Trigger warning: Sexual assault
My first draft of this article was titled, “If Aziz Ansari Sexually Assaulted Grace, Most of the Men I’ve Dated Have Sexually Assaulted Me Too”
Kind of brutal, right?
I then changed the title to something a bit softer, “Aziz Ansari & the Advent of Sexual Assault”.
That’s a bit less triggering, I thought.
But, as fate has it, as I went to add my final touch to the piece (the outbound link to Grace’s Babe article) – my laptop crashed and erased it all.
So, here I am, starting again from scratch.
However, this one time, I might be thankful my computer erased those hours of research and work.
Because I needed to calm down, to digest, and to think about the accusatory hole I was trying to poke in Grace’s account of her night with the Master of None star.
You see, I was being a really bad feminist.
In my first read, I found Grace’s story to feel unauthentic, misleading, and self-victimizing.
I also found the timing troubling – right as Aziz’s career was suddenly at it’s peak.
But, it wasn’t that I didn’t believe Grace or what went down.
It’s that the title of Katie Way’s “exposing” Babe article,
and the stylistic word choices (such as comparisons made between things like the colour of wine and consent), immediately made my skin crawl….
Was this a story about a serious assault or click-baity hollywood gossip?
It was also that I was admittedly mad.
I was mad at “Grace” for not being more direct in what she wanted and didn’t want.
For not forwardly asserting “no, I don’t like that” or “no, I don’t want that”.
I was mad that Grace stuck around and let things play out… almost as if she wanted to see what would happen next.
I was mad that she seemed to suggest that engaging in sexual acts was less of a hassle than leaving the apartment.
I didn’t really get it.
To me, Grace’s story set the #MeToo movement back.
It created an even deeper fear in men – as it even further blurred the lines of how to give and receive consent: Grace seemed to be a willing participant through her actions, even when her mind may have been processing her discomfort and eventual disgust – although she wouldn’t say it.
And the problem is, while Aziz clearly stated his intentions and desires – both physically and verbally, Grace was generally passive and went along with it – to then later claim it’s not what she wanted.
This only further stigmatizes women for “crying assault” and blaming men when they instead feel guilty or ashamed after engaging or allowing sexual activity to progress – weakening the testimonies of those who truly experience sexual assault.
And while this is a difficult time for women who struggle to tell their stories, for a man, I can imagine this is also terrifying – in a much different way.
I can guarantee our brothers and friends are asking:
How was Aziz to know his advances were not being reciprocated if she went down on him?
Isn’t there two sides to every story?
How could he have read Grace’s mind when she refused to state her true feelings and her responses suggested everything was ok?
How is a man suppose to know the difference between what’s appropriate and seen as a “turn on” to one woman but seen as threatening and aggressive to another? Especially when they don’t speak up?
It’s incredibly complex…
And while I don’t condone sexual assault of any kind – I do honestly question if Aziz was simply horny, or if he was truly predatory…
This warrants a larger conversation about not only a persons responsibility to verify consent, but for a person to speak up and to express their level of tolerance, willingness to participate, and comfort level.
In my honest opinion, it is not just men who need to learn more about consent – it’s women too.
If we want our intimate partners to understand the vulnerable positions that make us uncomfortable, we need to state what those positions are and where our boundaries exist.
Without setting those guidelines, and by staying silent when things heat up in an intimate situation, we aren’t being proactive or advocating for ourselves.
If we are to work with men to combat the prevalence of sexual assault – the dialogue has to be open, honest, and direct – from both sides.
We can’t be wishy-washy.
We can’t say “okay” when we actually want to say “no”.
We can’t participate in sexual acts just because we think we have to, or are suppose to, or think that it would be too “awkward” to excuse ourselves and exit the situation.
As women, we need to learn to use our words to appropriately articulate our sexual interests (or lack their of) with our partner – just as we expect men to respect our consent.
The less assuming going on, the less fear and risk we will be taking when engaging in sexual situations that we have begun to take part in…
I particularly took interest in Bari Weiss’ New York Times opinion piece called,
and I feel there are some really valid points worth sharing.
The day after Graces sexual encounter with Aziz, she texted him the following:
“Last night might’ve been fun for you, but it wasn’t for me,” she responded. “You ignored clear nonverbal cues; you kept going with advances. You had to have noticed I was uncomfortable.” He replied with an apology.
To which Weiss urges readers:
“Read her text message again.
Put in other words: I am angry that you weren’t able to read my mind.”
Weiss goes on to say:
“It is worth carefully studying this story. Encoded in it are new yet deeply retrograde ideas about what constitutes consent — and what constitutes sexual violence.”
And I would have to agree.
I would also have to agree with Weiss when she says what I believe many of us are thinking but are maybe too scared to forwardly say:
“If you are hanging out naked with a man, it’s safe to assume he is going to try to have sex with you.”
“If you don’t like the way your date hustles through paying the check, you can say, “I’ve had a lovely evening and I’m going home now.”
“If you go home with him and discover he’s a terrible kisser, say, “I’m out.”
“If you start to hook up and don’t like the way he smells or the way he talks (or doesn’t talk), end it.”
“If he pressures you to do something you don’t want to do, use a four-letter word, stand up on your two legs and walk out his door.”
And while Aziz Ansari seems to have been quite selfish about his sexual desires and wants that evening (like practically every man I know), Grace ultimately did chose to stay – and whether you like it or not, that says something.
Weiss also brought up another point I had recently also discussed with my mother:
Hollywood media has become obsessed with cases of sexual assault, especially in cases where abuses of power were at play and the female victim was forced or felt threatened that her career or life would be at risk if she did not participate.
If you’re going to hold Aziz accountable, that’s fine, but you can’t just lump him in with the Harry Weinstein’s of the world.
What happened here was different and shouldn’t be treated the same by the media.
In Grace’s case, she was a “non-celebrity” who went on a date with a man who did not hold any power over her. The meeting, dinner, and return back to Aziz’s apartment were welcomed by Grace. Aziz had no power over Grace’s career, did not hold her against her will, and, when she later chose to bring up her discomfort to him in a text, he did not accuse her, deny his actions, try to pay her off, make her stay silent, or try to diminish her valid feelings.
Instead, Aziz expressed his distress that he may have made her uncomfortable and apologized for causing her to feel in such a way.
Here is Aziz’s statement:
In September of last year, I met a woman at a party. We exchanged numbers. We texted back and forth and eventually went on a date. We went out to dinner, and afterwards we ended up engaging in sexual activity, which by all indications was completely consensual.
The next day, I got a text from her saying that although “it may have seemed okay,” upon further reflection, she felt uncomfortable. 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. I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said.
I continue to support the movement that is happening in our culture. It is necessary and long overdue.
Now – there are people who will be angry at this article and at the fact that I am not claiming consent is black and white. That I’m not immediately throwing Aziz under bus and boycotting him.
However, I truly believe there are some cases where things are more complicated then – this is assault and this is not assault. Isn’t it possible that theres a complex grey area in between?
As mentioned in my first drafted title for this article, “If Aziz Ansari Sexually Assaulted Grace, Most of the Men I’ve Dated Have Sexually Assaulted Me Too“, most men I have dated have joked with me sexually, teased me, been suggestive in intimate spaces, and have kissed me (what Grace would call) “forcefully”.
The thing is – I’m generally ok with this behaviour – because that is my personal tolerance and I don’t find it offensive in most cases – especially if I am vibing with that person.
In fact, for me, this behaviour can sometimes be a turn on, charming, witty, playful, and even fun.
But the point is – if I, at some point, in some situation, didn’t find that behaviour to be any of those positive things – I do believe it is my responsibility, to myself, and to my partner, to remove myself from the situation and to make my partner aware of my feelings.
It’s not longer okay to let it slide.
We need to respect our bodies and our feelings and be honest with those we put ourselves in vulnerable positions with.
I know this isn’t easy.
I know this problem is so big and so overwhelming.
But we need to start talking.
We need to dig deeper.
We need to find the lines and draw them.
Because I’d rather feel empowered to speak up in the moment – putting an immediate stop to whatever is bothering me – then to be the girl having to tell her story to Babe.