Aziz Ansari

Aziz Ansari

My texting conversations with friends usually run all over the map, but this weekend they were 99% about Aziz Ansari…

Have you been following the story too? Over the weekend, a 23-year-old photographer writing under the pseudonym Grace told her story about going on a date with Aziz, which was published on the feminist website Last year, she and Aziz went to dinner, then headed back to his place and started making out, she wrote. But his behavior turned aggressive and made her uncomfortable: “He probably moved my hand to his dick five to seven times,” she said. “It was 30 minutes of me getting up and moving and him following and sticking his fingers down my throat again. It was really repetitive.” They continued kissing throughout and went down on each other, but she felt her non-verbal cues were being ignored. The next day, she texted him to say she felt “violated,” and he replied with an apology: “Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry.”

With situations like Harvey Weinstein — who lures young women to hotel rooms for business meetings and then demands massages and chases them around naked — the horrors are more obvious. But the margins of sexual behavior (think: a pushy date, awkward sex, women feeling as if they’re acquiescing more than consenting, etc.) become more complicated. Yet for most of us, the margins are where we exist. How many times have you or your friends felt pressured when on a date with someone? How many times has it felt awkward or difficult to say no — or to keep saying no? (This is why the New Yorker short story Cat Person — about an evening where a woman wondered whether it was easier, and maybe safer, to let sex happen, rather than to attempt to stop it — went viral in December.)

I have to admit, I had complicated feelings after reading Grace’s story. Why was he so aggressive? Why didn’t he stop? Why did she keep kissing him? Why didn’t she leave? The reaction from around the internet has been fascinating and there are many thoughtful viewpoints. After re-reading Grace’s account, I read what others were saying, which tended to fall into two camps…

Some argue that Grace’s piece trivializes the #MeToo movement and that she shouldn’t have shared it publicly.

  • Grace’s story is “arguably the worst thing that has happened to the #MeToo movement since it began in October,” writes Bari Weiss in The New York Times. “[Aziz] had no actual power over Grace — professionally or otherwise. And lumping him in with the same movement that brought down men who ran movie studios and forced themselves on actresses, or the factory floor supervisors who demanded sex from women workers, trivializes what #MeToo first stood for… There is a useful term for what Grace experienced on her night with Mr. Ansari. It’s called ‘bad sex.'”
  • In The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan described Grace’s piece as “3,000 words of revenge porn” that was “intended not to validate her account as much as it is to hurt and humiliate Ansari.”
  • Journalist Ashleigh Banfield delivered an open letter to Grace on CNN: “Let’s take a moment to reflect on what you claim was the ‘worst night of your life’. You had a bad date. Your date got overly amorous. After protesting his moves, you did not get up and leave. You continued to engage in the sexual encounter. By your own clear description, this wasn’t a rape, nor was it a sexual assault. By your description, your sexual encounter was unpleasant… You chiseled away at that powerful [#MeToo] movement with your public accusation… I hope the next time you go on a bad date, you stand up sooner, you smooth out your dress and you bloody well leave. Because the only sentence that a guy like that deserves is a bad case of blue balls, not a Hollywood blackball.”

Others think that while Aziz’s actions weren’t illegal, this kind of sexual dynamic is pervasive, causes harm and therefore is important to talk about.

  • “Ansari’s behavior was normal – and therein lies its true horror… We need a profound cultural shift in our sexual politics – and that means recognizing the smaller abuses of power, too,” writes Emily Reynolds in The Guardian.
  • “Grace’s story is not one of workplace harassment. But what she describes — a man repeatedly pushing sex without noticing (or without caring about) what she wants — is something many, many women have experienced in encounters with men… It is the sheer commonness of Grace’s experience that makes it so important to talk about,” agrees Anna North on Vox.
  • Feminist writer Jessica Valenti took to Twitter: “Why are so many people asking why this woman didn’t leave and so few asking why he didn’t stop?… We know the answer, of course: This culture expects women to be the sexual gatekeepers and men to doggedly pursue women despite signs of discomfort… The expectation is OF COURSE he would continue to pursue her even if she seemed unenthusiastic because that’s what men do. It’s an insulting model for both men and women… The biggest, most complicated, hurdle is finding a way to hold men to account while also understanding that many of them feel they’ve been following a normal sexual script.”
  • Also on Twitter, journalist Sady Doyle added to that: “Even men I trust and like have told me that they were socialized to believe that, if a woman says ‘no,’ you should test that boundary to make sure she means it. That ideology lays the groundwork for this four-hour “just checking” kind of assault… As @KateHarding has written, in NO OTHER CONTEXT do we expect adults to be incapable of understanding something like physically pulling away or saying ‘I don’t feel like it.’ If you hug someone or talk to someone after they stop responding, you know it’s creepy. But sex?… Yes, boundaries can be hard to suss out, but that’s why feminists stress affirmative, vocal consent. If you’re not sure whether someone is into it, YOU CAN ASK THEM.”

In the end, no matter what conclusions you draw about Aziz and Grace’s date (honestly, I’m still thinking deeply about it), aren’t you eager to revise our current cultural approach to sex? Weiss, in the The New York Times, ultimately agreed: “The feminist answer is to push for a culture in which boys and young men are taught that sex does not have to be pursued like they’re in a porn film, and one in which girls and young women are empowered to be bolder, braver and louder about what they want.”

What do you think?

P.S. On sexual harassment, and how to teach kids consent.