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.

Fangirling The Bad Plus

Last night I totally fangirled the best jazz trio in the world at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta.

And it was awesome.

Jazz isn’t a genre that typically has fangirls. I’m not sure, however, that it would be correct to say that jazz has fanboys, either. Maybe fangentlemen.

But for me, admitting that you have no idea who The Bad Plus are is like admitting that you have never heard of Doctor Who. And with very similar consequences, because I will immediately do everything in my power to save you from the abyss of deprivation that surrounds you. And I will do this because I am a fangirl.

Fangirling gets a bad rap. Urban Dictionary defines fangirl/fanboy as having a “compulsive dedication” and gives an example of a fan who can only talk about their fandom. Fangirldom is associated with youth and immaturity, hence fangirl, not fanwoman (and, I must point out, that “fangirl” is a newer term then “fanboy,” which left women out completely when it was coined). Fandom is not something adults do. Fandom isn’t a real appreciation for something, but a blind following of something, usually related to comics or sci-fi or gaming. Being a fangirl, in other words, makes me a less legitimate fan, and that is due, in part, to the associations of “girlishness” with “fan.”

Although I can understand where some of these concerns are coming from, I have to admit that I think  the pejorative connotations associated with fangirls and fanboys are a load of smeg. For me, fandom is about enthusiasm, passion, and, on more than one occasion, feminism. I like the term “fangirl” because I like being a fan, and many of the things I am a fan of have not always been female friendly. I like how “fangirl,” as a term, is a reminder that women can be fans (and even participants! Gasp!) in popular culture.  Jazz, for example, is notoriously male. I once asked a tenor saxophonist (whom I had seen play locally several times) to name his favorite musicians. He sized me up, taking particular note of my femaleness, and said, “Well, you’ve probably never heard of him, but I really like a guy named Sonny Rollins.”

In jazz, this is rather like saying “You’ve probably never heard of him, but I like a guy named Paul McCartney.” While I certainly won’t claim to be an expert on jazz (I have a PhD in books), I  know who Sonny Rollins is. In fact, I know who Vi Burnside is, and I think her tenor sax mastery is delicious and frenetic. And the reason I know who Vi Burnside is because I’m a woman, and I woke up one morning tired of male tenor sax players who thought I didn’t know anything, and I sought out women in jazz. And I wrote about them.

In other words, I  know who Vi Burnside is because I’m a fangirl.

After all, this is what fangirls do. I get giddy over music, just like I get giddy over books. The reason I have a PhD in English is really just because I’m a fangirl of hundreds of writers. I get giddy over great films and television and comics, too. Listening to a great band or reading a great book is like dissolving into the sun. It’s the best way of being set on fire. And being a fangirl is about fanning those flames. Removing the enthusiasm, the passions, the respect, the learning, the sharing from fandom leaves us as plain old girls and boys. Fans are, after all, fanatics. We need more fans, more people that are so excited and passionate about books and music and films that they can’t shut up. That they babble. And squee. And transcend.

And we need fangirls in particular because more women need to be involved in music and books and art; we need more women involved in writing and composing and painting. So much of the canon of great art, great books, great music, great film is male. And that’s the canon we need to join. Not the offshoot canons, not the women’s lit. and the women’s music, but the primary, main canon of GREAT works. Women need to be there, visibly, speaking and writing and painting and playing. Shakespeare courses, Shakespeare studies, the great canon of literature–this was all made by fanboys, because really, is there a Shakespeare scholar that isn’t a fan of Shakespeare? We need to own our fandoms, and women particularly need to own our fangirldom, because Canonical Greatness? It isn’t just for white men anymore.

I want to see the same kinds of fangirldom that is generally associated with sci-fi and comics and gaming within the Canons of Great Works. For me, there is no difference in my fandom for Doctor Who and my fandom for The Bad Plus. I love the devotion and exuberance of the Doctor Who fandom, the Buffy fandom, Whedon fandom, Arrow fandom, Nerf Herder fandom, TMBG fandom, and I bring that to my jazz fandom. I am, at heart, a geek. I geek out. I freak out. I squee with delight. And I am female. White, straight, and fairly cis-gendered. And I belong here, in the Canon, among jazz and classical and rock and geek rock. I belong here with all the other genders and colors and orientations and ways of being. And so do you.

So if you’ve never heard of The Bad Plus, I will remedy that for you here. Go give them a listen.

And squee.

Me and The Bad Plus. SQUEE!!
Me and The Bad Plus. SQUEE!!

I Am a Feminist Geek, and You Do, Indeed, Need Me

I’m having a lot of trouble taking the “We Don’t Need Feminism” tumblr seriously. For starters, the banner is a .gif from Veronica Mars, which is not only a blatantly feminist TV show, but also full of self-proclaimed feminist actresses, actors, writers, and producers. The scholarship about Veronica Mars even studies feminism within the show. So the choice to use Veronica Mars as a banner for an anti-feminist blog? That’s just funny.

The submission guidelines are hard to read, partially due to the unique editorial decision to use a bright red font on a dark blue background, and partially due to the creative use of sentence construction. Clearly, we’re not dealing with a user who is burdened with a knowledge of rhetoric.

The submissions themselves are in bright white boxes, which at least makes them easy to read, from a usability perspective. The contents of the white boxes, however, tend to range from semi-literate tweet fodder to, very occasionally, a sound bite that could prove thought-provoking, given more expansion. Of course, the medium of tumblr itself is limiting, but it appears that several of the submitters are limited by more than the medium. If the medium is indeed the message, then perhaps the real takeaway from this site is that anti-feminism is gaudy, hard to read, and largely untroubled by depth.

Feminism, as most of us know,  (and particularly those of us in the worlds of geek and/or academia), is hardly a monolithic edifice. Most theories of feminism now revolve around feminisms, acknowledging that there is more than one way to think, analyze, protest, act, believe, write, and unite. There is more than “the patriarchy” to address as well, because race, class, orientation, and education are just a few of the other ways agency (and access) can be restricted and regulated. Feminism, in other words, is complex. Anti-feminism? Evidently, not so much.

And it’s the simplicity, the reductiveness, and the sheer gaudiness of this anti-feminism tumblr that make me laugh because it’s a little like the stories my IT friends have told me about helping clients (“My printer doesn’t work!” “Have you tried loading paper?”). And while I’m know that many feminists are angry about this tumblr, I know that many, many more are laughing. Because it’s hard to be a feminist without being, even in a small way, a geek. Someone who reads philosophy, books, and critical theory. Who is concerned with social justice. Who follows politics and reads newspapers. Who stays informed. Who is culturally literate. It’s hard to be a feminist, and not laugh when Veronica Mars is used as the poster child for anti-feminism.

Feminism, I would like to argue, is kind of inherently geeky. Which is an odd claim, since geekdom itself has traditionally been male (and white and middle class and educated and straight). But the quest for knowledge, social justice, voice, and freedom from oppression is a pretty geeky quest because geeks, like women, tend to be underdogs. Being a feminist requires knowledge, action, and power. And geekdom itself has produced some of the most compelling narratives of feminism and feminist heroines currently in pop culture, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Wonder Woman, and yes, Veronica Mars. Science-fiction allowed for some of the first strong female protagonists, and writers such as Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Octavia Butler took advantage of the medium. And comics are taking it even further, with a female Thor (yay!).

This isn’t to say that geekdom isn’t without sexism. But to say that feminism is, maybe, just a bit geeky, offers another way of looking at what, exactly, it is about feminism that is so abhorrent to so many. In that context, the anti-feminist tumblr makes a little more sense, because these women are claiming that they are not geeks, they are separate from something as geeky, as uncool, as intelligent as feminism. Because geekiness is still marginalized and smartness is vilified (literally: go watch an action film or a Disney movie), feminism isn’t “cool.” It doesn’t have cultural capital. The feminism vs. anti-feminism debate seems to be new iteration of geeks vs. jocks, but one with femininity (in its myriad of forms) evidently at stake.

This backlash against feminism is, then, in some respects a backlash against smart chicks that is very much in the vein of America’s current anti-intellectualism. And yet, the problem remains that geekiness is not necessarily feminist. The best example of how feminism is geeky, but geekery is not necessarily feminist, can probably be found in geek rock, and, far more generally, music overall. How so, you ask? Name 10 female geek rock musicians. How about 10 female rock musicians? Or 10 female musicians in any genre? NOT singers or vocalists. Musicians. Name me 10.

And that, right there, is when my laughter stops, because it’s so obvious, so glaring, so absent, that I’m astonished at anyone too blind to see it. Why do we need feminism?  The answer is clear: because there is still work to be done.