Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Louis C.K. Powerful men were rightfully brought to their knees by stories of sexual misconduct. Heartbreaking, traumatic, real incidents of sexual abuse by men who knew their way around town and thought themselves to be invincible. They are not.
I felt no sense of disgruntled betrayal in either of these cases because they were not the people whose career I was following closely, whose work had indubitably affected me as an individual. But after last week's Golden Globes, along with actor James Franco, another name was dragged to the slush pile of sexual offenders. He had worn the #TimesUp badge and won an award for the best actor in a TV series. And then an anonymous woman (they called her Grace) accused him of repeatedly forcing her to have sex with him.
When Ansari told her he was going to grab a condom within minutes of their first kiss, Grace voiced her hesitation explicitly. “I said something like, ‘Whoa, let’s relax for a sec, let’s chill.’” She says he then resumed kissing her, briefly performed oral sex on her, and asked her to do the same thing to him. She did, but not for long. “It was really quick. Everything was pretty much touched and done within ten minutes of hooking up, except for actual sex.”
Aziz Ansari has written a bestselling book called Modern Romance about dating in the 21st century. He has co-produced, written and starred in the critically-acclaimed Netflix show Master Of None which poignantly captures the nuances of being a person of colour in America without ever succumbing to horrid stereotypes. The women in his show are feisty, sharp and full of character — speaking their mind, even when it's the least convenient. From his stint as the 'treat yo self' Tom Haverford in the sit-com Parks and Recreation to his stand-up special Aziz Ansari: Live At Madison Square Garden, I had identified with him, related with him and celebrated him. He was stand-up guy, a vocal feminist. Until he wasn't.
Why are so many people asking why this woman didn't leave & so few asking why he didn't stop?
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) January 16, 2018
When I first read the article, I Went On A Date With Aziz Ansari. It Turned Out To Be The Worst Night Of My Life, it was, of course, difficult to separate the art from the artist. Just like the 23-year-old woman who went on a date with Ansari and was enamoured by this man who just couldn't take no for an answer. This article has enraged Twitterati and columnists and the arguments ranged from 'non-verbal cues were not really cues' and 'why couldn't she just ask him to stop or book a cab and dart out?'
You may be asking this too: Why couldn't she take charge of her own narrative and ask this man to back the heck off?
This encounter doesn't fall into the trademark brackets of being sexually assaulted because she did agree to go to his place and engage in the sexual encounter, albeit with evident discomfort. But what many fail to understand is that consent once given can be revoked. I was once on a Tinder date where this sod had unzipped my pants before I knew it and I had to literally shout and push him off me for him to understand that sex was definitely off the table. And it is not because I am coy, meek or a prude. I have had friends tell me about similar instances where after vehemently declining their overtures through their actions, men have forced them to have sex. Yes, sometimes in the face of abuse, our impulses freeze, and it's not right to blame a woman for not anticipating attack. Instead of shaming the perpetrator, we ostracise the woman who has chosen to share her story with the hope that it won't happen again. How is this fair?
That Aziz Ansari piece isn't surprising to me but it is difficult and heartbreaking because I've been there, many times because "nice" men thought they could use whatever kindness they had performed earlier to ignore my boundaries in intimate situations.
— Lara Witt (@Femmefeministe) January 14, 2018
However, a piece in The Atlantic, which called this woman "temporarily dangerous" surprised me like no other. "Was Grace frozen, terrified, stuck? No. She tells us that she wanted something from Ansari and that she was trying to figure out how to get it. She wanted affection, kindness, attention. Perhaps she hoped to maybe even become the famous man’s girlfriend. He wasn’t interested. What she felt afterward—rejected yet another time, by yet another man—was regret. And what she and the writer who told her story created was 3,000 words of revenge porn. The clinical detail in which the story is told is intended not to validate her account as much as it is to hurt and humiliate Ansari. Together, the two women may have destroyed Ansari’s career, which is now the punishment for every kind of male sexual misconduct, from the grotesque to the disappointing."
So, here is my take on the incident. Sometimes things are really not all that black and white. Even in retrospect, victims of sexual abuse need to be allowed to tell their stories without naysayers forcing it down their throat that what they felt was not real. Yes, Aziz Ansari's career is at stake because of a one-night stand but, more importantly, because of his own behaviour and not because an anonymous woman was here to malign him and take all his money, as some may claim. What we normally perceive as acceptable sexual behaviour is often marred by some amount of impropriety. Centuries of patriarchal conditioning and sheer entitlement have normalised what should be construed as sexual misconduct.
Watching Indian male comedians (making Whatsapp grps, calling each other) trying to make sense of what #AzizAnsari did wrong while
1.Not talking to a single woman about how it affect her
2.Saying nothing while Indian women in their industry get bullied by men when they speak up
— Aditi (@awryaditi) January 15, 2018
Yes, Aziz Ansari is not a mind reader and neither are most men. But this is a glaring testament to how we need to bring up our boys better. As human beings we need to be able to take cues when words are not doing the talking. Even in a strictly, non-committal one-night stand. Men, if you are confused, ask. Don't assume.
In cases such as these, non-verbal communication counts! Is she happy with you shoving her head on your lap? Does she want to touch you? Does it not matter that she is turning away from you, telling you to slow down, getting uncomfortable? Surely men can see that a woman they are getting intimate with is not having a good time. Learn to distinguish between pleasure and pain, and you'll have your answers.
We can all do better. And women, for one, surely deserve better.