Over the weekend the Aziz Ansari story has consumed my mind. I’ve read countless posts on social media, tweets, and blog commentary as we struggle to understand what unfolded between this popular, self-identified feminist celebrity and his date. “Grace” shared a story about her experience with Ansari to Babe.net. Last fall the two met at an Emmy’s after party and reconnected in the city for a first date. Grace, her pseudonym to protect her identity, is a 23-year old photographer living in Brooklyn. Grace and Ansari went to dinner, and he invited her back to his apartment. Once inside she begins to detail how his behavior changed and he became persistent in his sexual advances toward her. After making out and engaging in oral sex, she asked him to slow down.
From the Babe.net article:
“Ansari also physically pulled her hand towards his penis multiple times throughout the night, from the time he first kissed her on the countertop onward. “He probably moved my hand to his dick five to seven times,” she said. “He really kept doing it after I moved it away.”
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.”
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.”
Over the last few days my opinion on what happened between them and Grace’s decision to speak publicly has run the gamut. And I had many questions. Was this sexual assault? Why was Aziz so aggressive? Why didn’t she leave? And I thought about it in the larger context of the #MeToo movement inspired by the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the Time’s Up initiative Hollywood launched as a response to workplace sexual harassment. A cause Ansari visibly supported at the Golden Globes two weeks ago. The allegations against Weinstein range from sexual harassment to rape, and we all know now he used his power to intimidate, threaten, coerce young women into grossly inappropriate situations. Grace’s story feels different because…it is. There’s a whole gray area of sexual misbehavior that women encounter and while the violations feel obvious, are hard to define. How does this misconduct, while not criminal or illegal, fit into the framework we have laid with the #MeToo movement?
Did you read “Cat Person“? A fictional short story from the New Yorker about a young woman who went on a date with a slightly older man and by the time they were back at his place she decided it was easier to have sex with the him than to find a way to politely end the encounter and go home. The parallels between this story and Grace’s exist in the young women’s internal dialogue with themselves about what they’re comfortable with until they’re not. The complicated scenarios feature both women struggling to find their voice when non-verbal cues are not enough. Both stories are upsetting and confusing, but they also feel familiar. I have determined this is where the problem lies as it relates to Grace and why we’re have such a visceral reaction to her experience. We recognize this story; it’s either our own or someone we care about shared their private, intimate story with us. What does that familiarity mean to us after we read what Grace deducted from her experience?
Many, many news outlets have since written their responses to Grace’s story and they mostly fall into two categories: Grace’s story undermines the #MeToo movement or Grace is speaking on behalf of a group of women who have experienced not illegal sexual encounters, but encounters that have left them feeling violated in a way that is messier and harder to define. I’m not firmly planted in either camp; I have feelings about both groups. I do feel like her story forces us to confront a new dynamic in the sexual politics conversation that has begun with the Weinstein scandal. Why this story is so commonplace is a starting point. What is more clear than ever is that this conversation is just getting started and as we, at times ungracefully, open up to share our stories and empathies I think the one thing we should agree on is we must allow these conversations to occur. This is new, unchartered territory for our society. When it comes to sex (among other things) women have felt disempowered for too long, and our current culture supports this. The way we think about sex, talk about sex, have sex, all needs to change. And as parents to young children I think our demographic especially has a certain responsibility in the way we frame the discussion on sex and consent to each gender.
Here are a few articles from the web talking about Grace and Ansari that are thought provoking:
The Guardian (my favorite):
Resources for teaching children about consent: