How Jian Ghomeshi Pulled the Feminist Wool Over Everyone’s Eyes

8070556228_23d15c4888_zReprinted with permission from Feminist Current

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been interviewed by male journalists who have been clearly antagonistic to my feminist, anti-porn position. I can usually tell within the first five minutes of the interview that these guys are very upset by my argument that porn shapes male sexuality in ways that normalize sexual violence. They often become hostile and insulting, and end up accusing me of being an anti-sex prude who hates men.

Because I’ve been on the receiving end of so much hostility from male interviewers, I remember well those who were particularly sympathetic to the feminist view. One who stands out in my mind as a thoughtful interviewer is Jian Ghomeshi, former host of the popular CBC radio show, Q. Ghomeshi had not only given my book Pornland a close reading, but also expressed empathy for the women in porn whose bodies are sexually used and abused for male entertainment.

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So imagine my shock when news started to leak out that women were coming forward accusing Ghomeshi of sexually assaulting them in ways that mimic the violence in porn. From choking his victims to verbally abusing them during the assault, Ghomeshi’s behavior fits perfectly with the standard porn scenes that can be accessed within 15 seconds of typing “porn” into Google.

The second time I was a guest on Q, Ghomeshi facilitated a debate between me and John Stagliano, a well-know pornographer who is credited with popularizing violent anal sex against women. Stagliano, a.k.a Buttman, runs the site Evil Angel, which touts itself as a leader in “hardcore anal sex videos.” Stagliano explained recently in an interview for an Australian documentary, Love and Sex in an Age of Pornography, that anal sex appeals to him because, unlike with vaginal sex, “you can’t fake pushing her limits sexually.”

Knowing the misogyny of Stagliano, I was prepared to do battle, but the debate was actually made a lot easier because of the way Ghomeshi took the side of feminists. During the discussion, Stagliano kept interrupting me, and Ghomeshi stepped in a few times to tell him to be quiet and let me speak. On a number of occasions Ghomeshi actually challenged Stagliano for producing porn that could lead to real-world violence against women.

During one exchange in which Stagliano argued that porn was becoming more violent because the women themselves came to the set asking for more extreme sex, Ghomeshi asked Stagliano if he really expected anyone to believe that. Throughout the show, Ghomeshi’s hostility toward Stagliano increased, and I remember the show as one of those rare occasions where the host did some of my work for me.

So how can we reconcile the Ghomeshi on Q with the real Ghomeshi, who acted like a typical male porn performer by using women as disposable sex objects? I don’t know Ghomeshi personally, so I can’t offer any psychological analysis of what drove him to allegedly assault women. What is evident is that he had a brand to protect—a thoughtful, reflective journalist who had a reputation for being a sensitive, woman-friendly host. Siding with a pornographer who is renowned for his misogyny wouldn’t have done much for his reputation.

But when the stories started to appear in the Canadian press, Ghomeshi ended up sounding a lot like Stagliano by claiming that the women had wanted it. He wrote on his Facebook page on Oct. 26, “I have always been interested in a variety of activities in the bedroom but I only participated in sexual practices that are mutually agreed upon, consensual, and exciting for both partners.”

The “partners” tell a very different story. According to an article in Slate, three women interviewed by the Toronto Star “allege that Ghomeshi physically attacked them on dates without their consent. They allege that he struck them with a closed fist or open hand; bit them; choked them until they almost passed out; covered their noses and mouths so that they had difficulty breathing; and that they were verbally abused during and after sex.”

I wish I could say that these types of assaults are news to me, but I have seen thousands of porn scenes that map out exactly the acts these women describe, and have interviewed hundreds of women who recount the same type of violence. Of course porn isn’t the only reason men assault women, but when you hear the same stories over and over again, from being choked till they almost pass out (and many of the women I interviewed have indeed passed out) to being verbally assaulted during the attack, then, as a sociologist, I have to ask: What “playbook” are these guys following?

As porn becomes the main form of sex ed in the western world, we are going to see more and more men internalize the values, norms, stories and narratives of porn. And the violence in porn, by virtue of its consistency and repetition, will be played out on an increasing number of women and girls. To suggest otherwise would be to argue that the multi-billion advertising industry has got it wrong, and that images have no impact on behavior. If this is true, then we have to believe that men are just violent by nature. But all the feminists I know refuse to accept that men are natural-born predators. Even Ghomeshi.

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Photo courtesy of Broadbent Institute licensed under Creative Commons 2.0


Gail Dines is a professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Wheelock College, a founder of Stop Porn Culture, and the author of  Pornland: How Porn has Hijiacked our Sexuality. Her new documentary, based on Pornland, can be found online.


  1. My feeling is that men are sometimes ” natural born predators” . Jian Ghomeshi may have played to his audience on NPR but he is just an immature and stilted predator reinacting the same boring scenario. This is the private world of a man who tells people he is a feminist. I don’t believe he is a representative of all men, only a larger number than we thought.

    • Joe Q Public says:

      so, no innocent until proven guilty then, eh?

      ah jurisprudence in the modern era; but does little for your own professional credibility

      also, BDSM being inherently anti-woman is what one might term just a touch contentious

  2. IsadoraWing says:

    She should take into consideration that not all people have the same sexual preferences. She could at least acknowledge that porn might not only influence human sexuality but also echo human sexuality. Porn is very diverse. I am a woman and I had fantasies this author would label “typical of porn” before I had ever seen my first porn. So am I more influenced by porn or is porn more influenced by very common sexual fantasies (of women, too)? All that was described in books long before film existed – yes, also “violent” anal sex. And not only men enjoyed reading.
    I enjoy watching and I think she should differentiate a little bit more, as this is clearly not only a “men-using-women” thing. Yes, there are problems, especially if children are exposed to porn, but this is adult entertainment and many women – feminists like me – actually enjoy many of those films.

    • Sexual preferences, like food preferences, and fashion preferences are socially constructed. Does anyone really think that Ghomeshi and men like him wake up one day, and all by themselves, suddenly decide that it would be a good idea to gag a woman with a penis? This makes as much sense as saying that one day millions of Americans woke up and decided they would like a high fat, high salt, mass produced hamburger and McDonald’s decided to tap into this desire!

    • Where’s all this violent anal sex pornography in books read extensively by men and women alike? Seriously, where? You can SAY it exists all you want, but that kind of material was typically confiscated and burned as obscenity when it was made. Anal sex is usually addressed very obliquely in pre-pornographic literature.

  3. IsadoraWing says:

    ….btw, this was not a comment about Mr. Gomeshi, of course, but about her general assumptions about porn. I don’t know much about the case but I strongly support the thesis that men who do not respect consent/non-consent rules do have a psychological problem that is not related to porn. I know many men with dominant fantasies who watch a lot of porn and who would never do anything without consent, usually by women who like being dominated and yes, there are women who even like to be choked. That is part of their adult sexuality and the author should accept their freedom.
    There is something else going wrong with this Gomeshi if the allogations are true.

    • SimplySara says:

      @IsadoraWing. You do realize that that was the actual author of this article responding to you comment, yes?

    • Wingadings says:

      I think the author is trying to warn us that there is a marked difference between SOME people liking something (example: choking) or something considered very popular and widely acceptable, common to the point of it being weird to socially admit you don’t like it (example: receiving oral sex). There is a running theme with the violence in porn- it often doesn’t seem consensual- often because it ignores the part where people get consent and it instead skips to the action. There isn’t much wrong with consenting adults engaging in whatever forms of play they can think of so long as they all actually consent- the problem has always and will continue to be whether or not attaining consent has occurred and have all persons involved to remain safe.

      Ghomeshi has admitted to anxiety issues in the past- that could simply be a nice way of saying horrible person who doesn’t care what his sexual partners want or he could have legit problems. Either way- these things are not a scape goat. And people who pull this sort of crap don’t get to use their problems as a free for all to be shitty against others. They still need to be held accountable.

    • Dear Isadora Wing,

      The problem with the “there are women who even like to be choked” trend, with the addendum “it’s part of their adult sexuality and we should accept their freedom”, is that personally, I have heard and read that many times, but never in women’s mouths. But in men’s mouths, very often! When I’ve heard that in women’s mouths, it was always to talk about “these other women who, I’ve been told, like to be choked”: they repeat what they have heard in other’s mouths about other other’s pleasures, and that they have been told to repeat in the name of “tolerance” and “freedom”, but they confess they wouldn’t like this sort of things being done to them, and that they never heard this being said *by a real woman talking about herself in front of them*. The only moment when I read this speech endorsed by a woman, it was on articles written under fancy pen names, with pictures showing female bodies and no faces, supposedly from porn stars talking about and for themselves, but who never can be truly identified… that is to say, as far as I can check, articles that can very well have been written by men making believe they are women, porn stars and so on.
      I’ve never heard any woman tell me face to face: “I like being hurt”, “I like being choked”, “I like being mistreated” and so on. NEVER.

      Therefore, I’m sick of people putting words in my female mouth and making it easier for violence to invite itself in my bed in the name of the “freedom of tastes”, the “diversity of pleasures”, and all the usual sort of Orwellian bullshit we’re given to lower our level of self-preservation and self-determination.

      I don’t want that a man ever ask me anymore if he can chain me up, you know, just in case his fantasy of dominating me could be harmoniously match with my longed-for (by him, and by all the pornographers and porn-consumers of the world) to be dominated, and reduced to an object to be used and that can’t even move by itself.
      I don’t want to have anymore any ‘lover’ who grabs my neck and choke me, you know, just in case I’d learn to like it, because so many women do, aren’t they?
      I don’t want to be forced to have a penis in my vagina anymore while I’ve said to my partner to stop, and him thinking there’s nothing wrong with it because, HEY, you know that so many women like to play roles during sex and like the guy to push when they ask him to stop, right?
      Can’t you see that aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall the BDSM rhetoric lies on the SAME LITERALLY FUCKING ARGUMENTS AS ALL RAPE CULTURE?

      Thank you Gail Dines for giving such an articulate voice to millions of women like me who have been hurt, assaulted, raped following pre-written porn scenarios watched by porn-educated men and, when all this is over, humilitated endlessly by all the “tolerant liberals” for whom “sex” is the same magic word of endless possibilities as “money” is to the joyous capitalists.

      “Accepting” and “respecting” that “some women” like to be mistreated during sex does not liberate any of us, it only gives a free pass to all the abusers to think there’s nothing wrong with masturbating on other people’s pain (supposedly “consented” pain), and undermines women’s BASIC HUMAN RIGHT not to be asked to suffer during sex and their capacity to say NO to being abused and destroyed, reducing the choice between pleasure and physical harm to the level of choosing between strawberry or chocolate flavours.

      • thank you for your comment. I could not possibly have said it better. I have been assaulted myself and cannot imagine a healthy relationship existing where there is even a semblance of abuse.

        a desire for any abuse is rooted in self-loathing or repeating abuse patterns and nothing more.
        I have never heard any woman who was not promoting porn say that they enjoyed it, I like you have only heard liberals defend it in the name of “sexual freedom”

      • perfect comment

      • I am a woman that occasionally enjoys being choked and/or spanked during sex. However, that does not mean that all or most women are like me. And I do not enjoy it to the point of passing out. My partner never does it without me first initiating for him to do so, and always releases when I signal for him to do so. So we have a consensual thing going on there.
        I just wanted to respond because it seemed like you were implying “no woman anywhere actually likes to be choked.” Like I said, I am only speaking for me.

        I do not think it is OK for anyone’s partner to just go ahead and start to smack/choke/abuse someone during sex. But there are couples who consent to things that may be painful as well. This is just my experience, and fortunately my partner is respectful of me and what I am comfortable with at any given time (he understands that while at one point it may be OK to choke me, it may not be the case 10 seconds later).

        I get what you are saying, and I agree with you for the most part. Maybe I am just lucky for my experience with my partner?

        Also, just because I enjoy something that most people don’t enjoy during sex, does not make me disturbed or anything like that. Well maybe a little, but a lot of people have weird fantasies and as long as all parties are consenting (constantly) with what is going on then it’s none of my business.

        However, I agree there is a problem in the porn industry and that it perpetuates a cycle of violence toward women and normalizes abuse. But I also believe that what happens in the bedroom with consenting adults is not anyone but their business.

      • You're wrong says:

        Dear Moon,
        I enjoy being choked, having my hair pulled, butt slaps etc during sex. I’m a 36 year old female with a loving boyfriend that had never done any of these things until he met me and I asked him too. I would suggest your friends likely aren’t willing to share preferences like that with you because you’re so judgmental. Just a theory.

        I’m sorry for YOUR PERSONAL experience, but to suggest that all women who enjoy BDSM are LYING and it’s ALWAYS ABUSE is arrogant and ignorant. I’m sorry you hate sex unless it fits in to YOUR PERSONAL DESIRES AND WANTS, but implying anything outside of what YOU PERSONALLY ENJOY is abusive is just plain wrong. My sexual preferences do not give license to men to abuse women, sex is a two way street between two consenting adults, my sexual preferences are between myself and my partner. Stop speaking for all women, you most certainly do not speak for me.

      • Powerful! You said EVERYTHING I wanted to say to Ms. (?) Isadora! Thank you for your very appropriate response to whoever he/she is.

        • Ughhhhhh….my comment was in response to Moon! How it ended up way past where I was reading is beyond me!

  4. “We set forth the idea that women’s responses to men, and to male violence, resemble hostages responses to captors. More specifically, we propose that a construct recognized in hostage-taking events, known as Stockholm Syndrome, wherein hostages and captors mutually bond to one another, can help us understand female psychology and male-female relations.
    We propose that women’s bonding to men, as well as women’s femi­ninity and heterosexuality, are paradoxical responses to men’s violence against women. Like captors who need to kill or at least wound a few hostages in order to get what they want, men terrorize women in order to get what they want: women’s continued sexual, emotional, domestic, and reproductive services. Like hostages who work to placate their cap­ tors lest those captors kill them, women work to please men, and from this response springs women’s femininity. Femininity describes a set of behaviors that please men (dominants) because they communicate a woman’s acceptance of her subordinate status. Thus, feminine behaviors are survival strategies. Like hostages who bond to their captors, women bond to men in an effort to survive, and this is the source of women’s strong need for connection with men and of women’s love of men. We believe that until men stop terrorizing women—even in women’s memories—we cannot know if women’s love of men and women’s het­ erosexuality are anything other than Stockholm Syndrome survival strate­ gies. We refer to this theory of women’s current psychology as Societal Stockholm Syndrome theory.”

    Loving to Survive, by Dee L. R. Graham

  5. This kind of duplicity SURPRISED you?

  6. I don’t know exactly what happened between Jian Ghomeshi and the women who have come forward, and I’m trying to reserve my judgment on his situation until the dust has settled and all have been heard. But I can totally see how a person of his ilk could also be sexually abusive. A good friend of mine was, until very recently, married to a man who was a lot like what I’ve read of Ghomeshi (admittedly, I’d never heard of him until a few weeks ago) on a smaller scale.

    He hit every progressive talking point and he was very vocal about it. He didn’t just express these beliefs, but he sought attention and recognition for it (awards, volunteer groups, etc). My friend thought she’d won the Find a Love, Awesome, Progressive Husband Lottery that she’d been buying tickets in for so many years. And he turned out to be the most manipulative misogynistic POS that I’ve ever encountered. The fact is, he knew exactly what to say to gain her trust and then start to tear her down (unfortunately, we figured this out long before she did and she paid no attention to our warnings that he was not sincere). The coup de grace was that I discovered he indulged in discussing fantasies online that involved torturing women (stuff that makes what I’ve heard about Ghomeshi seem tame).

    I believe people like my friend’s husband and Ghomeshi are extremely gifted at learning how to manipulate. When someone hits every talking point that smoothly, especially when they do it in public, that sends up an immediate red flag to me about their sincerity.

    • RW, your friends husband sounds like a textbook narcissist!! They often put their ‘targets'(wife or gf) through a continual cycle of idealisation, devaluation, discard, silent treatment, then hoovering/lovebombing, back to idealisation, devaluation… rinse and repeat. They are masters of manipulation to get their own needs met. The woman is just a source of supply. Narcs are emotional vampires and the only way to get out of Narcville is to cut them out of your life and never look back! No contact!

  7. >>As porn becomes the main form of sex ed in the western world.

    And THERE’S your problem, right there! In a society that wants to push abstainance only education, the unprecedented availability of porn becomes the other part of the problem.

    I don’t feel like consuming porn ever made me inclined to commit violence. I think it made me a terrible fuck. If someone had warned me about that years ago, maybe I would have paid attention. When you talk about porn and violence, my impulse is to think you’re talkming about someone else.

  8. Unfortunately, what any of us believe about males is irrelevant. It is what we know and don’t know that are important. What do we know: there are gender differences with genetic mutations (and it’s not good news for males); many neuro-psychiatric diseases have a very strong sex bias (and it’s not good news for males); males are more risk takers; males are more vulnerable in certain circumstances (e.g., neurological impact of lead greater among boys) which seems to affect their behavior; and, of course, most violence, like most crime, is committed by males.

    Maybe males are not “natural born predators,” but males seem to have a natural tendency toward destructive behavior that their mothers and fathers fuel in childhood. Perhaps feminists, like most of the world, are struggling to accept the truth about males: that they are the primary cause of every major global issue, we can’t rely on them as we would like, and no one seems to have any intelligible and effective solutions.

  9. There are enormous distinctions between pornography, bdsm, and physically abusing women. Conflating them to condemn an abuser is no better than him doing so to defend his behavior.

  10. Craig Boringer says:

    So porn is responsible for Jian Ghomeshi? How do you know? And if so, isn’t it absolutely amazing that the vast majority of men who look at “porn” (whatever that is….quite an umbrella term, no?) don’t end up like Jian Ghomeshi? That says something altogether different than what you are saying, which is most men can distinguish fantasy from reality. Further, wasn’t Jian Ghomeshi *actually* pulling from the Feminist “playbook” being a sensitive, progressive Women-studying fella? He could have looked at porn, but there’s no evidence he did.

    Isadora above rather nicely nails it: Porn both makes society and reflects it. To the dull thinkers, it’s not a mobius loop that goes two ways, but a one way toxic force that enslaves women and poisons men. Yawn. Aren’t we past that yet? Yes, most of us are, including unsettling amounts of women the author would hardly acknowledge.

    Sexual violence has many roots. To single out porn is absurd. You’d also have to look at family history, abuse, power dynamics, repression (Porn helps with that!), economic issues, and just about 400 other things. Many philosophers have grappled mightily with the issue of why men are violent, but only dull-minded monotheists settle on “Porn!” as the sole cause–or even a cause.

    • And it never occured to you that porn could be the heir of all history of gender oppression, global power dynamics, fed by family abuses lived by pornographers and/or performers, and as such a concentrate of centuries of sexualized misogyny which is served to boys for their “sexual education” on a massive scale?

      Your portrait of Gail Dines only shows you don’t know a thing about her work…

      (PS: I’m not a monotheist, sorry for your prejudices.)

      • Craig Boringer says:

        Actually @Moon, your reply proves you are precisely a monotheist. To you “porn” is not an umbrella term for “men looking at women” for which there is a vast spectrum of experiences, good, bad and ugly (and hey should I mentioned the old “my porn is art, your porn is smut” line….yawningly true for eternity), but the “heir” (big Caps LOL) of all gender oppression. Again, yawn, yawn, yawn. Just the kind of one note nonsense that has any reasonable thinker running for the exits. You’re right, I don’t know Gail Dines work and really don’t care to. I am responding to this absurd column that points a finger at PORN as the reason for Jian Ghoneshi, rather than the 50,000 factors that made him an awful person. That’s the pin prick definition of monotheism. Anyway…yawn yawn yawn on this column. There’s a better column to be written, but we might actually have to wait to write it until we know what *actually* caused him to become a monster.

        • Yeah, I suppose you’re right: Jian Ghomeshi has certainly not been influenced by his socialization as a boy, then a man, knowing that a significant part of it being nowadays achieved through watching porn.
          It’s much more likely to be the substance of his microphone coming to a dangerous temperature in the stuffy radio studio that produced chemical emanations that went through his brain and transformed him in Mr Hyde, an ominous metamorphosis that let him by sheer accident to reproduce exactly what the average man can watch on a daily basis in porn.

          It’s very funny how you insist on distorting whatever you read to find your speaker “monotheist”. Whereas, actually, between the two of us, you’re the one believing in the Vampyre, not me. It’s sooo reassuring to believe Jian Ghomeshi is a “monster”, and that his terrible nature has been achieved through a very complex and obscure mutation, invisible to the beholder’s naked eye and reason. It’s so terrifying for you and your ego to let some people just state the obvious: Jian Ghomeshi was an average man watching porn and reproducing on female partners what he saw in it.

        • Last comment directed at Craig.

  11. Just want to say that I am a consumer of gay porn and guess what, there are categories of those that show abuse as well. So it is not really a problem of some men’s fantasy violence *against women* , but rather against their *sexual object*, whatever the gender happens to be.

  12. All men who suffer from the mental illness that JG has have been described as monsters. Some have even gone as far as to assert that they ought not be allowed to live!
    JG suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Matter of fact he meets all nine of the criteria denoted in the DSM-IV. Men with NPD usually have twisted sex lives. The degree to which porn plays a role is debatable. And those who have this dysfunction are far from normal!!!
    They create a false self and hide the Mr. Hyde portion of their personality. In that hidden personality exists a world of pain and rage. His actions have little to do with sexuality and everything to do with anger. It is key to remember that a male has come forward from JG’s university days at York to tell of a little episode in an elevator that found JG forcefully grabbing his genitals. His anger aimed at both sexes. His sense of entitlement knows no bounds. Do google Sam Vaknin, the expert on NPD. Articles there will convince you JG could be the poster boy for the disorder.

    • Sadly, it’s not JG who suffers, it’s his partners and his targets who suffer. No pass given to people who hurt others because they have some kind of syndrome. Can we just remember that it’s his behavior that causes him to be labelled as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and that the disorder does not cause the behavior. It may cause the impulse, but he is responsible for his actions.

    • Excellent response, Lee Cox. ‘Their sense of entitlement knows no bounds’ so very true. Everything is about them and their needs. It’s quite disturbing to witness their false self mask fall off before your eyes and see the real person underneath! One of the women who described how Ghomeshi hit her during a date said he became frenzied and disassociated. It’s like they’ve suddenly become a different person, then you realise that this is the person they were all along only they’ve kept it well hidden!
      Melanie Tonia Evans is another expert on NPD as well as Sam V.

  13. All men who suffer from the mental illness that JG has have been described as monsters. Some of their victims have even gone as far as to assert that they ought not be allowed to live!
    JG suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Matter of fact he meets all nine of the criteria denoted in the DSM-IV. Men with NPD usually have twisted sex lives. The degree to which porn plays a role is debatable. And those who have this dysfunction are far from normal!!!
    They create a false self and hide the Mr. Hyde portion of their personality. In that hidden personality exists a world of pain and rage. His actions have little to do with sexuality and everything to do with anger. It is key to remember that a male has come forward from JG’s university days at York to tell of a little episode in an elevator that found JG forcefully grabbing his genitals. His anger aimed at both sexes. His sense of entitlement knows no bounds. Do google Sam Vaknin, the expert on NPD. Articles there will convince you JG could be the poster boy for the disorder.

  14. Jian Ghomeshi did a great interview with the great,brilliant Gloria Steinem in 2011 and I watched it on youtube almost a year ago.He seemed like a really nice guy understanding and supportive of Gloria and feminism in general!

  15. This is a major 2010 study by psychologist Neil Malamuth G.Hald, and C.Yuen called,Pornography and attitudes supporting violence against women: revisting the relationship in non experimental studies and found that present research found an overall significant positive association between pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women! They found it was stronger for violent pornography but also significant with ”non-violent” pornography,the quotation marks are mine.

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