JUST BECAUSE IT'S NOT RAPE, IT DOESN'T MEAN IT'S ACCEPTABLE: WHERE AZIZ ANSARI GOT IT WRONG
Over the weekend, babe.net published an article about 23-year-old Grace, a woman who went out on a date with Aziz Ansari - and it ended with her in an Uber, crying the entire ride home. She labeled the situation as “the worst night of her life.” Here’s a quick summary (you can find the full story here):
Grace met Ansari at the 2017 Emmy Awards after-party. They ended up flirting, exchanging numbers, and going on a date a couple weeks later. After a rushed dinner on his part, Ansari invited Grace back to his house and proceeded to kiss her, touch her, and undress her. Ansari went to grab a condom but Graced expressed her hesitation. Ansari continued to kiss her, performed oral sex on her and requested reciprocation, and put her hand to his penis several times, even after she pulled her hand away. He asked repeatedly, “Where do you want me to fuck you?” and brought her to a mirror, making her bend over.
“Most of my discomfort was expressed in me pulling away and mumbling. I know that my hand stopped moving at some points...I stopped moving my lips and turned cold,” Grace explained. “I know I was physically giving off cues that I wasn’t interested.”
Eventually Grace left, feeling emotional and violated. She compared Ansari to an 18-year-old, entitled, horny boy. She even sent him a text about how his behavior had made her feel uneasy and uncomfortable; he ignored her cues and, even when she said she would rather “chill,” he continued to touch her and put her hand on him. He responded by apologizing and saying he “misread things in the moment.”
Controversy has exploded over the new allegations. A man who has warmed hearts as the character Tom Haverford in Parks and Rec, written a best-selling book called Modern Romance, proudly worn a Time’s Up pin at the Golden Globes, and labeled himself as a feminist has now been revealed to be yet another man in Hollywood accused of sexual misconduct. Grace expressed how she had difficulty grasping the difference between Ansari’s much-loved humorous self that everyone sees in the media versus the aggressively sexual man he revealed in his apartment.
Grace’s story received huge backlash from many writers and editors and people have been quick to defend Ansari, potentially because of his previous reputation displayed in the media. Caitlin Flanagan, contributing editor at The Atlantic, wrote in her article “The Humiliation of Aziz Ansari,” that she “thought it would take a little longer for the hit squad of privileged young white women to open fire on brown-skinned men.” Bari Weiss of The New York Times, wrote in her article, “Aziz Ansari Is Guilty. Of Not Being A Mind Reader,” “If you are hanging out naked with a man, it’s safe to assume he is going to try to have sex with you.” In Sonny Bunch’s article for The Washington Post, he stated that “this story about Ansari is nothing like the ugly tales of sexual abuse that have wafted out of Hollywood over the past six months or so.”
Meanwhile, other women across the globe are finding the story of Grace all too relatable. Many women feel they have a standard to meet - to be a certain level of pleasing, attractive, kind, and submissive. To speak out boldly and simply say no may not be as simple for some women as it is difficult for others. For Grace, she struggled to send Ansari a message: she pulled away, mumbled her discomfort, and stopped the sexual advances many times, only for Ansari to push for sex again. Yet because the word no didn’t slip out of her mouth right away, because she didn’t immediately get up and leave the second she felt uncomfortable, and because she left physically unharmed, people are undermining her experience and shrugging it off as “a bad date.” In Bunch’s words, it’s “nothing like the ugly tales of sexual abuse” in recent Hollywood. And perhaps it isn’t - but it’s one that countless woman can relate to all too well.
Feminist author Jessica Valenti tweeted, “A lot of men will read that post about Aziz Ansari and see an everyday, reasonable sexual 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.”
No, women aren’t asking for mind readers. Women are asking for respect. What women are asking for are for people to understand that when someone moves your hand away frequently, it means no. When someone hesitates or their lips turn cold, it means no. If someone pulls away, it means no. If someone denies advances - verbally or nonverbally - it means no. And when it is a no, women are asking for that to be respected; it is not code for “Sorry, try again in five minutes.”
Grace’s story reminds us that physical cues are just as important as verbal ones. A lack of no is not a green light for sex. And when it comes to sex, everyone should assume that it’s a no go until there is an enthusiastic yes.