Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Men still have much to answer for in too many relationships


Watching three male guests on CBC’s "Sunday Talk" discuss the implications for men of the Ghomeshi trial and acquittal, one is left with a distinct impression that two found the issues ‘surprising’ and one did not. Surprising, according to two of them, because they were not aware that so many women have experienced some form of sexual abuse, while the third was somewhat shocked at their innocence and ignorance.

And that was the main point of the extraordinarily superficial conversation.

Left unsaid were questions of how relations between men and women have quite literally pummeled the confidence, the self-respect and the spine of millions of men. Even the #believesurvivors digital crowd points to another of the many superficialities, stereotypes and victims of both in the contemporary North American culture. According to transcripts of the trial, evidence was withheld from police that later emerged to the shock and surprise of both police and the crown. Not minor variances, but major discrepancies, collusion, and self-sabotage by the witnesses became arguments in the judge’s decision. The protests by thousands of women, notwithstanding, the judge reached a reasonable, probable and predictable verdict, given the evidence presented.

Such a response is not to condone any physical, emotional or any other kind of abuse, by either party in an intimate relationship. There is a gender difference, however, that needs examination when critically considering these issues of gender relations, including sexual behaviour and gender politics. Women band and bond together very differently than men. Credibility, trumped by compassion, is set aside, if and when a woman tells her ‘sisters’ that she has been violated. The ‘victim’ is rarely questioned about the veracity, the specifics, and the credibility of the ‘charge’. Because, let’s face it, once out of the mouth of the victim, the words, “sexually assaulted” have been released from the larynx and the tongue and the lips of the self-described victim, they cannot be put back into any container. With impunity, the words tarnish, even potentially destroy the ‘name’ and reputation of the accused, at least as far as social discourse is concerned. If this is revenge for the decades, possibly centuries, during which the good name and reputation of women was dessicated by cavalier men who considered their sexual conquests little more than applause for their testosterone-manhood, then, perhaps there is some justification for its reality. However, as in almost all other ‘tit-for-tat’ pay-backs, the cumulative result of the see-saw is a reduction of both sides. Revenge does not look good or wear well on either gender, not now not ever. What’s more, revenge and jealousy are almost guaranteed to generate exaggeration, distortion and bending if not breaking the empiricial evidence of the facts of any encounter.  And both revenge and jealousy are not merely particular to a specific man-woman relationship; they are also cultural norms, wreaking havoc in millions of families, neighbourhoods, towns, cities and nations everywhere. There is always a way to plant a specific jealousy and/or revenge in the garden of human history, where the toxic weed has been growing since Adam and Eve. And such addition to the human weed patch knows no chemical, physical, natural or radioactive week-killer.

Since revenge and jealousy are “emotions” and not empirical physical acts, per se, we have not devised laws that make either of them specific criminal charges; we lay criminal charges on human behaviour, for which there are corroborating witnesses. Circumstantial evidence, on the other hand, including the speculation on motive of any human being, while worthy of consideration by the courts, nevertheless, suffers from the crippling effects of comparable weakness simply because they are both open to subjective interpretation. Judging the truth of any witness’s statements requires corroboration, as well as the accumulation of several statements about several aspects of any case before the court, and even after all the normal benchmarks have been met, often judges and juries are left with extreme variance in their opinions of the credibility and trustworthiness of all witnesses.

It is not feasible to separate any court case from the culture in which the case is heard. We are all a part of everything and everyone we have experienced. That includes the accused, the accuser, the judge, and the juries or our peers. And each of us has that proverbial “plank” in our eye/ear/perception/attitude/belief, making objective grasp of any evidence suspect and clouded by our literal and metaphoric “plank”. From a subjective perspective, everyone is a part of every court case, given both the degree of exposure and the degree of public “interest” in any case. However, the law has some basic principles on which its cases are litigated: presumption of innocence, and burden of proof on the part of the state in a criminal case. And, for better or worse, these are principles to which the legal system in a democracy founded on habeas corpus is wedded: and thankfully!

#Ibelievesurvivors may be an attempt, however passionate and however convicted among those taking to the streets in many Canadian cities, to support the women who filed complaints in the Ghomeshi case. It may well be an attempt to encourage other women who have experienced sexual assault to come forward to the crown or the police with their story. It may also be an attempt to put pressure on the crown to appeal this case. (We are still within the 30-day appeal period.) However, a hashtag instacrowd  must never be permitted to substitute for or to replace a formal trial, with all of its many glitches, hick-ups, twists and turns. Both those accused and those filing complaints can take heart from a system that does much to eradicate subjectivity, bias, personal preference and the current winds of the contemporary culture from the examination of the evidence and the sources of that evidence. The public cry that only the women complainants’ stories were examined critically, and not the accused in the Ghomeshi case, is simply unsustainable, given the two pillars: the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof resting exclusively with the crown. Tweeking the legal system, in order to require both complainants and accused to testify would so significantly re-order our legal system from an extremely short-term perspective, and would serve neither complainant nor accused. Our culture has to come to its senses that evidence, especially but not exclusively in sexual assault cases, requires rigorous examination, cross-examination and just because a complainant brings a story to the authorities there can be and often are many circumstances playing out in the story: Was the relationship ended against the wishes of the woman? Was the relationship terminated in order to facilitate another relationship? Were both parties in a relationship absolutely clear about its parameters? Where did the initiative for the relationship originate? Who played a more significant role in its continuation? Who made the first move to terminate it? How was that decision received? Was the person “dumped” in a situation of adequate support? Were the people counselling the ‘victim/complainant’ objective and truthful in their support? Did they have a hidden, or not so hidden, agenda, from their own lives which they projected onto their “counsel”?

Men, for our part, are subject to a very different kind of scrutiny, in our relations with the female gender than were our grandfathers, fathers and even our older brothers. Men are extremely aware, and have for a considerable time now shifted their thinking and their behaviour in relationships with women. Men, for our part again, have to acknowledge that our efforts to communicate our feelings, our intentions, our desires, and even our needs is usually lacking in sensitivity, finesse, empathy and most importantly clarity. And our verbal part in a relationship can be and often is extremely mixed, confusing and self-centred, if not completely narcissistic. That kind of attitude and discourse needs continual attention, coaching and continual practice. Presumption of “power” and dominance is not a given, and men have to accept full equality and full responsibility for entering any relationship as an equal. Given our penchant for masked insecurity, reaching a comfort level with equality will only follow the removal of our mask and the full recognition of our complexities, including both our strengths and our weaknesses, not to enable another to abuse us, but to open the door to full sharing of ourselves.

We cannot tolerate, condone nor fail to protest vigorously the complete destruction of healthy masculinity that is being demonstrated by Trump, in the presidential campaign. We cannot tolerate, condone or fail to protest the emasculation of men that has been a constant wave of public condemnation from a segment of the feminist movement. We cannot tolerate, condone or fail to protest the failure of our culture to take seriously the power issues that attend to many relationships, regardless of the social, educational, economic or ethical background of each person.

And we have to continue to attend to all conversations in which power of any kind is abused by men, women, or institutions.

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