What We Can Learn From Aziz Ansari
With the plethora of issues that have been plaguing our country over the past year, it would have never occurred to me that sexual assault would have become one of the most divisive issues of 2017 and now bleeding into 2018. While it seemed fairly clear to me what stance to take on this issue, leave it to a story about comedian Aziz Ansari to prove me wrong and muddy the water on the topic of consent.
In early January, an anonymous woman, given the alias Grace, detailed her sexual encounter with Ansari on the website Babe. Throughout their night together, the two engaged in what Grace described as multiple uncomfortable and forced situations. These situations included a move where Ansari would take his two fingers in a V-shape and put them in her throat and reach for her vagina despite her continuously moving his hand away, Ansari had also pulled her hand towards his penis five to seven times throughout the night among other sexual advances detailed in full in the original story. She says that she used verbal and non-verbal cues to indicate her discomfort and distress, with her stating her discomfort multiple times and guiding his hand away during his repeated attempts to take her pants off. At one point, she says her body went limp and she was unresponsive to Ansari’s actions. The next day Grace texted Ansari, telling him about her discomfort throughout the night and encouraging him to learn from the situation. Ansari eventually released a statement corroborating the story and stating that he took her words to heart and will “continue to support the movement that is happening in our culture. It is necessary and long and overdue.”
This encounter has left many divided and broken the MeToo movement wide open, sparking a debate about consent. Many were quick to side with Ansari, saying that because Grace never said “no” anytime throughout the evening, she therefore gave him consent and is seemingly ruining a man’s career over a bad date. The New York Times even ran an article stating that “Aziz Ansari is guilty. Of not being a mind reader.” The MeToo movement also took a hit with the release of this story, with many feeling that it doesn’t fit within the ranks of the other allegations. For them, a “bad date” doesn’t fit the serious narrative of the likes of Harvey Weinstein and countless others.
My question is when did MeToo become an elite society that had high standards for entry? The last time I checked no one was itching to be able to add their name to a list of assault victims. It’s time for men and women to stop dismissing every story that isn’t taboo or aggressive. No, they never engaged in intercourse. No, he didn’t ask to masturbate in front of her. No, he didn’t greet her in an open robe. But what happened to Grace is something that happens to men and women everyday. A date goes too far, and the victim places their partner’s needs before their own. If anything, this message needs to be shared and learned from so that people like Grace can see that this isn’t normal. It is a message about consent, a blessing that can be taken away just as fast as it is given. But in this case, that rejection was not clearly seen with every slap away of the hand or complete withdrawal from the action. While some are shunning the story, I think that this should be the face of the MeToo movement because it is something that could happen to any woman. A lot of men will read this story and see an everyday, reasonable interaction. But part of what women are saying right now is that what the culture considers “normal” sexual encounters are not working for us, and oftentimes harmful.
As a female, I hope that in the moment I am brave and bold and confident enough to be able to stand up and say “no” in a situation like that, but I certainly can’t guarantee anything. There is a reason they call it “fight, flight, or freeze” and not just “fight”; the body may not always be able to respond with full confidence. I don’t even have the confidence to send back a meal at a restaurant when they get my order wrong but now I’m expected to stick up for myself against a man who is shoving his fingers down my throat and grabbing at my genitals?
Women are expected to carry all of the responsibility in this situation in terms of consent, but maybe we should start to reconsider this toxic blame game. Ansari repeatedly grinded against, fondled, and performed oral sex on a woman whose body had gone limp, completely paralyzed with distress. Yet the one seemingly catching the most flack is the woman who didn’t say one specific word to indicate her discomfort.
It’s here that I’d like to state that I don’t believe Aziz is a predator. What he did is wrong, but what sets Aziz apart from the rest is that he owned up to what he did, acknowledged that it was inappropriate, and has taken the time to correct his behaviors. Aziz set a precedent for how all men should respond when accused of these actions and how the movement needs to progress forward. We need a cultural shift in the ways that people view sex and how to delineate the responsibilities of consent here, and consent is ultimately what this story boils down to. It is critically important that consent, once given, can be taken away. It is not a birthday present or chewing gum. It is a continuous process, and the moment it is withdrawn, it ceases to exist. Numerous times over the evening Grace physically withdrew from Ansari’s pursuits and made comments expressing her discomfort, signs that she wanted to stop. But the issue with Aziz Ansari is that he didn’t.