The Troubling Allegations Against Jian Ghomeshi

I am a long time fan of Moxy Früvous.

I first heard Bargainville when it came out in 1993. At the time, I hung out at my favorite local record store, called Soundhole, on a near-daily basis. The store specialized in punk rock, but my predilection for geek rock, and my TMBG fandom, were well known by the store’s proprietor, Greg, who received a great deal of my hard earned fast food money. One evening, I walked in and Greg played Bargainville over the store’s loudspeakers. “I got this earlier this week,” he told me, “I thought of you right off.”

I bought the album before the second track finished playing.

And I bought every album after that. I saw them live several times, my favorite being at a dive bar in Virginia Beach called the Abyss (and it really was), where the audience was so small, the venue so tiny, it was like a private performance. The audience stood nearly eye to eye with the band. It was the farthest south I think they ever played.

I even travelled to FrüCon (yes, there was a Moxy Früvous convention) one year, making the trek to Toronto (from Virginia) with a dear friend from college, and attending a show at Lee’s Palace where the band got their start.

If you’ve never heard of Moxy Früvous, I’m sorry that you’re learning about them now. They were a brilliant, fantastic, quirky, delightful band. They put out four excellent albums (Bargainville, 1993; Wood, 1995; The ‘b’ Album, 1996; You Will Go To The Moon, 1997) one excellent live album (Live Noise, 1998), one pretty good album (Thornhill, 1999), and one less good album (The ‘c’ Album, 2000) before going on “hiatus” in 2000. The hiatus, as it turns out, was really more of a break-up, but was termed “hiatus” instead because it allowed the members of the band to remain current members, not former members, thus capitalizing on their star power indefinitely. The hiatus-not-break-up idea was proposed by Jian Ghomeshi.

If you are just now hearing about Moxy Früvous, it’s probably because of Jian Ghomeshi. Recently fired from the radio talk show Q, on Canada’s CBC, Jian Ghomeshi is the center of allegations accusing him of sexual assault and misconduct. At least nine women have accused him of non-consensual violent sex, and a police investigation formally began on Halloween. The other former members of Moxy Früvous have stated they were “sickened and saddened” by the allegations, and they were not aware of these behaviors.

Neither was I. Why would I be? I’ve never met him, I’ve never interacted with him. I’m just a fan of his former band. I was made aware when an old friend of mine posted on my Facebook wall about the allegations last week, when the story first broke. We had the same reaction: shock and sadness. The stories of the women coming forward are chilling. And my heart breaks for them all.

What I find particularly troubling is how long this appears to have been going on, in some form or another, as women are now coming forward who claim to have been mistreated while Jian was still a member of Moxy Früvous–nearly 20 years ago.

While I’m glad that CBC took immediate action, I’m also dismayed that women are coming forward from 20 years ago. How is it possible for someone to continue abusing and assaulting women for so long? I think part of the answer comes from the story of Miles Davis, where a man’s contributions to society “outweigh” his flaws, his “mistakes.” But the problem is that mistreating women, beating women, sexually assaulting women–this is not a character flaw. It’s not a quirk. It’s not a mistake that should be overlooked, most especially in contemporary society. There is no possible way to rationalize that violence towards women is anything but wrong.

The allegations against Jian Ghomeshi are heartbreaking because I don’t know how to reconcile this new information with the love I have for one of my favorite bands. I struggle with Miles Davis, too, and how to reconcile his music and his personal life. It’s hard to listen to the music of a man who abuses women. But the thing is, too, that we CAN listen to the music of a man who abuses women. We can still drool over Miles Davis. But Hitler’s paintings are inaccessible, held by the U.S. government and prevented from being displayed. Maybe that’s why women from 20 years ago are still coming forward–assaulting women is a “lesser” crime against humanity.

It may seem strange to compare Hitler and Miles Davis, particularly during a discussion of Jian Ghomeshi. Hitler’s agenda, after all,  was to exterminate all non-white, non-straight, non-Aryan persons. The end result of genocide and wife beating are decidedly different. But both stem from the idea that another being is somehow inherently inferior and that it is acceptable to use violence against beings that are perceived as inherently inferior. Hitler’s genocide is certainly more heinous, but at the same time, it’s important to see that Nazi perpetrated murders were sanctioned by institutionalized constructions of inferiority. And violence against women is also sanctioned by institutionalized constructions of inferiority. I’m not saying that genocide and violence against women are comparable, I’m saying the ideologies behind them, that ideologies that say violence against perceived inferiors is okay, is comparable. After all, America didn’t exactly jump into WWII to prevent and end the Holocaust. And Jian Ghomeshi was allegedly able to assault women for an indeterminate amount of time, and Miles Davis’s wife beating gets swept under the rug. We appear to live in a society where we’ve made a gradient of evil, and some evil is condemned, while other evil is admissible. Particularly if it’s against women.

The more I think about Jian Ghomeshi, the more I think about the status of women, the arguments for and against feminisms, the violence perpetrated against women, and also against men, the more I see disturbing questions and comparisons. But I guess the thing I’m left with is that geek rock, overall, as a genre, still isn’t a safe space for women. Much like GamerGate has shown that geekdom still has enormous strides to make in terms of equality, so has geek rock. So has mainstream society. The most upsetting part about the lack of equality, for me,  is where can woman be equal if not in geekdom, if not in the land of geeks and nerds and fandom and enthusiasm and braininess and sci-fi and fantasy?

And I’m not just angry that geekdom isn’t a safe space for women. I’m angry that women aren’t equal in society overall, and I’m even angrier that I’m still put in positions where I have to struggle with reconciling how a member of one of my favorite bands is also allegedly an abuser of women. This is a no brainer. Don’t hit women. Don’t hit anyone, actually. Don’t abuse living creatures. For geekdom, the bastion of braininess, to fail at what is essentially a no-brainer, is a problem.

My hope is that GamerGate and the allegations against Jian Ghomeshi are flushing out the system, rinsing it clean and showing all the places where misogyny still(!) exists in order to eradicate it and continue the work of creating equality. My hope is that we learn that the abuse of women is not a quirk or flaw, but a crime against humanity and human decency. My hope is that we learn that women are not less important, but equally important, and that abusing women, that abusing anyone is clearly wrong, not only in geek culture, but in any culture. There is no excuse for not knowing that it’s wrong to hurt another, and geeks, of all people, with their claim to excessive knowledge, should know that.