Time is up for those men



Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes

Everybody knows
–Leonard Cohen

Everybody knows most women have stories of unwanted male attention. Mine took place in a horse barn and a blacksmith shop back when I was an idealistic young reporter.
I learned on the job - you don’t want to get caught between a horny man and a Percheron in a stall. I found out that a blacksmith has the kind of red-hot equipment you really don’t want to get too close to. I took my camera into their work environment, somehow that signaled willingness.
Luckily I have sharp elbows.
One gorgeous colleague covered a speech by a cabinet minister at the Old O; the brief interview was followed by persistent propositioning. He would not leave her alone. Luckily, an aide finally stepped in and she escaped.
As a kid growing up in Ottawa, I saw feisty mayor Charlotte Whitton as a role model. “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” Words to live by. Unfortunately her attitude didn’t do much to counter sly gropers – our Capital is reputedly full of them.
Fortunately society has been making giant steps of late in opposition to the rule of patriarchy. Famous and powerful men are being exposed as perps, but for millennia a gazillion of them have gotten away with inflicting themselves on unwilling women.
Last week an allegation surfaced against a Nova Scotia political leader. After an independent investigation, PC leader Jamie Baillie departed stage right. I found myself thinking back to whispers about another political leader.
Downtown Windsor in another era
Back in the 70s when I started reporting at the Hants Journal, that politician was in town a lot. Every time I went to take his photo the same whispers went around. Whether it was at the community centre or a ball field, warnings were broadcast: don’t find yourself alone with him.
The whispers got louder in the early 90s when the RCMP acknowledged they’d launched an investigation into allegations of ‘sexual misconduct.’ There was a five-year police investigation. In that world of ‘he said, she said’, the police laid over a dozen charges. The case that stuck with me was the early teen allegedly attacked in a deserted gravel pit who was left with some advice. In a voice barely above a whisper, she said, "He told me that it wouldn't always be like this, that some day I would enjoy it."
His brilliant lawyer saw him cleared of rape, attempted rape, indecent assault and unlawful confinement. I wondered - how did he sleep at night? The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal dithered over stayed charges for several years and then dropped the hot potato.
As I look over the photos I took of that politician, I notice in every image he has his hands clasped in front. Such modesty and control, in front of the camera.
In 2007, in a production called ‘Secrets’, the Women of Wolfville looked at that trial from the victims’ perspective. Donna Smyth, who is retired from the English faculty at Acadia University, wrote a pointed play. One cast member was herself a victim.
A victim repeats the words of her attacker, ‘if you tell, nobody will believe you.’ The chorus repeats and repeats, ‘I was so ashamed.’ Another pipes up, ‘Like it was my fault.’
‘I scrubbed my lips until they were raw,’ cried another. The last of the victims describes the memory of cutting up her skirt. ‘I couldn’t bear to wear it again. For years I carried this secret …festering inside me.’ It was breathtaking hearing these secrets voiced.
The stories from Jian Ghomeshi accusers and Bill Cosby’s 60 alleged victims were astounding, but the age-old silence was just beginning to break. Last year Globe & Mail investigative reporter Robin Doolittle cracked it wide open with her Cross-Canada examination of how police handled 37,272 supposedly ‘unfounded’ cases of sexual assault.
Recently American Judge Rosemarie Aquilina handed down a 175-year sentence for gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar. She dealt with the case like a true heroine, allowing an unprecedented tide of live victim statements to flow over the guilty pervert. But why then has her own President not gotten caught in this net?
A lot has changed in 40 years, more so lately it seems to me. With social media now attuned, and with a wiser media landscape, has it changed enough for victims to be believed? Will the whispers stop about what everybody knows? My hope is that a third wave of feminism will rid us of the notion that men have control over women’s bodies.
Time’s up for those men.

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