The moment news of Muslim-American comedian Aziz Ansari’s sexual assault allegation began to make the rounds, the internet was swept up in a whirlwind of articles. An anonymous accuser, going by the pseudonym Grace, was reported to have been subject to Aziz’s “sexual aggression” on a date night.
Grace and Ansari met at the Emmy’s, where they hit it off and exchanged numbers. Later, they decided to go on a date, where she went to his place and they both performed oral sex. In Grace’s account in the Babe.net article, she says she felt uncomfortable by how fast the night was progressing, telling Ansari she wanted things to go slower. They did take it slower, but she alleges that Ansari cajoled her to take it all the way. At one point, they sat on the couch, performed oral sex again, but she decided to call it a night. He called her a cab and she left. The following day Aziz sent her a text telling her it was ‘fun’ meeting her, to which she sent a long text explaining that it was a terrible night for her, since he ignored all her ‘non-verbal cues’. Aziz replied saying he was deeply saddened to know that and he also apologised in a media statement.
It was clear that how each of their recollection of the night is poles apart. Media opinion started pouring in – “how dare he,” feminists raged. What was obvious was that women – the majority of them – were siding with the anonymous ‘Grace’. While others were Team Ansari, asking questions like why didn’t she leave, why didn’t she say ‘no’? She wasn’t held by force, neither was she in a position where she was subordinate in an obvious power play. She was on a date, with a man she flirted with before he asked her out to dinner. Once dinner was over, they retired to his place, with things getting intimate and steamy. Once on the date, signals suggested she wasn’t comfortable, but for whatever reason they continued to remain naked, engaging in different forms of sexual activities until she finally felt she had had enough. Ansari then called her a cab and called it a night.
Here’s 6 things I thought when I read the piece.
Sexual assault is not black and white.
There are several nuances to the idea of consent – it is not as black and white as we initially believed it to be. Until now, almost all debate about sexual violence has mostly centred around a predetermined framework with an obvious victim and a predator at play. In most cases the predator was clearly, obviously, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt wrong. In Ansari’s case, the interaction that Aziz believed to be consensual doesn’t fall into the black-and-white, victim-predator framework. It’s important to take note of Ansari’s experience because we need to start talking about what is and should be considered to be acceptable, everyday sexual interaction because both men and women reallydon’t know. And it is not our fault because we have, till date, never explicitly defined the boundaries.
If I were a man, I would be genuinely confused by the mixed signals Grace had thrown Ansari’s way.
Before femi-nazis get on their bandwagons to beat some sense into what they believe to be my obviously blasphemous assumptions, let me explain. Had Ansari been pushy? Yes. When she expressed her opinion to take it slow, did he try? Yes. With both Grace and Ansari being nude during for most of the night and Grace accepting his other sexual advances, it was and is difficult for a man to understand where to draw the line. She could have put her clothes back on, or stopped him from performing oral sex on her, or even decided to walk out and leave; she was under no obligation to stay. Why did she wait so long before deciding to leave? Why did she perform oral sex on Ansari, despite feeling ‘uncomfortable’? She wasn’t forced into it. It was #herchoice – that we cannot argue.
It really isn’t as simple as just saying ‘no’ and walking out.
There’s apparently a whole world out there where the idea of consent goes beyond verbally mouthing ‘no’. In today’s age, perhaps she will be performing oral sex on you right after telling you she is uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean she will go all the way and there is no reason a man should think she will. He has to look out for ‘non-verbal’ cues and they could be any number of actions, including going down on the man and then deciding that perhaps there’s where she wants to draw the line.
There is an army of women that apparently don’t know how to walk out of an uncomfortable situation, that can’t mouth the word ‘no’ or even call themselves a cab.
They are mighty powerful, enraged and can harm a man who didn’t really deserve it. Many on ‘Team Grace’ argue that women have been conditioned to give in, to accept and to remain quiet in situations like this and that it’s not their fault. If that really is the case, perhaps we should be fair and also account for the social conditioning men have been subject to. If you’re a nude woman, on a date in a man’s apartment, with both of you engaging in foreplay, it’s almost natural the man’s going to assume things will lead to sex because that’s what social conditioning has ingrained in him.
Both Ansari and Grace are victims here – not to each other’s behaviour, but rather, to years of social conditioning.
Despite all the debate, it’s clear that Ansari should not have treated her the way he did. However, it doesn’t justify him losing his career or being subject to the rally of hate coming his way from an anonymous accuser and her supporters. The #MeToo campaign, in all its power and glory, is meant to shed light on situations where women have been subject to sexual misconduct but it shouldn’t take away from more serious allegations of rape and assault. How Ansari acted may not be assault in the legal definition of the term, but it wasn’t acceptable either. What’s important to note is that just because it wasn’t a legal crime, it doesn’t change the fact that it was not right.
Women need to start to speak up about their sexuality.
Period. There’s no two ways about it. Both men and women are equally responsible for how a date goes. It’s the 21st century and it’s about time we start explicitly telling our partners how we would or would not like to be pleased. Not only is it dangerous to rely on non-verbal cues, it’s also misleading, as was proved by the Ansari case. The reason this #MeToo movement is gaining traction is because it sheds light on how our culture doesn’t encourage talk on sexuality. Standing and speaking up may be difficult, but it needs to be done. Now is the time.