What the Cosby and Ghomeshi cases teach women: Take notes – Toronto Star

Andrea Constand’s new memoir is called

By Heather MallickStar Columnist

Sat., Nov. 20, 20214 min. read

“He held his open hand out towards me. In his palm were three blue pills. ‘These are your friends,’ he said. ‘They’ll help take the edge off.’” — Andrea Constand describes what she says Bill Cosby said to her before she passed out in his home in 2004.

“He put his hands around my neck and started to press, increasing pressure, choking me. He had done this before. This time was worse. He was looking into my eyes. I couldn’t breathe and I started to panic.” — A woman tells the Star’s Kevin Donovan what she alleges then-CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi did to her in 2012.

Two memoirs have just been published involving court cases of men accused of non-consensual sexual violence against women — Ghomeshi, who denied the allegations and was acquitted, and Cosby, who was found guilty by a jury but had his conviction overturned on appeal.

(The accusations against the two men differed significantly, of course, in their alleged nature, severity and frequency. Cosby’s conviction was overturned on a technicality, while Ghomeshi was never convicted.)

The first and easily the best is Andrea Constand’s “The Moment: Standing Up to Bill Cosby, Speaking Up for Women.”

Constand is the woman who spoke out after she says Cosby raped her, triggering an avalanche of allegations by more than 60 other women (none of which have resulted in convictions).

The second is titled “Nothing But the Truth,” by Ghomeshi’s criminal defence lawyer, Marie Henein, who destroyed the complainants on the stand in a justice system that failed to understand how women react to unexpected attack violence (they try to minimize it). It was like watching serial decapitations in front of cackling misogynist tricoteuses. The inevitable outcome horrified me.

Henein’s book is unwittingly about feminism’s unintended side effects, Constand’s about the welfare of girls and women.

Which should women read to survive a vicious male world? Which is the better book by literary, intellectual and practical standards?

Constand is a remarkable athlete and business person who faced Cosby in both civil and criminal courts, with her own determination and the support of a loving family. Constand had strengths Cosby never dreamed she had.

Cosby’s accusers had the help of Black comedian Hannibal Buress, who in 2006 publicly accused Cosby, suddenly making quiescent American fans look behind the harmless grandpa persona and see something hideous.

Good men — journalist Ronan Farrow was another — can help women fight the male sexual brutality that has stalked them throughout history. The misery can end. Men can be made to stop, even if only out of fear rather than choice.

Constand writes plainly and well, a talent guided by prosecutors who taught her to focus while on the witness stand, to never be distracted by Cosby’s lawyers, some female, from the central narrative.

So many lawyers, lies, assaults, drug histories, courtrooms, defeats, victories. There are other Cosbys out there. Police are tracking them down on DNA websites.

I assumed Henein would offer an eloquent legal explanation, a clarion call for the golden thread that runs through justice, in this case the presumption of Ghomeshi’s innocence. And this would bring me to the other thread, the one that runs through women’s lives, which is terror.

But it offers few insights. It is timid.

On the cover, Henein is slumped on a chair in a shiny silver suit. She’s comic Amy Sedaris doing her depressed gas station owner whose supply chain has dried up, his dreams turned to dust …

She writes about her Egyptian mother and Lebanese father, about tiny clothing shops and pharmacies, and a history of retail failure told from “Cairo to Vancouver to Lebanon to Toronto to Lebanon again and back to Toronto.”

This life of gloomy defeatism should be mordantly interesting — Gary Shteyngart’s memoir of Russian-American displacement, “Little Failure,” is a classic — but it isn’t. Humourless, it has the air of having been dictated rather than written. It is a thin pastry.

She complains that the world mistreats aging women. Young women too, I’d say.

Both Constand and Henein have messages. Henein’s is that women can prosper by doing work that will keep them forever on the defensive, as she is.

Both illustrate the truth of what Margaret Atwood wrote in “The Robber Bride.” “Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it’s all a male fantasy: that you’re strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it.”

That’s why Constand’s book has a marvellous lesson, inadvertently backed by Henein’s court tactics. Always take notes. Retain them. You have information you can use that trumps faulty memory, fear, confusion, criminal defence lawyers and Crown attorneys.

You have the facts.

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