It was shocking because it was about self-described feminist Aziz Ansari, but it wasn’t shocking because the story was hardly unique.
I’m talking about the account, published on Babe on Jan. 13, of a 23-year-old photographer who says she had a terrible experience with the 34-year-old actor and comedian. The woman, who tells her story under the pseudonym “Grace,” says she met Ansari at a Emmy Awards after-party in 2017, and they went on a date a week later that ended back at his apartment. According to Grace, Ansari repeatedly made sexual advances despite her “verbal and non-verbal cues to indicate how uncomfortable and distressed [she was].” Grace says that Ansari asked, “Where do you want me to f-ck you?” multiple times, rammed his penis against her and basically kept trying to bone her even after he agreed to “chill.”
Her account was hard to read, but I also felt like I’d read it before.
I can recall times in my own life when the same things have happened: the hand pushing, repetitive pleas, visible anger because I said “no” when “yes” is what the other party wanted to hear. My friends, too, have shared similar stories. They’re so common that their unoriginality makes them even more depressing. “He probably moved my hand to his dick five to seven times,” Grace said to Babe. “He really kept doing it after I moved it away.” She could have been me, a friend of mine, or anyone.
But in the age of #MeToo, a movement all about believing women, the allegations against Ansari are causing a surprising amount of debate online. On Twitter, some argue that Ansari should have known to stop and that his behaviour was an example of men pushing boundaries for their own sexual pleasure. But many people are saying that Grace just had a bad date with Ansari and that she wasn’t assaulted. Some even go so far to say that, if she didn’t want to have sex with Ansari, she shouldn’t have put herself in the situation to begin with, and that the allegations are an “anti-male witch hunt.”
People are grappling with the account because it depicts a problematic zone: an encounter that wasn’t rape, but not totally consensual, either. If my own experiences, my friends’ experiences and the experiences of women on my Twitter feed are any indication, it’s a situation many women have found themselves in—and one we often find difficult to label, because it’s not black and white. We are taught what rape is and that it’s bad, but forceful behaviour and coercion? We’re conditioned to believe they’re just part of many sexual experiences. And sadly they are.
I saw someone tweet something like “if what Aziz Ansari did was sexual assault then every woman I know has been sexually assaulted” and like yeah, actually.
— Arnesa (@Rrrrnessa) January 15, 2018
We still think the only way people can be “really” violated is through a violent assault, but that’s not true—even more, that line of thinking, which minimizes experiences like Grace’s, perpetuates rape culture. As Emilie Buchwald, co-author of book Transforming a Rape Culture, explains, rape culture is “a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and supports violence against women.” It teaches men that they are entitled to women’s bodies and that physical and emotional abuse is the norm. Unwanted touching, sexual comments, groping and catcalling are all aspects of rape culture.
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.
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) January 14, 2018
In other words, it’s not cool to push someone’s hand on your dick—multiple times—after they say they just want to watch TV. It’s not cool to beg a woman to go down on you after she says she’s not interested. It’s not cool to hurl sexual remarks at someone walking down the street. And it’s also not cool to ask a woman where she wants to f-ck you when she says she doesn’t want to f-ck you at all.
I don’t know any woman who hasn’t experienced any—or all—of this. The fact that this bad behaviour is shockingly common is a problem. It saddens me that a man who wrote a whole book about modern romance can’t understand this.
Ansari responded to the allegations on Jan. 15, saying he believed the encounter was consensual. But while he said he takes Grace’s “words to heart” and “responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said,” he didn’t once acknowledge that maybe his behaviour was inappropriate. It’s ironic that he wore a Time’s Up pin at the Golden Globes yet can’t seem to grapple with the fact that he might be part of the problem.
During a time where we’re having loud conversations around sexual assault and consent, my hope is that Ansari’s inability to read and respect a sexual situation—consciously or otherwise—will be a wake-up call. I hope that Ansari and other men will start to question their own behaviour, and really think about how harmful pressuring women into sexual activity really is.
Because even if it’s not rape, it’s still rape culture. And all women deserve better than that.
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