Aziz Ansari, Consent and Rape Culture

In a sense it all began with Harvey Weinstein. He wasn’t the first man or high-powered Hollywood executive to sexually assault multiple women, but he was a part of one of the biggest scandals in the past few years, and once his actions were exposed, many more women gained the courage to report their own incidents of sexual assault. Fear of reprisals or career damage no longer shackled all the women who experienced sexual assault, in Hollywood or elsewhere.

The #Metoo movement was birthed and a slew of other film and television figures entered the headlines over the past few months, including actors such as Kevin Spacey. A particular disappointing one for me was the story of Aziz Ansari. Since the story first broke, the Ansari story appears to be one of the more divisive stories. Not only because the actor denies the allegations, but because many people don’t truly believe that the account of the alleged victim (Grace), really constitutes sexual assault.

While scrolling through Medium, I came across this article that studies the issue of consent for this case. One of the biggest issues that Grace detractors have is that there were moments when she did not clearly says she didn’t want sex. In their eyes, women should be comfortable simply saying no instead of relying on non-verbal cues, such as their body language.

I can agree that women should feel confident to simply say no. In this case, Grace is not Ansari’s employee. While Ansari is a man of some influence, it is not as if she was at a direct risk of losing her job if she simply said “I don’t want to have sex with you. I’m leaving.” However, if we read Grace’s account, we see that Ansari’s response to her saying “I don’t think I’m ready to do this, I really don’t think I’m going to do this” is to get them to put their clothes back on and “chill”. Fair enough, but then he kept trying to kiss her, stick his fingers down her throat and take her pants off. That seems to nullify the whole point of putting the clothes back on.

It finally clicks for Ansari that Grace isn’t interested when she pulls away from a kiss: that is when he agrees to call a ride for her. Just prior to that, she moves away from him and says she is calling a ride. She is then greeted with a hug and another kiss she doesn’t want. If anything, it was a non-verbal cue that finally let the message sink in. People who argue that Grace should have just said no, probably didn’t read her full account.  They read the accounts of her discomfort with Ansari’s advances and quickly rushed to the comment section.

I believe this animosity or apathy towards Grace has two main reasons.

  1. For men, it reflects a fear that they could make advances on a woman that they think are consensual (because she doesn’t explicitly say no), only to be the target of sexual assault allegations afterwards.
  2. For women, they can avoid having to empathize with Grace or put themselves in her shoes since they can think “Well I would have given him a firm no so that wouldn’t have happened to me”.

The “she should have said no” excuse has some merit. However, it also removes any responsibility for men to pick up on non-verbal cues. Anyone who is not autistic should be able to pick up on body language, such as moving away, averted eye contact etc. as signs that this woman does not seem interested. The answer is not to keep trying or offer more liquor like Ansari did. Someone like Ansari is likely used to fawning fangirls and I always wondered if this led to a form of blindness overtime. You get used to people fawning over your status so much that reluctance becomes harder to see. This is not an excuse for Ansari’s behaviour, I simply wonder if it is a factor.

Some of the Ansari defence uses slut-shaming and rape culture as their crutch, such as this comment on the Medium article.

“The best way to avoid a situation like hers was to not engage in one-night-stands. This goes for men and women. Have enough self-respect and self-control to get to know a person before you commit the most intimate act two people can.”

Basically, she was “asking for it”. Like I told this guy, this isn’t the 1950s. This antiquated idea that sex must always come from commitment or lead to it is a holdover from a time when sexuality was supposed to be the domain of a housewife and her husband. I liked to think that in 2018, a woman who is in the mood for sex, isn’t blamed for someone else’s aggressive advances. Wanting sex does not mean that you want sex from anyone, or that you are open to a potential sexual partner doing anything. As an example, if you agree to have sex with someone and then they want to do specific sexual acts that make you uncomfortable, then you have every right to say no. You were not asking for it if things get out of hand or if your partner’s true colours were not what you expected.

The excuses that rely on slut-shaming and rape culture don’t even require the detractor to read the article, and I’m pretty sure that the guy who wrote this did not read Grace’s account or the Medium article I linked to. He just saw an opportunity to judge someone else for their sexual behaviour, which didn’t fit his idea of what a proper woman should be like. “Tye Fox” says this excuse applies to men and women but I still have to wonder if he would jump to this defence to defend a woman sexually assaulting a man.

All this to say that I agree that there were blurred lines about consent in the Ansari story, not clear consensual sex as Ansari argued. Yes, I believe Grace could have been firmer with her rejection, but I also think some responsibility for what happened falls on Ansari. I believe that Grace did enough to signal she was uninterested, and that Ansari ignored clear signs. I have to wonder what dates look like for the hordes of men who are taking Ansari’s side on this issue (if they actually read the full Grace account). Do they also ignore a women when she says she doesn’t think she wants to hook up? Do they just try to feed her more liquor and keep trying to stick their fingers down her throat?