"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing."
I've been thinking about this quote a lot lately. It has been often (though with some dispute) credited to Edmund Burke. Most of the time when I shamelessly ape it to sound more educated than I am, I tend to paraphrase to "good people" to make it more widely applicable. This time however, I feel that "good men" is more appropriate to what I want to talk about. That's because today I want to talk about "good men". To do that, I must first start by discussing some not so good men.
To begin with a bit of full disclosure, this is my fourth attempt at writing this piece. I was encouraged to get my thoughts regarding the Jian Ghomeshi situation all down in one place, since they have been scattered all over social media. The trouble I have found in doing so was that I couldn't find a way to talk about it that wasn't a) a self congratulatory circle jerk at recognizing a creep slightly sooner than others did, b) burying serious subject matter under seedy details and cheap punchlines or c) regurgitating known information without adding anything new and basically repeating myself.
I should also mention off the bat that I have no feelings about Jian Ghomeshi as a media personality. I had heard the name and was familiar with Q, but I was not a fan nor can I recall any time actually listening to him. And yet, I understand what his fans went through in this process (which I'll get to, and I'm sure will shock many of you as it did me). I understand what happens when someone you have admired turns out to be someone not worth admiring.
That said, the problem I have come down to is that, at this point Ghomeshi has become something of a soft target. There's no sense piling on someone who is already under a microscope. There's enough witnesses and damning testimony coming forward to ensure that he'll never be admired by any but the most hardcore of devotees. At least until he takes another page out of Rob Ford's playbook and finally says "Ok, you got me. I'm an abusive, egomaniacal, dirtbag. I've decided to seek counselling to make this all better" followed by "Hey everyone, I'm all cured! Now how about that comeback tour?" (Forgive me for planting a flag on that one. I just want to make sure people see it for what it is when it happens.) For now though, he has been exposed and he can't hurt anybody for the foreseeable future. It's as close as you get to a victory as you can't undo the damage done in assault cases and the legal system is notoriously easy to slip through.
That was when the quote at the top of this piece began flashing through my mind. A situation has come up that continues to have ramifications and could use a few good men doing something rather than taking on safe target Jian Ghomeshi.
It will likely come as no surprise to regular readers that I tend to hang out in feminist circles. I'm not sure when and where it happened, I just sort of ended up there. It was just the group I felt more comfortable in (I have an aversion to meatheads and alpha males so feminists seemed more enlightened). It certainly took quite some time before I became comfortable enough to own using the dreaded "F-word" in reference to myself.
I have a personal philosophy of always trying to surround myself with people smarter than I am, and in general it takes a pretty sharp and determined mind to handle the grind of the struggle towards progress, through the swamp of oppressive bullshit. The status quo is the easy, lazy way and there are no shortage of dullards, dipshits and doorknobs willing to shout you down for advocating change because change means that group will lose power and privilege.
Just ask Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and Brianna Wu about that.
For those unfamiliar with the GamerGate issue, it's a campaign of harassment and misogyny being waged under the false canopy of "ethics in gaming journalism" (which has become a punchline among those of us with functioning brain stems). The Cliff Notes version is video game developer Zoe Quinn's ex boyfriend posted a long winded scorned ex rant on the internet airing dirty laundry on her sex life and accusing her of sleeping her way to success (yeah success in selling her...free game?) by sleeping with a journalist (who never actually reviewed her...free game) and the misogynists came out of the woodwork and organized a character assassination campaign against her. Epically misguided actor Adam Baldwin coined the term GamerGate and it was off to the races. The targeted campaign of hate began and it proponents only grow more hardlined as it goes on. Eventually, the list of targets grew to include feminist gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian and game developer Brianna Wu.
I should mention, I already had issues with the hardcore gaming community before this happened. To my perspective, it's basically the same group comprised of emotionally stunted, sexually frustrated, racist, sexist, homophobic shit-flinging sub primates who keep me away from online gaming in general. A subculture of (white, straight, male) video gamers who have forgotten somewhere along the way that games are supposed to be fun, and see any attempts to appeal to groups other than them (or address harmful, sexist or racist narratives within the industry) as trying to take away their games (for an example, see the backlash against Mass Effect creator BioWare for including same sex romance options in ME3). They use what is meant to be an entertainment medium that should be for everyone as an avenue to bully and harass. It's a hate group masquerading as a consumer ethics movement (either way it's fucking stupid). The difference is, they now had real life targets to fling their shit at for the "crime" of having lady parts and/or criticizing the rampant misogyny in the gaming industry (Anita Sarkeesian's site "Feminist Frequency" contains some fascinating studies of gender tropes in video games. This is what made her a target of GamerGate.)
These three women were driven from their homes, threatened with death and rape, and had their names and reputations slandered. And people wondered why the women accusing a powerful man like Jian Ghomeshi of violence wished to remain anonymous.
Yet, after all this, Zoe, Anita and Brianna remain unbroken and undeterred.
It takes absolutely no guts to join a mob. No guts to sit on the sidelines and watch. It takes a truckload (inside of a boatload, inside of a "holy shit that's way too many guts") to defy the mob and still carry on.
As a grown ass man (admittedly, wearing a Muppets t-shirt) I have been typing this piece in the type of sphincter clenched, white knuckled, dripping, flop sweat tension that normally precedes the question "Do I cut the red wire or the blue wire?" in anticipation of the blowback that'll hit once I press the post button. This is how women feel every day? Wondering which mentally unstable manchild is going to lash out? I don't know how they do it.
I'm part of the second group listed above by the way. The one that sits on the sidelines when things get too hot or only stands up when it's safe to do so. Sure, I shared a few articles and made some commentary about GamerGate, but always within the safety of my facebook circle or through retweeting other people's words.
I finally realized it came down to the fact that I had the privilege of not getting into the fight.
That is privilege in a nutshell. I have the privilege to not worry about death or rape threats, the privilege to speak up without being marginalized, the privilege to have my concerns taken seriously, the privilege to not be barraged with snide comments about my appearance or speculation about my sex life because I dare to speak out. I have the privilege to choose not to be involved. For those in minority groups, there is no choice.
We so often use the word "privilege" in a negative context (ie - "check your privilege") that I think we sometimes forget that there are positive things that can be done with that power. Spider-Man's mantra "With great power, comes great responsibility" applies not just to wall crawling superheros who fire metaphoric semen out of their wrists, it also applies to the rest of us who don't do that. As a non marginalized (despite what Sun and Fox News would have you to believe) group of white, straight men, we sit atop a veritable stockpile of privilege. Our voices carry farther and they have a power to change the tone of the conversation. GamerGate has shown the negative power which can be wielded by those sitting in a position of privilege. However, we have also seen the opposite in play. Jackson Katz TEDTalk "Violence is a Men's Issue" is a good example of using that privilege to speak to the groups that need to hear the message the most. Men who are respected in the community such as Adam Savage and Joss Whedon have power to change attitudes by speaking out against this kind of behavior.
The turning point in the Jian Ghomeshi case was when musician Owen Pallet also lent his voice to support the accusers. It helped solidify credibility and dissolve the code of silence shared by many victims. Suddenly the conversation changed because a man believed the accusers. The national conversation changed and women started coming forward and telling their stories of being sexually assaulted. One little gesture empowered victims to not be afraid (certainly I'm not taking anything away from the brave women who came forward). With great privilege comes great responsibility.
I now interrupt this longwinded entry to bring you a news story that will probably break your heart and make you never want Jello Puddin Pops ever again.
Go ahead and give it a read, I'll be here when you get back.
It shocked me too. Some of you will refuse to believe any part of it is true. Just remember that people thought that way about Jian Ghomeshi too at one point or another. Fame, power and image can be strong shields.
Remember how I mentioned that I know what it's like to be hit with a realization that someone you once admired now disgusts you? This situation was brought to my attention via comedians Hannibal Buress and Christopher Titus on Twitter.
In a situation shockingly similar to Jian Ghomeshi, when Hannibal Buress got up on stage and called Bill Cosby a rapist a few weeks ago, many refused to believe it. Until he reminded everyone that 13 women had filed a lawsuit against "American's Favourite Dad" accusing him of drugging them and then having sex with them when they were incapable of consent. Cosby settled the lawsuit quietly rather than go to court and the whole thing was swept under the rug.
While I have no dog in the fight (I just realized that must be a dogfighting reference. Gross.) when it comes to Jian Ghomeshi, I was crushed by the news of Cosby's past. Growing up, I wore out a VHS tape of one of his stand up shows to the point where I had learned all of the routines off by heart (still couldn't remember my multiplication tables...priorities man!). It's pretty easy to see how people were able to justify looking the other way when it was old, doddering, goofy Bill Cosby. Forgetting, that this was a public image consciously created he was hiding behind. He wore the sweaters and hocked Jello Puddin' Pops for chrissakes! He couldn't possibly have done it!
All the same excuses and deflections that have been used to shield powerful people before were trotted out. The women (13 women!) were lying. (False reporting rates are around 2%.) They were just after money. (He was the one who settled out of court. They were prepared to testify at trial.) It was their own fault. They took the pills. NO!!!! WRONG!!! If someone is drunk, passed out or otherwise incapacitated it is not ok to violate them. If you condemn Ghomeshi while giving Cosby a pass, you are perpetuating the cycle because you're picking and choosing who you believe.
The story remained hidden, until a larger dialog regarding consent began, when the story finally found traction. It quietly was swept under the rug just like those stories people in and around the Toronto music scene had heard about Jian. Until someone with power within the accused's own community (in this case a male comedian) stood in opposition, the story was buried. Christopher Titus spoke out against homophobia in his sitcom because he knew he had power within his audience, and he could reach them. There is power in privilege.
It's pretty easy to extrapolate that had it not been two men investigating Jian Ghomeshi and staking their own reputations on the story, it likely would never have seen the light of day. Swept under the rug just like it had been for some 20+ years before the allegations came to light. A dirty little secret people were afraid to talk about but everybody knew, just like Cosby. Someone too big, too powerful to take on.
That is the larger issue we need to be talking about. Why is it that four women have to speak under conditions of anonymity for something to get done? Why is our default position that the accuser is lying? Why are women being harassed and driven from their homes seemingly with complete impunity for their tormentors? Why aren't more good men speaking up about this?
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is when good men do nothing."
My hope is for the good men who may be reading this to come to the same realization I did. Your actions have power to make the world better, the same way your (in)actions have the power to make it worse. Franklin Delano Roosevelt came from a position of privilege and used that to try to make things just a little bit better for everyone. Abraham Lincoln used his position of privilege to advocate for those who had no voice. You have the power to shape the world your sons and daughters will inherit.
That can be uncomfortable. Sometimes, that means you will have to confront your own misconceptions, biases and prejudices. Sometimes that means you will be challenged in an attempt to shut you up. I've had my motivations questioned for speaking up about this. I've been accused of "White Knighting" or being an "SJW" (Social Justice Warrior), as though standing up for others or fighting oppressive systems is a character flaw.
As far as I'm concerned, being a White Knight or a Social Justice Warrior sounds pretty fucking badass. I'm more than happy to own both titles.
I'd rather be that, than an asshole.
Links to stuff:
Feminist Frequency - Anita Sarkeesian hosts "Tropes vs Women" a web series examining issues of misogyny in video game culture
The Toronto Sun's Timeline of the Ghomeshi scandal - For those who need a quick recap of events to know what I'm talking about
We Hunted The Mammoth - A brilliant site that exposes and mocks the New (internet age) Misogyny
NY Times Article on GamerGate - Goes much more in depth than I was able to without throwing my computer across the room
Hi, my name is Mitch and I write things sometimes.