Sue Nador taught her sons, “Your partner is a real person with real feelings and not some live action figure.”
Jian Ghomeshi’s mother must be mortified.
Ghomeshi is a household name in Canada (and beyond) as the talented interviewer of icons from Van Morrison to Al Gore. Jian Ghomeshi was until recently the popular host of CBC’s “Q” – its flagship art, culture and entertainment program.
Rumours had long circulated that Jian was a bad date—but when you are famous, have friends in high places, and generate a whole lot of revenue for a public broadcaster you enjoy a certain level of protection.
That all changed recently after CBC decided to part ways with Ghomeshi over concerns of sexual impropriety, having reviewed disturbing evidence including, reportedly, video tapes provided by Ghomeshi himself, in an effort to show everything was consensual. Not convinced, CBC gave Ghomeshi the opportunity to walk away quietly. Instead, Ghomeshi went on the offensive, publically revealing via Facebook that he engaged in consensual rough sex (forms of BDSM), that this was his private business, and that attempts to recast his sexual practices as something nefarious were a smear campaign fueled by a vindictive jilted girlfriend.
A Who’s Who of Canada initially bought his side of the story, quickly rising to Ghomeshi’s defense. But over the following days a number of credible women emerged from the shadows to reveal how Ghomeshi had assaulted them in surprise attacks, forced them to engage in degrading sexual acts and never obtained any consent to treat them in a rough manner. Actress Lucy DeCoutere and lawyer/author Reva Seth were two victims who spoke and wrote convincingly about their experience—and they were believed. The tide has turned swiftly against Ghomeshi. A police investigation is now underway.
A conversation between mothers and sons
Whatever the truth may be (we are a long way away from hearing the end of this story), who I feel sorry for right now is Ghomeshi’s mother. I can’t help it; I’m a mom too. My heart would shatter if either of my sons were implicated in this kind of salacious story. It takes a lot to shake maternal pride but I bet Mrs. Ghomeshi’s is being tested right now.
The Ghomeshi story is a very good reminder about the role mothers need to play in educating our sons early and often about sex and relationships. While both parents share responsibility for sex education, I think there are some areas in which moms have more street credibility about how our sons should behave with their female partners—because we know. All of us were young women once, and many of us have suffered at least one bad date where we felt mocked, coerced, or frightened. It should mortify us if our sons made any woman feel this way.
Three lessons on how to treat women right
While obviously women are a diverse group with individual needs, I think it is fair to make some assumptions for pedagogical purposes. Here are three lessons I believe mothers should reinforce with their teenage and young adult sons about how to treat women right. It is our job to help them become gentlemen—call me old-fashioned, I don’t care.
Sex is not a game. Sex should be fun, adventurous and exciting but it is not a game. You can’t turn feelings off and on like an Xbox. Your partner is a real person with real feelings and not some live action figure. Sexual activities like BDSM have entered our mainstream consciousness with the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey and other erotica. But entering the world of make-believe can be treading into dangerous territory when the rules are not clear, and when imaginative play alters the course of the relationship in unexpected and undesirable ways. The sad truth is that some men still think women are only there for their own purpose and pleasure. Women are your equals and not your objects.
Trust takes time. Sexual adventure requires trust and that can only develop over time as your appreciation and insights into another person’s needs evolve. It takes time to get to know our partners well enough to read their body language and to appreciate the nuance of spoken language—to truly understand their desire. It is accepted wisdom that women have a greater need for an emotional connection to enjoy sex than men do. The emotional stakes are higher for women—and you can break their hearts by going too far too fast. You never want short-term pleasure to turn into longer-term physical and emotional pain. Patience is the hallmark of a true gentleman.
Consent is critical. Prime Minister Trudeau’s wise words – “there is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation” – might suggest that anything goes between two consenting adults. But consent is impossible to obtain if your partner is, for example, passed out from asphyxiation. Legally (at least in Canada) ongoing consent is required when engaging in sex. But beyond the legalities, there is a fine line between consent and physical or emotional coercion—and that’s a line that should never ever be crossed. While “no” always means “no”, it gets a little fuzzy during certain sexual practices, like BDSM. Many women have felt mocked or ridiculed for being prudish, or have been pressured to loosen up when they say that they want to take it slow. Women especially do things “for love” that may leave them feeing empty or with emotional scars later. Take your cues from your partner, and take it as slow as she needs.
The Ghomeshi affair has sparked a huge conversation in this country. If nothing else has been accomplished by this sad and sordid story, we are now talking about sexual assault, the silence and secrecy surrounding it, and the responsibility of employers, family and friends to take a firm stand against sexual harassment and abuse.
As the mother of sons, I gave both of my kids an earful during their formative years. I hope my voice lingers in their heads as they enter into mature unions. I also hope that like Jian Ghomeshi they become front page news—but for the right reasons.