If you pay attention to entertainment media at all, you’ve probably heard about this recent article. It recounts, in excruciating detail, one young woman’s sexual encounter with comedian Aziz Ansari. In the article, she accuses Ansari of sexual assault.
Ansari did respond to all of this, and you can read his response here.
If you haven’t read the original article, you should. There’s a lot of nuance with this situation, and a lot to talk about in regards to how it was handled. Let’s look at Ansari’s actions and response first.
Ansari is a figure that has traditionally associated himself with the feminist movement. He wore black and a Time’s Up pin to the Golden Globes to show his support for ending sexual assault and harrassment in the entertainment industry. In his mind (and mine too, to be honest), he is a feminist. He acknowledges that women are often treated differently and agrees that it needs to be changed. By associating himself with that label, he is doing what he can to further the movement because as a public figure, people look up to him.
During this date with “Grace” (a pseudonym), he apparently moved her hand to his penis repeatedly, touched her body repeatedly after she moved him away, continued to nonverbally solicit sex acts after she told him she wanted to slow down, and asked her to give him a blow job which she gave reluctantly because she was uncomfortable and tired of saying no.
After the date, when he texted her the next morning, she told him how uncomfortable she had been, and he sincerely apologized. After you’ve made someone that uncomfortable, that’s all you can really do.
I only have a few comments on Grace’s side of the story. It’s undeniable that she was uncomfortable, and what happened wasn’t okay. It wasn’t just bad sex; it was pressure from a famous man several years her senior. She only agreed to the blowjob that seemed to end his quest because she didn’t know how else to end it. She had tried multiple times already by moving his hands away from her and by telling him she wanted to slow down, and neither of those things worked. Technically speaking, she consented, but it wasn’t consent as it’s supposed to be.
That said, the fact that she published such a detailed account of the night makes me cringe a little. She contacted Ansari, he replied in the most courteous way possible given how he acted (which was not awesome), and personally, I think it should have probably ended there. But I’m not her and I didn’t go through that. I don’t know that I wouldn’t have done the same thing.
Here’s my main thought on all of this:
I think we need to talk about how men, who in every other way are perfect gentlemen, still really do not know how to have sex only when both partners are 100% enthusiastic about it. We have been over this, y’all: consent needs to be verbal and mutually agreed upon before anything happens. I’ll quote my best friend, who reviewed this post before I published it:
Consent needs to be a verbal, agreed-upon discussion, especially when it’s a situation like this where they didn’t know each other super well. You can’t assume you are picking up on signs people are dropping, because those can be misunderstood. I think Aziz truly did think he had her consent, but I also think she truly did feel threatened by his celebrity status. And that’s why this situation is the issue it is.
I truly don’t know why this definition of consent is so difficult to understand, especially when it has been a conversation for forever. I don’t know how men can still enjoy sex when they have to wheedle and cajole their partners into giving it. Do they think that counts as foreplay? Is it a turn on to get someone to give them sex when they seemed like they didn’t want to in the beginning? Does it feel like winning the game (the game that only they are playing, by the way)?
Another blogger, Katherine, in this blog post that you should definitely take a look at, has this to say about the article:
I have some very specific thoughts about Babe Magazine’s role in all of this, how I think they bungled what could have been a deeply important moment for a real, long overdue national conversation about consent and its intersection with the ways in which men are socialized to demand women’s attention and women are socialized to provide it. [emphasis added]
While I agree with her comment about the magazine, what I really want to focus on is the part in bold. If this explicit mess of a situation with Ansari, a self-proclaimed feminist, isn’t a glaring proof of Katherine’s statement, I don’t know what is. Though Ansari, an American man, says all the right things, and believes all the right things, and promotes all the right things, he is still a product of his society, and the negative parts of that are blatantly showcased by this. When Grace said she wanted to slow it way down, Ansari agreed, saying it’s not fun if everyone’s not having fun. But he stayed naked, and kept touching her, and kept asking her to touch him. If Ansari can succumb to, and approve of (even just in the moment), this type of behavior, how much more do others just not care about the comfort of their sexual partners?
Performing a sexual act due to societal and relational pressure is not technically assault, but it sure as hell isn’t the right way to have sex. I don’t think this one date should have become the national conversation that it is, but since it did, I hope Ansari and other men who hear about it take a serious look at how they handle sexual encounters. If someone tells you they’re uncomfortable, if someone moves your hands away from them, if they seem like they don’t want to touch you, why the fuck would you keep on going?