Babe recently published an article by Katie Way recounting a date that Grace (a pseudonym for a woman photographer in her early 20s) had with Aziz Ansari in September 2017. In the original article, she refers to the ways in which Ansari sexually assaulted her. You can read the original article here.
As expected, a firestorm resulted on social media after the sexual assault allegations against Aziz Ansari were made. Every type of person crawled out of the woodwork, especially on Twitter. The dialogue sparked debates of all kinds between all types of folks, with questions of what constitutes sexual assault and where the line is between assault and an awkward sexual encounter.
The Atlantic published an article called The Humiliation of Aziz Ansari by Caitlyn Flanagan, and we honestly thought it was satire. Flanagan was apparently confused by Grace’s recounting of the events that took place. According to the author, having been a teenager in the 70’s, her understanding of sexual assault and subsequent cultural upbringing resulted in a generation of strong women better able to deal with the reality of sexual encounters.
She then goes on to discredit the account as one of a bad date, filled with the unmet expectations of an “angry, temporarily powerful, and–very very dangerous” entitled 20 something-year-old.
So at this point, we’re wondering if we read the same article as Flanagan, because let us tell you, nothing about that encounter should have felt normal. It is irresponsible that sexual encounters like this are normalized. A bad date is discovering a potential partner is actually an undercover racist with questionable taste in movies, it should NEVER include the following mentioned in the Babe article:
“But the main thing was that he wouldn’t let her move away from him. She compared the path they cut across his apartment to a football play. “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. It felt like a fucking game.”
God forbid women actually expect not to be chased around an apartment by a belligerent man-child on a date. Consent is ongoing, and as the author of Modern Romance and a sentient fucking being, it is incredibly difficult to believe that Ansari did not at some point during the woman’s multiple withdrawals realize that he was crossing the line between consensual activity and assault. The Babe article continues:
“Throughout the course of her short time in the apartment, she says she used verbal and non-verbal cues to indicate how uncomfortable and distressed she was. “Most of my discomfort was expressed in me pulling away and mumbling. I know that my hand stopped moving at some points,” she said. “I stopped moving my lips and turned cold.”
Whether Ansari didn’t notice Grace’s reticence or knowingly ignored it is impossible for her to say. “I know I was physically giving off cues that I wasn’t interested. I don’t think that was noticed at all, or if it was, it was ignored.”
Ansari wanted to have sex. She said she remembers him asking again and again, “Where do you want me to fuck you?” while she was still seated on the countertop. She says she found the question tough to answer because she says she didn’t want to fuck him at all.
“I wasn’t really even thinking of that, I didn’t want to be engaged in that with him. But he kept asking, so I said, ‘Next time.’ And he goes, ‘Oh, you mean second date?’ and I go, ‘Oh, yeah, sure,’ and he goes, ‘Well, if I poured you another glass of wine now, would it count as our second date?’” He then poured her a glass and handed it to her. She excused herself to the bathroom soon after.” –Katie Way, Babe
When Grace agrees to a second date this is a form of negotiation that women engage in as a way to get out of a difficult situation, a way to placate sexual aggressiveness with polite acquiescence, it is bargaining her body to defer pain. It is an unfortunate tool that woman resort to when confronted with the threat of sexual assault. They say their friends are waiting on them, or they have to do a chore, or their parents are expecting them, or they’re on their period, in order to protect their bodies and their humanity. The fact that they feel that they need to make these negotiations at all reveals the reality of the sexual power dynamics between men and women. Men have historically held the power. This is especially the case because of Ansari’s fame, wealth, social capital, etc. Grace was then aged 22 years old, and Ansari is completely aware of the dynamics at play. But this is not playful, it is not cute, it is simply fucking disgusting.
This is the text Grace* sent Aziz Ansari after their date which left her feeling “violated”. She tells Ansari how uncomfortable he made her feel, saying “you ignored clear non-verbal cues” and “kept going with advances.”
— babe (@babedotnet) January 14, 2018
In The Humiliation of Aziz Ansari the author points to the following as the most significant part of the story:
“Eventually, overcome by her emotions at the way the night was going, she told him, “You guys are all the fucking same” and left crying. I thought it was the most significant line in the story: this has happened to her many times before. What led her to believe that this time would be different?”–Caitlyn Flanagan, The Atlantic
Ansari has, over the last few years, cultivated the persona of conscious brown male feminist. He produced Master of None episodes that explicitly addressed sexual harassment, racism, homophobia, and a myriad of social justice issues. So yes, maybe, just maybe, she expected more than to engage in a night of ‘stop trying to fuck me’. And really, if that is the most significant part of the story to you, my rebuttal is this, after telling Ansari “ I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you,” he gives the illusion of slowing down but proceeds to instruct her to give him oral sex and when she resignedly complies, he says “Doesn’t look like you hate me.”
This right here; this gaslighting of her feelings, this complete mindfuckery that he engages in, it’s a power play used to invalidate her ongoing withdrawal of consent. You think you don’t want me to fuck you, but I know what you really want. It is his version of serenading her with Blurred Lines. It plays into the narrative of men being the true curators of women’s desires and it is incredibly damaging when it comes to the nature of consent. They think they determine when and how we give and receive pleasure. Please note that if the encounter is coerced or manipulated, it is not consent.
“It took a really long time for me to validate this as sexual assault,” she told us. “I was debating if this was an awkward sexual experience or sexual assault. And that’s why I confronted so many of my friends and listened to what they had to say because I wanted validation that it was actually bad.” –Katie Way, Babe
Flanagan sums up her article by laughably becoming an unlikely crusader for brown men. What will white people do without an aspirational, funny brown man to laugh at? How will they ever treat brown men like actual people and not a caricature or a terrorist without Ansari? She feels the need to shield him from the “hit squad of privileged young white women”, throws in the word intersectionality and laments the downfall of an innocent man. But you know who has been crusading for brown men from the beginning; laboring for them, caring for them, ensuring their survival: BROWN WOMEN. And you know who has been complicit in the erasure of brown women, BROWN MEN, and yes Ansari is one of them. Furthermore, there is no explicit statement in the original Babe.net article that articulates that the victim of Ansari’s sexual assault is white.
Conversations online can quickly get derailed and siphoned into the “Well, did he actually do it though?” debate. It’s alarming to see just how many people don’t even think what Ansari has been accused of doing is an issue. Here lies the crux of the matter, these are the people who aren’t even denying that he did it because to them, he hasn’t done, well, anything. We have three points of view here: What Ansari has done is deplorable, what Ansari has done is not a concern, and then the grey area; what Ansari has done is shitty but it’s not to be considered harassment or assault. But, we’re not worried about Ansari. The court of public opinion is often the only recourse women have against powerful men, turning the pain of their private shame into the public scrutiny of their aggressors, and it is only now that many people are speaking up. If reading this account makes you weary if it makes you question your own behavior, then maybe it’s time to reflect, act and change your behavior.
The recent awakening regarding the pervasiveness of sexual assault and harassment has been spurred in part by the #MeToo movement, founded by Tarana Burke. This is actually an article worth putting your time into. Burke states:
“Sexual violence happens on a spectrum so accountability has to happen on a spectrum,” she says. “I don’t think that every single case of sexual harassment has to result in someone being fired; the consequences should vary. But we need a shift in culture so that every single instance of sexual harassment is investigated and dealt with. That’s just basic common sense.”
Yes, sexual violence does occur on a spectrum, some behaviors are worse than others and there should be a distinction between harassment and assault. The reality, however, is that cases of sexual assault, aggression, harassment, misconduct, or any of these acts that are predicated on the imbalance of power that exists between men and women will continue as long as we perpetuate a culture of impunity, a culture that hears “Me too” and replies with “So What?”.
Accountability in sexual assault prosecution is dismal. In Canada, only one in five sexual assault cases go to court, of which only one in ten result in a conviction, and until adequate mechanisms exist to hold people accountable, we will continue to be “angry, temporarily powerful, and–very very dangerous.”
Ansari issued this “apology”:
“In September of last year, I met a woman at a party. We exchanged numbers. We texted back and forth and eventually went on a date. We went out to dinner, and afterwards we ended up engaging in sexual activity, which by all indications was completely consensual.
The next day, I got a text from her saying that although “it may have seemed okay,” upon further reflection, she felt uncomfortable. It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned. I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said.
I continue to support the movement that is happening in our culture. It is necessary and long overdue.”
This merely highlighted what he thought and his ideas of the entire situation, never highlighting the experiences of Grace. This is an extenuating impediment of patriarchy—it prioritizes narcissism and the experiences of men, even if that man is initiating the coercion or pain.
Protecting Ansari’s status as one of the few South Asian artists in the entertainment industry is not a good enough reason to let him bypass judgment on sexual assault allegations. That just means that the industry has to diversify. That shouldn’t mean we should be acquiescent with sexual assaulters. These men have been coddled for too long—like we can’t believe Woody Allen is still relevant. This is because we prioritize their art and their artificial social commentary before their reality as humans. If we are going to take the #MeToo movement seriously, then we have to start seeing sexual abusers as fungible, just like they see their victims.