In the CBC’s Fifth Estate show on Jian Ghomeshi, there was discussion of the fact that he once told a producer at a meeting who had just yawned that he would like to hate-fuck her to wake her up. (No doubt it stuck in my mind because the US is too puritanical to allow the word “fuck” on broadcast tv.) A few days later the producer wrote about her history with Ghomeshi at the Guardian. It’s an ugly story. Familiar, and ugly.
I used to work as a radio producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. A few months into my job in 2007, I let out a big yawn at a staff meeting and my host told me “I want to hate fuck you, to wake you up.” I was 27 years old. I made sure never to yawn in front of him again.
There was groping. There was leering while shirt-unbuttoning. There was gaslighting, there were psychological games that undermined her.
In 2010, I went to my union to try and find a way to end this pattern of sexual harassment by Jian Ghomeshi. I had no intention to sue, or to get him fired, or even to have him reprimanded. I just needed him to stop. The union representative and my executive producer at Q, the radio show for which we worked, did nothing.
He was popular. She was just a producer. She didn’t matter and he did, so the union rep and the boss did nothing.
As I said: ugly.
She could have walked, but it was a plum of a job. Why should she be forced to?
I went years without reporting the harassment because I feared for my job and my career: getting asked to be part of the original production team behind Q was the biggest break I’d ever had. It was my first permanent, full-time job. I had stability, many excellent colleagues and a dental plan. The show became a conspicuous success with a known celebrity at its helm. If I quit, where else was there to go?
Plus she wondered if it was her fault.
The union rep did tell her she could start a union arbitration, or file a formal grievance, but the trouble was that confronting Ghomeshi was exactly what she didn’t want to do.
By the time my union rep offered to informally talk to the executive producer of the show, Arif Noorani, I felt like I was trapped in a feedback loop: I had cried in my boss’s office already, on more than one occasion, because of Ghomeshi’s behaviour towards me. A couple of days later, Noorani called me in for a meeting, and told me that Ghomeshi was the way he was, and that I had to figure out how to cope with that.
Well that sounds familiar.
So she did walk. She moved to LA and tried to forget about Ghomeshi.
Then my friend Jesse Brown – who had been one of my main confidantes during my time at Q – called to ask if I’d tell my story publicly, as part of his investigation into Ghomeshi after two young women came forward and said they’d been assaulted by him. But I wasn’t keen to be called a slut and a liar and a fabulist, and I was nervous that someone would identify me publicly and, in doing so, would damage the new career and life I’d worked so hard to build. I also didn’t think my experience being sexual harassed by Ghomeshi was remotely comparable to what the victims of his assaults had gone through. But Jesse persisted, and, eventually, I gave him permission to write about me anonymously.
A few days after the story was published, Noorani sent an internal memo to all the current Q staffers about me:
… In [the article], the producer claims she approached the executive producer with claims of sexual impropriety in the workplace. It is untrue. At no time, was I approached with such allegations from this producer or anyone else. If I had, I would have immediately reported them.
My old union issued a memo along similar lines, saying that no union staff members had heard of any complaints of sexual harassment. I emailed Bruce May, a staff representative at the CMG, and told him the memo was wrong, because I’d spoken to Neesam. May replied that technically the memo was correct, because Neesam was an “elected representative” and not a union “staff member”. He asked if that “clarified” things for me, and I said that it did: it clarified that the union was carefully parsing its words to leave casual readers with the impression that I was lying and they had done the right thing.
Chris Boyce, the executive director of radio at the CBC, has been equally coy – saying that management launched an investigation into Ghomeshi’s workplace conduct in the summer, while dodging the question of who, specifically, he talked to. None of my former colleagues were contacted, nor was I. Meanwhile, when my former boss, Noorani, was identified as the executive who told me that I had to learn to cope with Ghomeshi’s harassment, he was shuffled to another show, instead of being shown the door.
Chris Boyce is the guy we saw in that extended interview for the Fifth Estate, shuffling and shifting and sweating.
The key players who protected Ghomeshi for so long are now seemingly now using those skills to protect themselves.
But the system that obsessively propped up Jian Ghomeshi needs to change. He is one disgusting man – but our public broadcaster, demoralized over long-running budget cuts and criticisms that it was out of touch with the public and its younger listeners, latched onto him as their savior and clearly didn’t want to let go. The CBC allowed a two-tier workplace to emerge, in which Ghomeshi didn’t have to comply with either the law or workplace norms as long as he kept pulling in listeners, and workers like me only had job security so long as we accepted his abuses of authority. I was essentially forced to either leave the show or allow my boss to lay his hands on my body at his pleasure. But since then, no manager or executive who was complicit in creating or maintaining a workplace in which Ghomeshi was allowed to operate with impunity has lost his job, let alone apologized.
So it goes. If they’re popular and attractive and bring in the bucks, they’re shielded and protected for years or decades, while the people they harmed just twist in the wind.