December 15, 2014

The Rapist Who Would Be Famous: A Cautionary "Tail"

Like the rest of CBC's listeners, I was dismayed last October when I heard that Jian Ghomeshi, a popular radio show host, was fired for inappropriate sexual behaviour on and off the job. Right on the heels of this revelation, fuzzy-warm icon and celebrity Bill Cosby was similarly exposed, with women stepping forth to speak their truths about sexual abuse at his hands. Talk about shattered illusions!

Former USA President Bill Clinton should be relieved that his sexual indiscretions took place in 1998 and before social media caught on fire - although this remains an historical marker in my life, because it was one of the first times that sexual behaviour and political aspirations were significantly linked.

Women finally won the right to vote in 1920, and it made a difference in more ways than one; if politicians were to "woo" female voters, they would have to subject themselves to our scrutiny and evaluation. We represent over 50% of the population, with the power to influence political outcomes. (Or is the voting game just another illusion?)

I remember discussing the Clinton affair with friends at the time. Most of us didn't care that POTUS was a "roving randy" - beyond feeling bad for Hilary - but we did care that he tried to squirm his way out of it. One gal said we have no right to judge public figures according to their sexual preferences; that we should assess them purely on the job they were hired to do. Another felt that sexual activity was a huge precursor to character, and that we couldn't just ignore character flaws altogether. I had no illusions about a man in power getting what he wants; it just pissed me off that Clinton (or his advisors) thought we'd be stupid enough to believe the idiotic cover story. It's deliciously ironic, but generally we felt that if a man were going to cheat, he should at least be honest about it.

Then along came Tiger Woods' infidelity, just to prove to us that talent is no precursor to character either. For some reason, I ended up feeling bad for Woods, possibly because he seems the "complete victim" of our times. I think he just wanted to play golf, and then got caught up in the inevitable dynamics of fame and fortune. But that's no excuse for doing what he did, nor was it for the philandering hi-jinks of self-made Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Of course, putting people's sexual activities under scrutiny just brings other issues under scrutiny, such as whether or not we should even expect men to be monogamous, the definition of "personal privacy" in light of social media, and the line between professional and personal conduct, which seems to be disappearing.

It makes you wonder. How many men are quaking in their boots right now, wondering if they will be exposed in the next day or decade? How many women are planning revenge or blackmail? How many people, men or women, are turning away from public exposure simply because they don't want the scrutiny?Can the media, including social media, successfully turn this into an opportunity for further discussion?

I welcome the discussion, if only because ignorance terrifies me. Stories like the one out of Milwaukee in November scare me most - a 20-year old man raped a 101-year old woman in her home, and then walked into court grinning and saying directly to the media cameras: "Y'all gonna make me a celebrity!"

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