Two generations after women became a massive part of the workforce and sexual harassment reared its head, we continue grappling—in Jian Gomeshi’s case, literally—for the right response.
What is so on a personal level is even worse on an institutional level as we discovered this week when two Liberal MPs were summarily suspended from their caucus following allegations they each harassed female MPs from the NDP in different times, places and, presumably, ways.
The one certainty in the situation is reinforcement of the sense that Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is an astonishingly impulsive and arbitrary man. He publicized the complainants complaints without the consent—or even notification—of those complainants.
After that, everything becomes double indemnity doubt about what is true and what to do. Indeed, we learned that the Parliament of Canada does not even have functional policy or system for dealing with sexual harassment of one MP by another. Shocking as that might sound, it must be tempered by the reality that even institutions with voluminous manuals overflowing with detailed directives for handling such cases routinely fall short of effective responses.
The CBC’s handling of the Gomeshi debacle is a prime example. If ever there were an organization that could be expected to act swiftly and surely against any serial sexual harasser in its ranks, it would be Mother Corp. Its attitude of infinite superiority when inquiring into and reporting on the fleshly failings of, oh, say, the Catholic Church, the military, schools, and amateur sports leagues has always purveyed the odor of an outfit with its own house impeccably in order.
The truth, it turns out, is far from that. Even if a smidgen of the allegations against Gomeshi are true—and it must be stressed that not one of them has been tested by reasonable doubt or even heard in court—the CBC clearly had on its hands a deeply habituated harasser who could not and would not keep his hands to himself. Even he admits to preferring to close his hands into fists before laying them on some upon whom he practiced his more harmful charms.
There is no question the CBC knew what it knew quite some time before the public knew it, though it is not alone in that regard. Journalism professors whose students sought internships with Gomeshi now claim to have known it, too. So, it seems, did a sizable part of the Toronto media family compact, though its members seemed far more obsessed with former Mayor Rob Ford’s interest in the delectations of crack cocaine than in the purportedly violent predations of one of their own. It took a freelance journalist with what has been described as “no more than a website and podcast” to forcibly break the silence of the clan.
Finger pointing is one thing, of course. Running around in ever diminishing circles wondering what to do is another. But it strikes me a reason for both is that we ignore a primary cause for sexually harassing behavior as much as we reflexively ignore the behavior itself. It’s not that we don’t know that cause. It’s not that we don’t know the cause exists. It’s that we want to live in a world of magical thinking where Eros itself is a benign happy-face part of the human condition that isn’t to be considered problematic even when it self-evidently is.
That we want to live in a condition of fogged denial that a pubescent teenager appreciates biologically, even if he or she doesn’t fully understand intellectually, is ludicrous. We want to sustain the pernicious myth of the last two generations that human sexual conduct is primarily recreational and only secondarily, to use the wisdom language of the Church, procreative and unitive.
Everything in our anthropology, everything in our evolution, everything in our common life experience tells us this is at best nonsense, at worst a monstrous and destructive lie. By the time our adolescent pimples begin to disappear we know, in our hearts and in the tingling of our nerve endings at least, that it is a lie.
Yet we not only persist in it, we cultivate it, propagating it in every aspect of our culture. We discard and bury as outmoded those traditional codes of right conduct founded on ancient experience of exactly what happens when those codes are discarded and buried.
We incant the managerialist solutions found in voluminous manuals overflowing with detailed directives defining, codifying, standardizing data collection, reporting, adjudicating, penalizing. We pretend to institutional satisfaction with the painful ambiguity that follows when none of those things produces the intended result. We ignore, steadfastly, the human heart. And we wonder why we’re still where we were two generations ago.