ICYMI, a relatively unknown online publication, Babe, published a piece detailing one woman’s experience being coerced into sexual activity by actor Aziz Ansari less than a week ago and it has the internet seriously divided. The story recounts the experience of a 23-year-old woman going by the pseudonym “Grace” who says that she felt pressured into sexual encounters with Ansari after what began as a consensual date. And it’s cracked open a controversial debate about what qualifies as sexual misconduct and what the difference between coercion and consent is. Spoiler alert: there is much disagreement on these things.
On one side, you’ve got people who see Grace’s experience as a violation and are calling for, well, everyone to take a harder look at how we understand—and communicate about—consent. On the other, there are droves of individuals who think it was simply a poorly reported story about bad sex on a shitty date, not assault—and, some argue, one that undermined the legitimacy of the #MeToo movement in the process.
What many can agree on is that from a journalistic integrity standpoint, Grace’s story, while valid and important, could have been handled with more care and balance.
The @babedotnet piece detailing the horrific date with Aziz Ansari should have been more thoroughly reported. The account would’ve been attacked in any form, surely. But @JillFilipovic does well to explain why it matters that the reporter did a poor job. https://t.co/osGBbLsYLH
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) January 17, 2018
Journalist Ashleigh Banfield of the news network HLN has been firmly on Team Babe Sucks, calling Grace’s allegations against Ansari in the piece “reckless and hollow” and the piece’s writer, Katie Way, is not here for it. At the heart of the battle between Banfield, 50, and Way, 22, is the question of what constitutes sexual misconduct. What Grace called “the worst night of my life,” Banfield said was a “bad date,” vilifying Way for the harm her story would cause to survivors of sexual assault. “What you have done in my opinion is appalling, you have gone to the press with a story of a bad date and you have potentially destroyed this man’s career over it…. You have chiselled away at a movement that I along with all of my sisters in the workplace have been dreaming of for decades,” Banfield said in a five-minute rant on her HLN show, Crime & Justice with Ashleigh Banfield.
Perhaps she’d had enough of being dragged in countless high-profile op-eds, maybe she’s always got a bad temper or it could be that she accidentally hit “send,” but Way fired off a venomous email to the network after HLN seemingly invited her to appear on Banfield’s show and it is… not kind. Here, we break down the good, the bad and the downright hideous from Way’s email.
The good: how she defends her source
Way’s message has some thoughtful arguments and considering the amount of backlash she’s getting, I can empathize that she must be feeling kind of beat up at the moment. So when she defends her source, saying “Ashleigh could have ‘talked’ to me. She could have ‘talked’ to my editor or my publication. But instead, she targeted a 23-year-old woman in one of the most vulnerable moments of her life,” I think her point is valid.
“Must be nice to piggyback off of the fact that another woman was brave enough to speak up and add another dimension to the societal conversation about sexual assault… Grace wouldn’t know how that feels, because she struck out into this alone, because she’s the bravest person I’ve ever met.” With all the arguing happening online, it can be all too easy to forget there are real humans at the heart of this story.
The bad: how she gives herself a pat on the back
“I would NEVER go on your network. I would never even watch your network. No woman my age would ever watch your network. I will remember this for the rest of my career—I’m 22 and so far, not too shabby! And I will laugh the day you fold,” reads the end of the email. Oh brother, this starts out sounding like a tantrum and ends with arguably one of the immature sentences to ever be sent from a professional email account. “I’m 22 and so far, not too shabby!” Ah, it pains me to read it. Her words are trying to say “I’m young and confident” but they read “I’m young and entitled,” literally having the opposite effect of what was intended.
The ugly: how she insults Banfield’s age and appearance
“The way your colleague Ashleigh (?), someone I’m certain no one under the age of 45 has ever heard of, by the way.” NOOOOOO. Why did you have to bring up Banfield’s age?! Slamming a veteran reporter for their age and questioning their relevance to younger viewers does nothing more than make you seem immature and petty. Being older doesn’t automatically make a person irrelevant just as being younger doesn’t automatically make a person less credible, but insulting a fellow journalist for being “too old” sure calls one’s credibility into question.
“I hope the ratings were worth it! I hope the ~500 RTs on the single news write-up made that burgundy lipstick bad highlights second-wave feminist has-been feel really relevant for a little while.” the email reads. Ouf. This feels like… the opposite of progress. Lashing out at a fellow female journalist, and one with years of frontline experience, feels like the lowest possible blow. Remember when Michelle Obama said “when they go low, we go high” at the 2016 Democratic National Convention when referring to negative forces in our lives? Well, sadly, Way went pretty much as low as humanly possible, as far as professional emails go at least.
Banfield read Way’s email on the January 16th episode of her show, calling the jabs about her age and looks hypocritical from someone who says they support women. “The reason I want to share that is because if you truly believe in the #MeToo movement, if you truly believe in women’s rights, if you truly believe in feminism, the last thing you should do is attack someone in an ad hominem way for her age… and for my highlights,” Banfield said. Fair point.
The lesson in this interaction is this: if you feel compelled to write an angry email, open a Word doc, slap the keyboard with rage, then for the love of God, delete the document and take a nap. You can thank me later.