I think anything anyone says about #AzizAnsari or any sexual encounter like what was written about him, that is not explicitly denouncing him, will be met with comments about being anti-feminist or against the #metoo movement. Let me be clear: his behavior was gross. Been there. BUT it is incredibly harmful to paint this picture and then remove all semblance of power from the survivor. If we are going to learn anything from these stories it should be that no means no. And also, the survivors have the power to walk away. I don’t agree with the victim blaming of #theatlantic article but I do believe that for young women reading about these interactions and forming their own plans for safety and for how to identify sexual assault, they should certainly not follow the behavior exhibited by #grace. In fact, they should use her behavior as a model for what not to do when being pressured for sex. I would like this movement to empower those that encounter sexual assault to be present and to recognize their participation. Meaning, if you’ve said no (however you’ve said it) it’s ok to leave if they are not getting it and if you are not being respected. Staying and expecting a change just to continue the night and inadvertently hurting yourself because you really wanted the person to change is your responsibility to avoid. They have shown you who they are. There is no changing that in that moment. He should not have insisted. Period. But she had more power than she was willing to execute at that moment and simplifying it to just blaming him is not going to do his movement any favors. It certainly is not going to teach young people learning about these behaviors what they should actually do instead of posthumously sharing a story that is written so blatantly as though this happened to them and not as though the choices she made exacerbated an already awful interaction. I have a had a lot of time to process the idea of self-worth. My mother always said you are treated as well as you believe you deserve. I never understood it. But after many interactions with men treating me like less than because I let them, I realized my worth and I never let it happen again. That's what I want the Grace’s of the world to know. Not that they are to blame and not that he was any less wrong for what he did. But that deciding that it was an uncomfortable and even unsafe environment and putting themselves first and leaving, while it doesn’t erase the earlier behavior, would have saved her from the experience and from carrying the weight of that story around for all that time.
This is not a criticism of the victim of inappropriate sexual advances by a celebrity. This is a call for all of us discussing this topic, feeling our feelings, and processing the changing climate to consider the power that articles like the one written by Babe.net has and what responsibility media outlets have to tell the stories that shape our culture and for readers to process that information in a healthy dialogue where they may be disagreed with. The situation that “Grace”, the pseudonym used by Aziz Ansari's the accuser, described is more complicated than some might like to discuss.
I know I’ve already lost some folks.
I’ve seen the posts and articles and other think pieces where people have refused to discuss this topic in any way if the person discussing it did not start and end their discussion with statements that made Aziz Ansari an abuser and “Grace” as a victim, Period. And I find that to be incredibly problematic. While, yes, we would like all things to be equal, for women to be paid the same as men, to not be taken advantage of sexually, or any other way for the matter. For the culture of today’s society, the #MeToo society, to be the end all be all. Equality is the goal, but we cannot erase hundreds of years of antiquated behavior that has been widely accepted even from women (a type of Stockholm syndrome in order to cope, perhaps?). However, we can, as we have already begun to, hold people accountable. Although, we must also be very careful about how we tell these stories and what responsibility, and more so, what power we give or take from the characters involved. We cannot tell the story of sexual misconduct like the one described in the article about “Grace” without learning from that interaction. This is in no way a jab at her or her behavior but an opportunity for those reading the Babe article to recognize opportunities for asserting ones’ power, and protecting oneself, as well as help people on the other end of that situation, perhaps confused about the signals (which is an entire conversation on its own) or just being 100% selfish, to realize that this kind of behavior may have been ok in the past because no one spoke up, but that time has since passed. What I do not feel is appropriate, is to demonize Aziz Ansari as a predator. This story reminded me of some of my own escapades in my 20’s. When I was learning about myself, what I liked, and what I didn’t. How to navigate the often grey area that is casual sex., etc.
That’s not to say that Ansari was any less wrong for his behavior. But rather that we need to be able to have uncomfortable, often polarizing conversations without completely closing up to the idea that these articles can be used as opportunities for learning. “Grace” followed up with Ansari, expressed her discomfort, and he apologized. We do not know that he has continued to behave that way. She was right to voice her feelings and hopefully that was enough to change him. Perhaps, no one had ever expressed to him that not all women enjoy aggressive, porn-style, sexual encounters on the first date. It sounds ridiculous, but this is likely. Not everyone who makes bad sexual decisions is a predator or a criminal. It is incredibly dangerous to take the Babe article at face value and not discuss what responsibility we have to our own mental, emotional, and physical well-being. If I were advising “Grace” I would have told her what I would have said to 20-something me: “You are more powerful than you know.” And as my mother has said to me often “People will show you who they are. Save yourself the heartache and believe them the first time.” Grace did everything she could afterwards and vocalizing her discomfort may have been the first time that anyone has ever corrected Ansari’s behavior. It may not be her responsibility to teach him that lesson. But if not our sexual partners, then who do we learn these difficult lessons from? Parents cannot be expected to do it all. Some, I dare say most, of our lessons on love and sexuality come from the actual experiences and the stories our friends tell us.
Here are some suggestions for those people that are genuinely interested in what they might do if they find themselves in that situation:
1. NO MEANS NO, MEANS NO, MEANS NO. Period.
2. While body language may seem obvious to you, words are the best way to communicate. Let this story be an example of how you can say what you mean, vocalize what you feel strongly about, and what you want, and explicitly what you don’t want.
3. Believe them when they show you who they are: You are not responsible for teaching anyone how to behave if you don’t feel like it. Therefore, if someone is behaving in a way that makes you uncomfortable, it is 100% ok, and encouraged that you get yourself out of that situation. Do not expect the person to change their behavior in that moment when they have made it clear what they are interested in. It is important to recognize your power.
4. Recognize your own hurdles and traumas: We cannot expect others to protect us. We have to be conscious of our triggers, what causes us anxiety, and what scares us. Try to learn from situations like these, and choose what situations you feel comfortable entering before you engage with someone. When we agree to enter a stranger’s home we open ourselves up to a number of dangerous, uncomfortable, or triggering experiences. We are responsible for ourselves. No one else.
That is what I would like for people navigating the sometimes murky waters of dating: You are responsible for yourself. The compromises you make for someone are your choice and your responsibility to communicate effectively. If you are in a situation that is uncomfortable, or moving at a pace that is not to your liking, you have the power to voice that or simply to leave. It doesn’t matter what that person thinks. We do not owe them validation if they are not respecting us.
On a personal note…
“Grace”, mama (and all the young people like Grace out there) I’ve been there. I too have longed so much for sincere gentle intimacy that I mistook their representation and hoped they really wanted what I wanted. I too have yearned to be held. To meet someone that genuinely wants to just Netflix and stuff our faces and cuddle. That’s a level of intimacy we have to earn from one another despite how badly we may want to give it to people. Not everyone has your heart. That is a difficult lesson I learned time and time again and I still struggle with it. You will grow from each experience. You have a right to call your experience whatever you deem it to be. But you are also responsible for regulating your expectations of people and protecting yourself the best you can. Each lesson will build you up. I hope that that interaction did not break you or discourage you from entertaining the idea of having an intimate relationship with someone. But rather that it taught you something about yourself, about dealing with people who impose their privilege on you, and how best to keep your head and your heart safe going forward. So many of us have been there. But with time you too will learn to make choices hat protect you while allowing you to be a part of this crazy world. It’s a delicate balance but it does exist.
Sincerely and with much love,
A thirty something who’s been there