(An earlier version of this article was posted on fragmentsshored.blogspot.ca). 

For those not familiar with the case, Jian Ghomeshi is a Canadian radio celebrity who hosted the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) highly popular entertainment and culture program, “Q,” for seven years. Over the course of 2014 and 2015, Ghomeshi was charged with four counts of sexual assault, with one count of overcoming resistance by choking in relation to alleged incidents with three women. Ghomeshi was later charged with three more counts in relation to alleged assaults on three more women. Ghomeshi pleaded not guilty, claiming that the rough sex he engaged in with these women was consensual.  On March 24, 2016, Ghomeshi was acquitted of all charges, as, according to the judge, the inconsistent testimonies of the alleged victims made it impossible to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. One more charge of sexual assault is yet to go to trial. During the trial, it was revealed that the three women continued to pursue a relationship with Ghomeshi after being assaulted–one sending a picture of herself in bikini; another sending love notes and flowers. This entry is a reflection on such revelations during the trial. 

When my daughter was an infant, I became steadily fixated upon her tiny hands. Fingers unusually long and slender, they would beam outward and upward from her sturdy palms when content, like a cat’s paw during a long stretch, only to collapse again into a reposeful curl of fist. I see the same fingers today typing on keyboards or drumming steadily as she solves a math problem, or flying happily over her iPhone when she messages her best friend. It occurs to me that her hands are not parts of her, but are intrinsic to her. They are my daughter in se.

If hands are the windows to women’s souls, then perhaps their stillness and bondage are clues to our despair.

In the nauseating trial of Canadian celebrity radio host, Jian Ghomeshi, the absence of women’s hands and the terrifying presence of his became a leitmotif. In the course of the trial, each of the three victims testified horrifying details of their encounters with him like these:

“He pulls my head down, and at the same time, he’s punching me in the head, multiple times.”

“All of a sudden I felt his hands on my shoulders, and his teeth, and then his hands were around my neck and he was squeezing… It all happened so fast.”

“Some kind of switch felt like it had happened. It wasn’t the same person there. I tried to get out of it and then his hand was on my mouth, sort of smothering me.”

Later on in the trial, the defense, intent on attacking the credibility of the alleged victims, produces evidence in each case of the women’s subsequent romantic pursuit of Ghomeshi, including continued sexual encounters and sending provocative photos and letters. In the most disturbing of these revelations, defense lawyer Marie Heinen asks complainant, Lucy DeCoutere, to read out the last line of her hand-written letter to Ghomeshi after the attacks. She reads her own tortuous words: “I love your hands.”

What is the force in this world that so entrenches and normalizes women’s degradation that we convince ourselves that we love our abusers’ hands? What are these endless traditions that we have been handed—by religion and by cultural trope and  by law—that so cajole our own hands into resignation? Which night was it—among the many so-called romantic nights of our lives—that first obscured our own instincts for self-preservation, so that we came to hand over our trust to men like this? Can this force be called anything other than despair as we gradually trade our own searching hands for the violence of theirs? When considering the impossible situation of rape victims under the law, Andrea Dworkin offered these words, which are sadly prophetic in light of the Ghomeshi verdict:

What does it mean that in this society it is his rights that matter and no injury to her matters at all? What does it mean and how the hell do we change it? We have a right to decide whether we want to use law or whether we ought to use our bare hands. If you know what it is that needs to be torn down, tear it down.

I often wonder  with Dworkin whether this is a time of tearing down or of building up. Should we simply “hand over” the traditions that we have received to our daughters or should we attempt to tear them down? Is there anything still to be salvaged from the wreck of this theological/juridical tradition that might preserve the power and strength of our/our daughters’ own hands?

Yet there she is, my now-teenage daughter, neither pounding her first nor wringing her hands, nor folding them submissively in her lap. She is drumming still softly as she reads. Later she laughs at some secret shared with her friend in the clouds of conversations passed like sighs from her fingers to the air as she texts. Maybe a tradition ought to look something like this: it is carried gently but constantly in the hands of a young woman reaching forward, reaching out, and reaching for life. It is a conversation endlessly built up, and endlessly torn down, as we determine the meaning of our words and the strength of our own hands. May this be sufficient power to preserve us from throwing up our hands in despair.

3 thoughts

  1. Thanks for writing about the Ghomeshi trial, Jane. It’s been a hard one to follow, but this is exactly what the case needs–sustained reflection on “these endless traditions that we have been handed” which work to make women unintentionally complicit in their own degredation.

  2. Thanks for this note, Alexandria. I don’t think I was trying to say that the women were complicit, so much as they were despairing. That is, that they were shaped by experiences that normalized his violence. By despair, I mean something like giving up hope of finding something better for themselves.

  3. Thank you for these reflections. The whole is in the part; the situation, and the many like it, are much easier to understand when rooted in the metaphor of hands, such a vibrant image of agency. And the image of hopeful hands — drumming softly. Or, perhaps for women like us, writing at a keyboard.

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