What We’re Missing About the Aziz Ansari Story

There are two articles floating around about this–the Babe.net article, and one published by The Atlantic. The former, is an angry tell-all seemingly designed to bring down Ansari much like the other men who are (rightfully) meeting a career demise. The second, is an equally inflammatory reaction, about the dangers of women now, and our inability to speak up in uncomfortable sexual situations. Both of these articles misunderstand the relevance of this story.

In my opinion, Aziz Ansari didn’t assault Grace (the pseudonym in the Babe article). I believe that enthusiastic consent must be present at all times during sexual activities. I do believe consent can be taken away mid-sex. However, I do also understand that if you’ve never slept with someone before, it may be difficult to understand the transition between verbal consent, and “non-verbal cues” (as the Babe article says) that consent is no longer present. It is my opinion that discussing this incident in the same terms as all the other sexual assault cases we’re seeing, not only removes the nuance from this situation, but belittles those ones. A lot of women are assaulted. Many more women are treated disrespectfully during sex acts, as Grace was. They are not different beasts, but rather two branches off the the same tree trunk of rape culture. There is a great deal of nuance between them and this story gives us the opportunity to talk about the damaging affects of the latter. We should talk about this without dwarfing it with comparisons to rape and or diluting the severity of assault.

How Aziz Ansari acted according to this account was skeevy, to put it lightly. It was demeaning. It was the type of behavior a certain type of girl may be into, but without vetting this assumption first, it was surely damaging. Even if it is someone’s kink to be spoken to or treated roughly, that kink is only enjoyable when it is experienced in the presence of mutual respect. Even if you like being spanked, when a one night stand does it to you without knowing or caring whether you like it demeans your role in the consensual act. This is a different issue than non-consensual sex. This is something straight women experience often, and don’t have the words or platform to talk about.

Obviously, everything stated in this piece is my opinion and I am aware that I bring my own bias and misgivings to this situation. One of which, honestly, is my prior knowledge of the website Babe, a female-centric branch of psudeo-college-journalism site, the Tab. I’ve written two articles for my university’s branch of the Tab and can tell you confidently no one fact-checks, or even edits, the articles posted there. The way this publication works is to publish inflammatory pieces for likes. Which is how this piece was handled. It missed an opportunity to discuss the disconnect here between what constitutes a fulfilling sexual experience between heterosexual partners who are so divided by patriarchy. Instead, it was meant to be a click-baity fall from grace for Ansari.

This story shouldn’t be shared to ruin Ansari’s career, but for men to see themselves in his actions. Clearly, Ansari wasn’t even aware of the emotional taxation he put Grace through, as I’m sure all men who act like this are not. As a comedian who has built his brand on his wokeness and understanding of modern dating, it could seem like he should know better. But even his show, Master of None, lacks any real understanding of women, creating two dimensional girlfriend archetypes. His understanding of women is not as equals. His behavior is common and normalized. Grace didn’t verbally say no because she was okay with engaging in sexual acts. What crossed her boundaries was the lack of respect in how those acts were carried out.  (This is something The Atlantic article completely misses–even implying for some reason that younger women shouldn’t be so sensitive about sexual misconduct because men now initiate cunnilingus on their own, which is so insane I can’t even properly address it.)

Grace recounted to him what happened from her end. She held him accountable for his actions. Without enacting revenge, she explained how the experience was belittling and harmful. She did this even though he is a celebrity. She did this knowing that his response could have easily called her a bitch, whore, or cunt. But she did what we’re all trying to do right now. Not put up with this shit anymore.

And what she got was an apology. Ansari’s response, though unfortunately brief, didn’t make excuses for his behavior. He owned the fact that he misread the cues she was signaling to him, and he takes responsibility for the pain he caused her. And then he says the words “I’m sorry,” which for some reason in 2018 is a noteworthy act by an adult man. He isn’t bullied into it by his publicist. He doesn’t plug his own projects or add a link to a cinnamon roll recipe or make himself the victim. Despite the media coverage of this story being fueled entirely by trying to polarize audiences for clicks and shares, this story is an important one.

I wish, as we all do, that our culture didn’t operate with such a disconnect between men and women. I wish that men were able to see women as their equals with ease, instead of as some other animal. But that change doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen by wearing black to award shows. It happens by having difficult conversations and owning up to the ways that we hurt each other, not only between men and women, but between all marginalized people and people who are continuously bolstered by our culture. Until we get to the place where femmes don’t ever feel humiliated or objectified by dating and sex, this article is a good example of what we should strive for. Women, femmes, and non-binary people should be able to speak up about what harms them. We should feel safe and entitled to tell the men in our lives what we are not comfortable with.  It shouldn’t be a legal question, or “where does this fall on the spectrum of sexual assault?” Sex and dating should be about mutual respect. And when men hear from the femmes around them how their actions are harmful, they should care.

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