Has the bad-date grapevine withered?

Most of Canada and about eleven persons in the rest of the world know we now have a Canadian media-personality sex scandal.

You can read all kinds of opinion about the CBC radio host and the women involved, so I will leave that aside and say, the scandal made me think of my old days as a single, early-thirties woman in the same city, Toronto.

The pubs where I met my friends for after-work drinks are mostly gone now, but others have taken their place, and I wonder whether the informal, reciprocal caretaking that I remember still operates. 

In the early '80s, before the internet, if a woman asked around she could learn quite a bit about a man she was thinking of dating, or maybe just starting to see. You would not believe the details I heard in those years; if a man about town thought his preferences were private, hah! There were no really blind dates. 

Sometimes the information came unbidden; a woman I knew and trusted phoned to tell me someone I had begun to date had, in another city, recently been charged with uttering violent threats to women via phone calls. 

Sometimes a girlfriend's partner would weigh in on a prospect's reputation. I remember my pal Bob telling me, "He's a pretty good bloke, but don't think of him as someone you'd settle down with." 

There might have been some false negatives (you discounted the bitter ex or unfounded gossip), but overall, the system worked. 

Back then, a girlfriend agreed to a tryst at a hotel with a man (strangely, he had the same occupation as Ghomeshi). They had met before, and she was interested in things progressing. When they were alone in the room, he suddenly began to hit her, an act she had no idea would happen. She had the equanimity to tell him his presence in the hotel was known to others, and he backed off. She hadn't asked about him; because she heard him on the radio, she felt as if she knew him.

I'm not blaming or shaming the alleged victims. Rather, I wonder whether in the age of Facebook (which Ghomeshi used to contact several women he'd met at events), we have forgotten the old, reliable grapevine, and whether "friending" has usurped reputation. 

Are women more vulnerable because social media have replaced word of mouth?

Facebook leapfrogs the tentative introduction process, Tweets replace community connections, and the nature of fear (always present for women in such situations) has changed: after the alleged assaults, several women said they did not lay charges because of fear of reprisal—and especially chilling—fear of being harassed on the internet by the man's fans.





 


19 comments

Anonymous said...

You will definitely find this article of interest: http://www.nothinginwinnipeg.com/2014/10/do-you-know-about-jian/

Duchesse said...

Anonymous: Yes, and it's good to know that the creep-alert grapevine is still operational. In the late '70s-early '80s, now that I think about it, it was used more often to find out if a someone one was interested in had a complementary sexual orientation. Many more persons were closeted.

LPC said...

Ooof! I never dated anyone who wasn't well known by either friends or colleagues. I never can tell if things are worse now, or just more openly reported.

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

As a devoted CBC fan I was shocked when this news broke. I listen to the Q most days and wonder about the 55 million dollar lawsuit...if Jian wins that will mean the end of the CBC which is currently struggling to keep afloat....on the other hand if the CBC wins this might just secure their future!
What happens in the privacy of peoples bedrooms should stay there BUT if these women have been hurt, or forced to have sex or worse, raped or drugged by Jian I say throw the book at him!

materfamilias said...

It's certainly a different world! Like Lisa, I'm reluctant to label conditions worse. Social media is working very well to give us perspectives that the older system would have kept under wraps. Some of the short essays I've read on the topic by "folks who know/knew things" have been illuminating.
Loved your opening sentence -- snap!
This essay -- has garnered attention in the feminist literary-academic community lately, and seems related to your topic. . . .

Anonymous said...

Actually no, if you google you will find all kinds of negative comments posted about the guy's dating habits on social media going back years. It was an open secret among females.

I worked at a large bank with a predator manager who got away with bad behaviour his whole career, including not hiring women who didn't seem to be his type. I personally think the CBC is more worried about the number of internal complaints against him that were ignored. No way was there only one.

Duchesse said...

LPC: I have seen very few explicit warnings about specific men or women; there are a few sites that were set up to provide lists but have been taken own. Libel and defamation are the other side of the jerk list" coin.

hostess: The general consensus on the suit is that it is not viable.

materfamilias: Yes, "folks who knew things" are coming forward on social media now... now. You link to the essay did not get posted, please re-send, thanks.

Anonymous: I figured word was out, but since I spend no time in the FB world, did not know this. However, I wonder about the average-joe creep such as your bank manager. A person has to be careful about publishing someone's name and negative comments.

A person I knew at a large corporation posted defamatory comments about his boss, who was not a sexual predator, he just didn't like her. She sued and settled out of court.

materfamilias said...

Here's that link, K: http://thehairpin.com/2014/10/stories-like-passwords

Eleanorjane said...

I don't know of the scandal you refer to (hasn't made it over the Pond, I guess), but it does stagger me that things like Tindr exist. I would *never* consider meeting a stranger who I'd had nothing but brief online contact with!

Then again, I married my high school sweetheart, so what do I know?!

Anonymous said...

The grapevine is still there (speaking for my group: late 20s/early 30s, in Montreal), but has moved from warning about dates to warning about people in general. "watch your drink around that guy". "Don't drink too much around him". "I'll walk you out of he's here". That sort of thing. Everyone knows, but if the women he's assulted aren't willing to speak out, bystanders can't really do much other than try to minimize the damage. Everyone KNOWS, except for newcomers. But what exactly are you supposed to do? The first anonymous's link to "do you know about Jian" rings pretty clear for that.

Mardel said...

When I was last dating, I didn't date anyone who wasn't known within my circles of either friends or colleagues. I've wondered if that attitude is a bit old-fashioned, but increasingly think not. There are many things better left to a word between friends or acquaintances than broadcast over social media, but how to cross that divide in an increasingly media-oriented and compartmentalized world is a challenge. The ongoing problem is with people who are newcomers or don't have or know the right places to look.

Bathtub Bliss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
diverchic said...

Kazzoo on the hairpin (materfamiilias) talks about ambition playing a role for some women who get into ill advised situations. Trading Sex for favours has a long tradition. Was this the case for Jian's dates? Regardless, they got something that they had not, apparently, contracted for. Perhaps they should sue for fraud as well as for assault.

virago said...

Anonymous October 30 @ 10:03 p.m.
Everyone KNOWS, except for newcomers. But what exactly are you supposed to do?

Because it's really tough to be the one who says, "Sketchy McPredator isn't coming to my party," guys like this somehow keep getting invited to everything. Which, of course, just gives them more opportunities to prey on newcomers.

Maybe we need to resurrect the old-school penalty of the snub. Don't invite him, don't acknowledge him, don't include him.

Duchesse said...

virago: I chose the words "mutual caretaking" deliberately, which implies time to develop friendships and be privy to personal discussions. Newcomers are hampered by lack of information.

What are the options? Around 2005, Women at Brown University started writing names of that kind of man on the women's bathroom wall. As soon as the names would be scrubbed off, they would go up again. Though I see issues with that (or any) zero-accountability tactic, the reason given is that they felt the University was not acting in cases of date rape.

Rose said...

another article about "Who-knew-what" that might be illuminating.

http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2014/11/jian_ghomeshi_allegations_i_wasn_t_surprised_to_hear_them_does_that_make.html

Rose in SV

virago said...

Duchesse,

I graduated from Vassar College* in 1987, and I remember a particularly outspoken ladies' room "wall of shame" in the basement of the library.

* All women until 1969; pretty consistently 60% women-40% men since then.

I agree with you re: "mutual caretaking." An example from my own life: In my 20s, I moved into a group house of long standing, which vastly expanded my social circle and brought me into contact with women who were kind enough to tell me who was OK and who I should avoid. ("If Doug offers you a ride home from the pub crawl, don't be alone in the car with him -- make sure you get dropped off first.")

My proposal to resurrect the snub -- freezing out the "Dougs" and similarly sketchy sorts -- is thinking out loud about a couple of things: 1) how to isolate predators from the social circles of people who act respectfully toward one another and 2) how to deprive predators of the company of newcomers who haven't been clued in yet.

It's hard to exclude predators from social events. Other people are expected to be aware of, work around and not challenge the behavior or presence of the predator. They're "the missing stair," a terrific metaphor explained here and here, among other places:

"It’s the concept that people learn how to warn other group members of a specific member’s vile behavior. After a while, because 'everyone knows,' they become like a missing stair everyone knows to step over."

(Sorry for the wall of text! I've been doing a lot of thinking about this topic.)

Duchesse said...

Rose AG: I saw the Slate article and admired Carl Wilson's honesty about how much his ambition corroded his moral sensibility.

virago: Thanks for your reply and the link. It's difficult to isolate predators of the scope and privilege Ghomeshi had. In many organizations, HR depts. have initiated practices to uncover harassment (among other unhealthy workplace behaviours)- to varying degrees of effectiveness. I have seen persons terminated for harassment. Sends a powerful message.

Warning others of someone's behaviour is useful, especially when there is no one to hold the person accountable.

Sooner or later someone misses the step and gets hurt.

virago said...

It's difficult to isolate predators of the scope and privilege Ghomeshi had.

My social-isolation scenario wasn't envisioned as a tactic that would be effective on a high-profile predator. I was thinking about how to deal with the kind of sketchy guys I've encountered in my own, very low-profile social circle.

You're right -- Ghomeshi is definitely at the level where everyone smooths the way for him and he feels entitled to do whatever he wants. (See Bill Cosby, the late BBC children's TV presenter Jimmy Savile, Jimmy Page, Seans Penn and Connery, and, depressingly, way too many more examples to list here.)