Over the past two weeks, at least eight women have come forward with allegations against Canadian Broadcast Corporation darling, Jian Ghomeshi. At least three have gone to the police. The women, some anonymous, a few notably not, perhaps felt safer bringing their stories forth after the CBC fired Ghomeshi, lending their professional voice as backup to what Ghomeshi would have preferred to have called “the sabotage of a few jilted girlfriends.”
Stories are piling in. In these stories, one element is consistently mentioned, consistently given one sentence, and consistently abandoned immediately—Big Ears Teddy.
Ghomeshi’s teddy bear, prescribed to help him with anxiety, and joyously described by Ghomeshi himself earlier this year, features in two of the women’s accusations. Some reports have astutely postulated that Big Ears Teddy is the piece of the puzzle that will eventually crumble all that is left of Ghomeshi. Not only have two women come forward with a strikingly similar and odd detail about their assault, but a Twitter account named @BigEarsTeddy, founded back in April and active for only 13 tweets, lobbed massive accusations at the CBC star—all of which are looking more and more plausible.
That said, very little time is being spent on the bear. Other than one brief article on how teddy bears aren’t actually a normal prescription for General Anxiety Disorder, there is no spotlight of the inanimate creature’s role in this unfolding underworld of adult sexual violence. The cultural reaction to the teddy bear detail has generally been a sort of high-pitched disgust: we’re fascinated but don’t know how to deal with it. A Globe article, for instance, that used the teddy as a hook could only say “It’s hard to find the words for this. For now, “beyond creepy” will have to do.” “Big Ears Teddy” trended on twitter, but “beyond creepy” was pretty much the limit of the analysis.
The “because ew” reaction is precisely why it’s worth further scrutinizing why Ghomeshi would include his stuffed animal in his allegedly brutal games. But the question is also about us. Why can’t we handle that part of the story?
While there is no way to know what motivations Ghomeshi had in or out of the bedroom unless Ghomeshi himself tells us, there are certain elements of the use of a childhood toy in adult scenarios we can analyze. Margaret Corvid, professional dominatrix and writer of this profound essay in Jezebel about the Ghomeshi ordeal, postulated that maybe Ghomeshi needed to give verbal permission to himself before compartmentalizing the violent acts he was about to allegedly commit.
“It’s possible he was turning it around to protect the more innocent part of himself,” she said, “but given testimony that he was abrasive toward women outside the bedroom as well, that might be farfetched.”
Instead, she likened the ritual to a performance, perhaps for the benefit of the alleged victims. “I think he could have been using the bear as a contrast to humiliation and subjugation for his victim, as part of the degradation.”
Corvid said that teddy bears are not endemic to kink, or any bedroom activity.
“There are a lot of people who have teddy bears or childhood dolls,” she said. “It’s just part of our culture, and these items become sort of a witness to the most private moments of our lives.”
Live Science, Psychology Today, and What Is Psychology have all published pieces defending the role of the teddy bear in adult lives, backed up by research that shows the objects help relieve stress, can temper anxiety in certain people and were used by 35 percent of adults in a British study. The crux of the matter is, a lot of us have childhood comfort toys we still keep around. And so Big Ears Teddy becomes a link between an allegedly abusive man, and all of us.
“When something horrific happens, the initial instinct we have is to distance ourselves from both the victim and the perpetrator,” said Corvid. “When we see a bloodied doll in the mud in a warzone, it horrifies us more than perhaps the actual number of people dead.”
Corvid explained that when people are confronted with the juxtaposition of something as dark as sexual violence with something as heartening as a teddy bear, they’re not just seeing that the victim could be them, but also that the perpetrator could be them, should they ever drop their sense of propriety and humanity. After all, the accused perpetrator needed a teddy bear, was vulnerable enough to use a teddy bear. Like sometimes we do.
As such, it becomes nearly intolerable for readers to acknowledge the very real role Big Ears Teddy plays in Jian Ghomeshi’s life. The bear’s ties with our own childhoods and our present adult lives are strong, and to most represent healthy comfort, nostalgia, and coping mechanisms. To have something so close to so many of us twisted into an accomplice in a murky, violent adult world is, indeed, the chord that will strike in many hearts.
When contrasted to the allegations coming forth, it feels as if the general public is misplacing its angst, putting emphasis on the wrong piece of the puzzle by shoving that piece as far under the rug as possible. In reality, however, one teddy bear and its ability to reach the emotional reserves of the general population may be the force necessary to turn the tide in conversations about rape culture. It’s not undermining the women’s experiences so much as it is rewiring the public’s assumptions of sexual violence and male privilege. And in all of this mess, that’s not a bad thing.
Darlena Cunha‘s talents include writing, being an ahole on the internet, and ejecting two babies from her body at once. She writes for Time and The Washington Post.
Or Teddy could merely house the camera.