG's smarmy opening patter. I didn't need to be seduced by my radio-- I needed to be enlightened, informed, entertained. I could never understand why a sort of empty headed guy who took credit for others work but looked good in a tux merited the kind of star treatment he did, compared to the gravitas of someone like Anna Maria Tremonte, who had real experience in the journalistic trenches, as opposed to the fluff of Q. Or Shelagh Rogers whose smile flies through the air waves.

I can only conclude the suits who promoted/enabled the Ghoshter had serious hardons for him.

That there was something wrong with JG can be deduced by the way he took himself out: showing CBC execs videos of himself brutalizing a woman, with the idea that would somehow absolve him of the "jealous ex" he delusionally asserted was behind his problems.

Think of it: he thought video of him administering a beating during sex would somehow get these guys on his side.

Sorry, that is one sick f*cker.

And yet, we feminists are about to be broken-hearted again, as the court case appears to be foundering.

Why is that? And, more importantly, what lessons does this sorry case hold for the future?

I apologize in advance to those who will interpret my next words as victim blaming. But women--since the vast majority of sex assault endurers are women victimized by men--it's also time to step up to the plate. As adults.

We can fulminate as much as we like in our conviction that victim behaviour after alleged acts is irrelevant (e.g. here ),  point to jurisdictions where the law has been adjusted to treat complainants more fairly (e.g. here ), or suggest use of civil courts to achieve justice for sexual assault survivors, where the burden for proof drops from "beyond a reasonable doubt" to a balance of probabilities (e.g. here ).

We can lobby for the creation of "specialized sexual assault courts like those that exist for criminal cases involving drugs and mental health...[with] a subset of judges with special training in the psychological dynamics of sexual assault and lawyers for complainants," as one of Kingston's interview subjects suggests.

But we must, also, live in the real world. And, in this real world, it's hard to believe a woman who, punched and choked by Ghomeshi, would then send him a six page love letter, or a picture of herself in a bikini, or have further contact with him, never mind sexual contact.

I'm a sympathetic observer, I actually believe he "did it." And still, my mind boggled. I could believe such things from women brutalized in long term relationships, of someone who had long been groomed (like maybe Spencer, above).

To those convinced  we must always and forevermore believe those who come forward with stories of sexual assault (or any other crime), I also say "grow up." Who among us hasn't known a person who has lied, who might feel vindictive, or desire revenge?

Enough with the PTSD bullshit, the metaphoric return of the vapours and neurasthenia. If you are raped, it's not that you have to come screaming from the bushes with your bodice ripped.

But waiting more than a decade to go to the police? I call bullshit.

I read some comment on Facebook about the way these complainants are being treated, along the lines of "does anyone treat robbery or attempted murder this way?"

But if, in short order, 10 young women had come immediately forward to complain of JG's behaviour, would the police have been able to ignore it? As opposed to 13 years and 5,000 texts/emails later? Do you really think we'd be faced with the failure of a Ghomeshi prosecution under such a scenario? Not to mention how many women might have been spared a few sharp shots to the side of the head.

I understand why Reva Seth didn't come forward to police...but for her to have published a piece naming names as she has...yes, it's laudable she wants her sons to understand that women who are attacked have nothing to feel ashamed of. But what about all the daughters her "wanting to get on with her life as it was" left exposed to brutalization in the interim?

Who knew Stockwell Day's comments on "unreported crime", upon which we lefties, at the time, heaped such scorn, would turn out to be true?

If our society is experiencing the wave of sexual crime one hears about in numerous news reports, books (e.g. Missoula), and magazines, or sees portrayed in documentaries, then there is an army of fresh (and therefore infinitely more credible) survivors. Grab your ovaries, girls. All hail Mandi Gray, who has been covered by The Fifth Estate, The Toronto Star, and other outlets. There has to be safety in numbers. Please, step up to the plate.