By: Sanjana Nigam
Photo Credits: Flickr / Cory Schmitz
Content Warning: Sexual Assault
On January 13th, 2018, an article was posted on Babe.net that accused actor and comedian Aziz Ansari of sexual assault. The events that transpired between Ansari and “Grace,” a pseudonym for the 23-year-old artist who made the accusation, have been widely discussed since then.
Many have claimed that Grace and Babe.net poorly framed the narrative to intensify the gravity of the accusations, with one journalist dubbing it “revenge porn-esque.” Others hold that they have diminished the credibility of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements. Though the #MeToo movement has also encapsulated instances of sexual assault in general, both movements are primarily associated with workplace sexual harassment and assault.
A fair amount of people agree that Ansari displayed poor and aggressive behavior that warrants the label of “a bad date,” but not the loss of his career—a now known and established consequence of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements. However, the most important opinions circulating are the ones that consider Ansari’s behavior no different than most men they have gone on dates with.
To be honest, this was also my initial reaction. Grace’s account seemed suspicious: sending mixed messages by relying on “non-verbal cues,” refusing to say the word “no” and not leaving despite her discomfort. I began to write these thoughts down to formulate my opinion in defense of Ansari, like many others had. However, the mere recollection of Grace’s account and her descriptions of her unease, which I initially felt the impulse to disregard as an over-exaggerated comeback to a bad date, triggered an emotional and personal response that felt all too familiar. As I took a step back, I realized that my decision to defend Ansari came from societal conditioning that normalized accepting poor male behavior.
Ansari was obviously no Weinstein. He didn’t rape her. Nor did he intend on physically harming her. Therefore, he can’t be classified as a horrible monster … right? It was easy to convince myself that the way Ansari treated Grace was normal and she should be blamed, instead of pointing out moments where he was at fault or criticizing him for not making sure she felt safe and formally consented. We still felt the need to listen to that patriarchal voice in our head that tells us that a women’s autonomy is not her own.
Ansari assured us in his response to the accusation that all sexual activity that night was consensual. However, not saying the word “no” does not immediately mean the answer is “yes.” Grace also failed to fully clarify her intentions with Ansari that night, as she insisted on being implicit with her signals and failed to tell him what she wanted or needed. What she did say was that she felt was pressured. Ansari did coerce her, even when she clearly told him that she did not want it to “feel forced.” He pushed his penis up against her and continued to stick his fingers down her throat, despite her insistence that they take it slow.
He did not listen to her, and he did assault her. That statement can and should be an agreeable one. Yet somehow, it isn’t.
Evidently this “bad date” with Ansari was not an isolated experience within the dating community. Many people came forward in defense of him saying he just acted like every guy they had ever been on a date with. A tweet which captured it best came from @Rrrrnessa, which stated, “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.” This tweet had been retweeted 39,045 times and had over 139,000 likes.
The Aziz Ansari accusation is not a new one—it was just one that would have previously been isolated to a text message conversation with your three closest friends about the terrible date you went on with that horrible guy you met. What Ansari did was by no means acceptable, but somehow it was just acceptable enough to be pushed under the rug and considered socially excusable.
Grace’s accusations towards Ansari have become an important source of debate, creating a divide in the previously unanimous and powerful Time’s Up and #MeToo movements and establishing a grey area.
It diminished these movements and created fractures within a once-united front over what constitutes sexual harassment or assault, and what is “assault” enough to be punishable. This allowed critics to swoop in and delegitimize these movements’ integrity.
This was because the Ansari accusation was poorly framed to begin with. These accusations were never meant to be part of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, nor should the narrative had made it seem like they were trying to be part of those movements. The Time’s Up and #MeToo movements are primarily, and in some cases exclusively, addressing instances of workplace harassment and assault. They are meant to out men in positions of authority who abuse their power to take advantage of women. These are the men who these movements intend on punishing and stripping careers away from.
This was not the conversation the Ansari accusations should have ever been framed as being a part of. Aziz Ansari was not in a position of power on this date with Grace. According to his résumé he was a famous celebrity, but on this date with Grace he was considered her equal. There were no professional power dynamics in play, but still an assault did occur.
The accusations against Ansari are really meant to address our society’s dating culture. They should be used as a reference point through which we realize that any man can use a patriarchal system of masculine dominance to make us feel uncomfortable or pressured. Sometimes this pressure becomes enough to make you do things you don’t want and make it seem like it was your idea to act on that impulse. The reason Grace’s experience was shared by other women is because men who are meant to be your equals can be horrible just like those in positions of power. Because every woman has encountered assault and harassment that is socially acceptable enough to not be considered punishable. Because every woman has been confronted with an Ansari.
Perhaps, had Grace’s narrative been framed in the right way, she and her accusation would not have faced as much scrutiny as Ansari himself should have. Then, perhaps we would all be focusing on how we can not only fix the behavior and attitudes of men in positions of power but also the men we feel are worthy of dating. We could have started a new conversation to teach men how to treat women on dates and teach women to not appease men at the expense of our comfort. Perhaps a new movement could have been born….
This article was originally published on our old website at https://thenewspaper.ca/the-opinion/aziz/.