Injecting nuance

Oh good, it’s The Return of Men time. Thank god; I was wondering how we’d get along.

Well before the world associated the phrase #MeToo with sexual assault, Jian Ghomeshi was a popular Canadian radio host and musician. In 2014 and 2015, however, he became the subject of numerous allegations of sexual assault, which included biting, choking, and punching women in the head.

But he got away with it.

Now, Ghomeshi has published a long essay in the New York Review of Books, titled “Reflections From a Hashtag.” In it, Ghomeshi aims to “inject nuance” into his story and says he has faced “enough humiliation for a lifetime” as a victim of “mass shaming.” He also claims to have learned some lessons that have made him a better man: “I have spent these years trying to listen, read, and reflect,” he writes, adding that he now understands that he could be too demanding on dates. Still, he denies the vast majority of the accusations. The piece is promoted on the cover as part of a package on “The Fall of Men” and lands on the same week that Harper’s published a long first-person essay by John Hockenberry, who last year was accused of harassing several female colleagues at WNYC.

I look forward to the long self-absorbed articles by Bill Cosby, Les Moonves, Charlie Rose, and so so so many more.

I recently spoke by phone with Ian Buruma, the editor of the New York Review of Books, about the decision to publish the Ghomeshi piece, which has already proven controversial. (Full disclosure: I have met Buruma several times, and he offered me a job last year after he took over the NYRB.) During the course of our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed the genesis of the piece, the ethics of publishing people who do bad deeds, and why the specific nature of Ghomeshi’s behavior is not really Buruma’s “concern.”

Let me guess. It’s because it doesn’t have to be, because he’s not pushed out of good jobs by sexual harassment, or kept from seeking them by sexual harassment, or punished for succeeding in them by sexual harassment. Women have their petty little problems but serious people don’t care because meh, women, ya know?

Isaac Chotiner: How did this piece come about?

Ian Buruma: I met, through another editor, many months ago, Jian Ghomeshi, whom I hadn’t met before and who told me his story and said that he was interested in writing about it. I was interested in the subject, which as we discussed then, the first time I saw him, was what it was like to be, as it were, at the top of the world, doing more or less what you like, being a jerk in many ways, and then finding your life ruined and being a public villain and pilloried. This seemed like a story that was worth hearing—not necessarily as a defense of what he may have done. But it is an angle on an issue that is clearly very important and that I felt had not been exposed very much.

Really. The experience of men doesn’t get explored enough, you know? Apart from almost all movies and most tv shows and all serious fiction and stacks of memoirs and a billion confessional pieces in high-prestige periodicals, we hardly hear a peep out of them.

There are numerous allegations of sexual assault against Ghomeshi, including punching women in the head. That seems pretty far on the spectrum of bad behavior.

I’m no judge of the rights and wrongs of every allegation. How can I be? All I know is that in a court of law he was acquitted, and there is no proof he committed a crime. The exact nature of his behavior—how much consent was involved—I have no idea, nor is it really my concern. My concern is what happens to somebody who has not been found guilty in any criminal sense but who perhaps deserves social opprobrium, but how long should that last, what form it should take, etc.

That’s actually not all he knows. He also knows that many women said Ghomeshi assaulted them.

O. J. Simpson was not found guilty in a criminal trial. I assume, even if he didn’t have other issues, we might have paused before asking him to write an essay.

That is true, but he was found guilty in a civil trial.

I think even if he hadn’t been is perhaps the point to be made. But let’s also note that Ghomeshi signed a peace bond and avoided another trial by apologizing to a victim. And these allegations were from more than 20 women. We don’t know what happened, I agree. But that is an astonishing number, no?

I am not going to defend his behavior, and I don’t know if what all these women are saying is true. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it isn’t. My interest in running this piece, as I said, is the point of view of somebody who has been pilloried in public opinion and what somebody like that feels about it. It was not run as a piece to exonerate him or to somehow mitigate the nature of his behavior.

Yes, it’s just so fascinating to focus on “somebody” i.e. a man “who has been pilloried in public opinion” – that’s so much more interesting than a bunch of sluts who had their lives messed up by the fascinating man who has been pilloried.

It weird how blind some men are to male solidarity and how easily it can solidify into united hatred of women.

They go back and forth, with Isaac Chotiner pressing Buruma and Buruma repeating his smug refusal to care about anything but Ghomeshi’s wounded soul.

Do you not feel that there is a statement being made putting him on the cover, which says “The Fall of Men,” next to these other pieces? The headline of the piece is “Reflections From a Hashtag,” which feels dismissive of #MeToo to me.

No, not at all. In none of these pieces is anybody making an argument against #MeToo. All we have done is take three pieces, which I would hope help the readers to think through a very fraught issue in our time. It is certainly not a statement against #MeToo. It is trying to understand bad male behavior.

When a guy who has avoided real punishment says he has had “enough humiliation for a lifetime” and is a victim of “mass shaming,” that does seem to be a comment on what follows accusations.

That is his comment. It is a personal account. So he is expressing what it felt like to him. It is not me saying that. It is not me saying that’s good. It’s not me saying that’s bad. You need to find as many fresh ways to analyze, express, and describe what’s going on as you can, and this is one angle I hadn’t read yet.

He can’t have looked very hard.

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