So, by now you know that the way I usually deal with topics that frustrate and overwhelm me is to hang back and let things settle before I am able to properly express my thoughts on it. And then more often than not, after that, it feels like too much time has passed so I don’t ever say anything at all. Today’s not that day. Today I want to talk to you about the whole Aziz Ansari… situation… that is going all over the internets.
And I’m going to speak to you as though you are familiar with this story. Not because I want to alienate anyone who isn’t caught up but because I don’t want to spend all of this space waiting to get to my point. Suffice it to say that a woman who is going by Grace, told her story to a website and the internet has (surprise of all surprises) differing opinions on the matter. If you haven’t read the original article, I definitely think you should so that you’re able to draw your own conclusions.
Now, there’s so much conversation to be had about this topic and I’ll never get to it all but I’m grateful that the conversation is happening. On my best, most optimistic days, I feel like these are just the birthing pains that we will inevitably have to labor through in order to give birth to a new order, a revolution of sorts. You know, like the world Oprah talked about in her speech at The Golden Globes.
To me, the most frustrating and, frankly, surprising part of the conversation surrounding this situation is the way that people are accusing Grace of attempting to derail the #metoo movement. For reference, here’s one opinion article that I don’t understand at all. This befuddles me because, to me, this situation is the epitome of what the #metoo movement stands for. I haven’t heard a single sexual misconduct allegation that resonates more with me or my friends. No one has ever invited me up to a hotel room and asked me for a massage–implying that my career is at stake if I don’t participate. It happens–I’m not saying it doesn’t happen or it’s not vitally important to discuss. I’m just saying that story doesn’t resonate with me or my friends in the exact same ways that this one does. And let me be clear–Grace isn’t making any legal claims against Aziz. She’s not the one who put labels on her encounter. She never called it assault. She called it a violation–which is completely valid. She’s not calling for everyone to boycott his work or for him to lose his jobs. How you want to engage with Aziz Ansari going forward is entirely up to you.
Grace saw Aziz wearing a Time’s Up pin during his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes and she was smacked in the face with memories of that night when he didn’t give even half of one shit about her comfort, safety, or pleasure. I assume that her internal monologue went something like, “Oh hell no! He doesn’t get to pretend he’s a good guy!” I understand this feeling. I, too, have swallowed that rage every time a person who coerced my friend into having sex with them posts something on Facebook about what a good feminist they are. It’s white-hot. It makes me want to claw their eyes out.
The encounter that Grace and Aziz had is so familiar–so maddening that many of my friends are completely unable to even begin to engage with it. It hits too close to home and if we are going to listen to Grace’s story and say that something terrible happened to her, we’ll have to admit that terrible things have happened to us. And we’re not ready for that. That requires a lot of labor that, frankly, we’re too weary to deal with. What’s not #metoo about that? That’s the #metoo-est.
I can’t even respond to the people who keep saying, “but why did she stay???” Is this not a refrain that we’ve been hearing since the beginning of time? Since men have been mistreating women, there’s always been someone to ask why she let it continue without even questioning why he did. It wasn’t until she finally convinced him to leave her alone for just a little bit that her mind was able to wrap itself around how messed up the situation actually was. And when she had that clarity, she got herself out of the situation.
He kept her in defense-mode for so long–trying to deal with the immediate need in the moment, unable to see the big picture or an exit strategy. It’s so easy to say from the outside, with our perceived omniscient point of view, “well here is exactly when she should have just up and left.” But that’s really easy for us to say when we know how the situation ended up playing out. But in the moment her brain is doing this thing where she wants to maintain this view of him that she’s always had. As a good guy. The good, feminist guy that he works hard to present to the world–the guy that feels safe. She even said, “I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you.”
I’m not here to discuss the legalities of this situation. First of all, I don’t know the law and that’s not my job. But secondly, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the bar for a good sexual experience be set a little bit higher than Not Rape. If this was a situation of Aziz just not being a good lay, I’d miss this whole conversation. But that’s not what’s happening here. She wasn’t saying, “I had the worst night of my life because Aziz uses this move during sex that I called ‘The Claw’.” She was dismissed and used and disregarded. She was in a situation with a person who didn’t want to have sex with her–he just wanted to have sex period. Preferably in front of a mirror.
She used her words on at least two noted occasions to express her discomfort–immediately following one of these occasions he asked for oral sex. She used her body language repeatedly to deflect and leave the situation and he overcame every obstacle that she threw at him like a game. Eventually she would either tire out and relent or be… I don’t know… charmed? Is that really what he thought? I don’t know.
This is when I remind you that body language–yes, is a valid form of communication. And for someone who makes a living out of relaying the subtleties of human communication, Aziz Ansari, of all people, was well equipped to speak that language if he’d bothered to.
It’s been really easy for a lot of the men on my social media to call out the things that Harvey Weinstein did or what Louis C.K. did because it’s so cut and dry. And because they can’t really relate to these men. Those men are big and powerful and they know it and they wield it like a weapon in order to get what they want. But Aziz wasn’t doing that. He was just being a regular guy on a date. He just really, really wanted to have sex with this girl. And he was so wrapped up in making that happen that it didn’t even occur to him that she might not be on the same page. A fact that he only reiterated when he made his statement, “It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned.” It wasn’t even until the next day that he even considered how she was feeling on their date. Imagine if he’d taken her feelings into consideration that night? He wouldn’t be dealing with this mess right now. And, while I can’t claim to know what she was going to be into that night, her account read as though she might have even been into it if he cared to consider what she wanted.
The thing is that Aziz presents himself as a feminist. An ally to and a safe person for women. And I believe that he sees himself as that, too. I think we’re all constantly learning and constantly making mistakes and finding education in them. We’re also able to learn from other people’s mistakes. If Aziz wants to present as a feminist ally–we’re going to need him to be the example, here. Someone has to fall on their sword for the cause and, while I hate that it’s him, he’s actually the right one to do it. I love Aziz Ansari. I think he’s funny and he’s smart and, you know what? I’m going to continue to like him after this. Well, you know, at least how everything stands as it is right now.
Male Feminists: This is where you put your money where your mouth is, so to speak. Because if you believe the things you say you believe, you’re going to have to prove it and let this learning opportunity happen. Coercion is not consent and coercion was what was happening that night. Consent is an ongoing conversation throughout an encounter. It doesn’t have to be sexy or flirty. It just has to be present.
“Where do you want me to fuck you” is not asking for consent. It’s assuming consent.
“Can I…”, “Do you want to…”, “Is this okay?” All good places to start.
So, friends. When a girl comes over and compliments your marble countertops, just say thank you and don’t take it as an invitation to her entire body.