I’ve never listened to Q and the closest I came to Moxy Fruvous was a song on a mixtape a friend made me back in the day. But the moment I saw that first cryptic tweet about the CBC and Jian Ghomeshi parting ways I knew the direction the story was headed. Maybe I’m too cynical. Or maybe we’ve just heard this story too many times.
So while fans of Q and Ghomeshi were tweeting their dismay and best wishes, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Which of course it did.
But like I said, this isn’t about him. It’s about something I read in a post written about the situation and what it reminded me of:
“Evidence. Everyone wants evidence, and this is all I can give: I knew about Jian, and everyone I ever talked to about him did too.” —Melissa Martin
Take out ‘Jian’ and fill the blank with another name and I can say this too.
I knew about _____, and everyone I ever talked to about him did too.
The circumstances were different, and yet the same in the way all stories like these are the same: older man in position of power, a succession of younger women (girls, really).
Years later, whenever his name would come up, because someone had seen him or something, conversation would inevitably circle back to how we were always low-key anticipating his name showing up in the news, how surprising (but at the same time not) it was that it hadn’t yet happened.
So why did no one ever say anything? Because it was at best secondhand information, overheard conversations you weren’t really supposed to be listening to but did anyway, and often more distant than that. They weren’t our stories to tell. It was the kind of thing that could be dismissed as rumor. Except. Except.
One time, I met two people who had known him in the same capacity I had but at different times. For relevant reasons (not gossip), he came up in conversation. Our knowledge of him was independent, but our stories corroborated. To be clear, we were not telling the same story, but different stories illustrating the same pattern.
We knew it wasn’t just a rumor, yet no one said anything because no one had any proof, and no one wants to be accused of making up rumors to defame someone’s character, which, lbr, is a more likely outcome than being taken seriously. There’s an expectation that if there’s a problem the people directly involved will speak up for themselves. But, for myriad reasons, that doesn’t always (or even often) happen in these types of situations.
And then you move away and time passes, and it starts to feel less real, like maybe something you dreamed or watched on TV.
Until you encounter someone who also knew him and nope. There it is again. Still real.
There is no conclusion to this story, but there is another loosely-connected one.
Around the same time I met the two people who had the stories similar to mine, I had a supervisor who made me deeply uncomfortable.
He was a middle-aged man, probably 25ish years older than me at the time, who had near-complete control of my professional fate—and who was way too touchy for my liking and kept invading my personal space. He’d stand suffocatingly close, looming over me. I’d back up and he’d move closer. He was constantly patting me on the arm or the shoulder. I dreaded meeting with him alone, especially sit-down meetings where he’d scoot his chair closer so he could reach out and touch me on the knee. I made sure the door was always open. I kept one eye on it at all times. I was sketched out.
There was zero doubt in my mind that he had crossed lines, and I would have had no hesitation calling what he was doing sexual harassment, except. There was a twist.
I never said anything directly to him for obvious reasons, but I was very open in speaking to my coworkers about how uncomfortable he made me. I think I was trying to protect myself by making sure others knew, in advance, just in case. And in response they concurred that he was an excessively touchy personal space invader, who also weirded them out. In other words, they basically told me he did this to everyone. The twist was that my coworkers were all men, all older than me. Of course, it was easier for them to avoid or rebuff him because he was not their supervisor. And, just a wild guess, they likely didn’t feel as/at all physically threatened like I did. But if he did this to everyone, what was it then? Could I call it ‘sexual’ harassment if he was creeping everyone out?
In the end, I decided it didn’t matter. Whatever it was, if it made me feel uncomfortable, it would likely make another young woman in my position feel uncomfortable too. Maybe he was like that to everyone precisely because it did create confusion as to what was really going on.
I was fortunate that this was a temporary situation, and after this man was no longer my supervisor, I wrote a letter to human resources describing his behavior, why it made me uncomfortable, and why I didn’t feel I could speak up earlier. I gave him the benefit of the doubt (something along the lines of ‘maybe that’s just the way he is, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok’), and all I asked for was that someone speak to him about it (read: tell him to stop). I was… excessively nice, because I wanted what I was saying to be taken seriously and not be seen as a response to his evaluation of me. And I did get a reply, which said they would speak to him about it. I left it at that. Mostly I just wanted to go on record. So if something did happen to someone else in the future, no one could say “well, no one ever said anything.”
Now I think about this and I’m kind of surprised I was bold enough to write that letter (and kind of not; I was in my writing angry letters phase), even though I wasn’t sure what ‘it’ was. On a conscious level, I think it was telling my coworkers and no one being surprised. They all knew. I mean, how long had this been going on for? How many other young women had felt like I did? But subconsciously, I think it was having this other thing that everyone knew about and no one had the power to speak up about in the back of my mind that convinced me it was important to say something when I did have a firsthand story to tell.
I don’t know if made any difference, but I’m still glad I said something.
Still, I’ve never written about it publicly. Every time there’s another incident where someone speaks up after years of people being silent, I think about writing about it, and then I don’t. Partly because it was so minor, comparatively speaking, and I don’t want to over-dramatize. But partly it’s because I did say something, albeit in a backchannelly kind of way, and so it doesn’t quite fit the narrative. tbh, I’m worried it’ll be taken the wrong way. Like a humblebrag or something, which… no. So, what am I saying? This ish is pervasive. It’s more likely to have happened to you than not. You’re lucky if it didn’t end badly. And it’s hard to speak up, almost requires a magical set of circumstances to do so.
This is why my instinct will always be to believe the women who have the courage to speak up regardless of how long it took over the one powerful dude whose world is crumbling because he finally got called out on his crap. I mean, vast conspiracy of evil women or one man behaving badly… which is more likely? Just saying.
And honestly, conspiracy theories? Please. It doesn’t require a genius to understand that one person speaking up gives others the courage to do the same, knowing they are not the only one. It’s not complicated. (Also, there’s always more than one. Trust.)
“Change sometimes does begin with one person who raises her voice.” —Roxane Gay
[hmm, maybe I’ll actually post this instead of leaving it in draft form for six months and then stealthily posting it when no one’s looking. I am fond of that trick tho 😉
update: didn’t press publish last night, but seeing the screenshots in my Twitter timeline this morning, yep, publishing now.]