‘I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life.’ This is the headline of the exclusive story published by Babe.net that’s spawned new conversations about the nature of consent.
The public discourse surrounding Aziz Ansari is an important one. Within this broader conversation, we MUST include the vast array of behaviors that are still considered unethical sex, and that are still harmful. Because far too many of us can relate to, and HAVE been Grace.
— Raqueletta Moss (@slc______) January 17, 2018
The piece was told to Babe by a 23-year-old from New York City under the alias, Grace. Grace described a date she went on with the actor, writer and director in September 2017, which ended with her crying in her Uber on the way home.
The photographer met Aziz at an awards-ceremony party. They exchanged numbers, flirted a little and had dinner. In Grace’s account, Aziz was allegedly anxious to get the bill out of the way and get straight to the bedroom, a restlessness that made Grace uncomfortable.
‘It’s that feeling you can’t quite shake that you did something … because you felt you had to.’
What followed was an interaction where Grace was coerced into sexual interactions such as giving Aziz oral sex, having him perform the same act on her, having him forcibly put his fingers in her mouth and continuously ignoring her several physical and verbal cues. They included distancing herself from him multiple times and demonstrating that she didn’t want to hook-up with him if she felt forced.
She felt forced. Aziz continued to push by being persistent and coercive.
After escaping Aziz’s apartment, Grace knew something wasn’t right. It’s that feeling you can’t quite shake that you did something not because you wanted to, but because you felt you had to. She texted Aziz to bring attention to his behaviour and how distressing it was to repeatedly express discomfort and still be ignored.
Man, if there's anything this Aziz Ansari incident has taught me is there sure are a lot of men out there who seem to think consent is discomfort, silence, or repeatedly being asked if they could stop.
— Nick (@NickJAss) January 18, 2018
Her story outlines the insidious ways rape culture normalises ‘blurred lines’ and forgets the power dynamics that keep women silenced.
The situation Grace found herself in was not about active participation or even pleasure and desire – not Grace’s, anyway.
Grace’s participation wasn’t freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic or specific – and that means it wasn’t consensual.
Aziz issued a response in which there is no apology or accountability for his actions. The statement made a small acknowledgment of what happened, and little to no reflection apart from half-heartedly saying he continues to support #TimesUp.
The issue is, Aziz’s entire #brand in the media and IRL is as a vocal feminist ally. He wrote a New York Times bestseller, Modern Romance, on the nuances of Millennial dating for the ‘woke’ man who does the bare minimum of not being an asshole. In his critically acclaimed series, Master Of None, he twice addresses sexual harassment on the street and in the workplace. He wore a #TimesUp pin in support of the movement as he won the award for Best Actor in a Comedy at The Golden Globes. The hypocrisy intertwined with the harmful faux-allyship is something the media seems less eager to address.
"Nuanced conversations about consent and gendered socialization have been happening every single day that Aziz Ansari has spent as a living, sentient human on this earth. The reason they feel foreign to so many men is that so many men never felt like they needed to listen." ?
— Ayesha (@ayeshasyedali) January 17, 2018
That aside, there are plenty of powerful people who don’t believe Grace. A New York Times op-ed said the only thing Aziz is guilty of is not being ‘a mind-reader‘. Other equally damaging and misogynist pieces, including those of The Atlantic (describing women as ‘angry, temporarily powerful and very, very dangerous,’ like the jezebel tropes of yesteryear) and an open letter from CNN (calling Grace ‘appalling‘) all implied Grace cried sexual-assault wolf for social clout: her story and truth reduced to a ‘3000-word revenge porn’.
The argument is that Grace humiliated Aziz and conspired to discredit him.
I'm not asking for men like Aziz Ansari to get fired. I'm not asking for their lives or careers to be over. I'm asking for a little accountability of the harm they've caused. That's it. And yet I've never really seen any man do that.
— Sophie Ellman-Golan (@EgSophie) January 17, 2018
Nevermind that it’s pretty dehumanising to perform oral sex when you don’t want to, or to have someone’s fingers thrust down your throat. Because what happened on the date was not ‘actual’ sexual assault – whatever that means – the media represents Grace as the trope of a woman scorned, fishing for attention by revealing an influential man ignored her consent.
The response from ‘feminists’ and journalists has been wrought with shocking victim-blaming.
I’m just going to say it: The Aziz Ansari incident is not sexual assault. And framing it as sexual assault undermines a movement to bring sexual assault to light.
— Jasmine (@feistybunnygirl) January 18, 2018
Shame on You. For those of us who have suffered legitimate assault, this anonymous assassin called “Grace” is a direct smack in the face. What power did he have over her. None. All she had to do was say no and leave. Others didn’t have that chance. Shame on you both.
— Ms.TymberleeChanel (@TymberleeHill) January 17, 2018
By derailing this conversation with respectability politics, both the piece itself and the response miss the point entirely.
The point is that we still don’t seem to grasp the concept of boundaries: what they are, how to set them, respect them, and what to do when they’re broken.
We still think of boundaries as flexible, unspoken rules and when those boundaries are crossed, we blame survivors and not the perpetrators of sexual violence for ignoring them.
There seems to be this self-righteous feminism that polices the choices of women into two categories: good feminist and bad feminist. The media have neatly slotted Grace into the latter. Why? Because she didn’t protest in the ways we wanted her to. Because she didn’t fight or scream or say ‘no’. Because she didn’t run out the door and she still gave him head even when she was forced to, even when she said she wasn’t ready to. So the conclusion we draw is to say she ‘deserved it’ because she failed to actually say no.
This attitude seems to be saying that if you have a natural response to the fear of being in a famous man’s house – where nobody can save you in a situation gone sour, and you’re desperate for an exit strategy that won’t set his fragile masculinity off at any cues of being rejected – that means you’re asking for it.
We’ve told Grace that her story doesn’t matter because it’s not the ‘courageous’, extroverted response to sexual harassment that we expect women to have – despite evidence that those responses put your life at risk.
The woman who defamed Aziz Ansari is not a victim of anything other than her own poor decision making. She is harming the movement. Stop.
— Mr. Kim (@MikInTheMission) January 18, 2018
There are three responses in the human body: freeze, flight or fight. When we tell survivors of rape, sexual assault and harassment that they deserve the violation of their body because they didn’t overpower their perpetrators, while forgetting the very valid issues of safety and the fact that women are literally murdered for saying no, that’s the real disservice to #MeToo.
We see that some narratives of everyday aggressions, harassment and assault are privileged over others instead of taking a long, hard look at how we normalise and ritualise unsafe and non-consensual attitudes towards sex and dating.
‘Sexual assault isn’t as simplistic as we imagine it to be’
The Babe article could be seen as irresponsible reporting because it included minute, irrelevant details that perpetrators and defenders of sexual violence use to justify victim-blaming. From what she was wearing, to the flirtatious nature of the texts, the article doesn’t give us a nuanced picture of sex and consent that does Grace any justice.
But the story is important for what we do moving forward. Are we going to continue to tell survivors of sexual assault that their stories don’t matter if they’re not one of the influential names behind #MeToo or #TimesUp? Or are we going to start having conversations around sexual assault that don’t vilify women for not having ‘the right type of story’ where sexual assault isn’t as simplistic as we imagine it to be?
The defensive reaction to the Aziz Ansari allegations from some has been, “it wasn’t sexual assault!” Maybe not. Probably not legally. But that doesn’t mean there was no wrongdoing. This is a cautionary tale. The moral is not simply “no mean no,” but that “only yes means yes.”
— Jonathan Riley (@realJonRiley) January 18, 2018
The truth is that it’s complicated – but we’re not looking closely as to why. Just because assault doesn’t involve penetration doesn’t make it any less violent. One can only hope we start to confront the attitudes bred from toxic masculinity that create this culture in the first place.
Time’s up – but only time will tell.
Lawyers Against Abuse
- Visit Lva.org.za
Legal Aid Advice Line (Free)
- Call 0800 110 110 (toll-free) or the Please Call Me service through 079 835 7179
- They will also be able to tell you which Legal Aid office is closest to your location
- Call their HQ: 011 642 4335
- Download the free POWA GBV app for Android or iOS to report abuse and find help centres near to you
- Call 0861 322 322
- Dial *134*7355#
- Call 10111
- Visit their FCS Unit
Read our campaign #KnowYourRights for more info on consent and how to ask for it.
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