The only good thing about the #MeToo movement is that the world at large is having a more nuanced conversation around consent. But this weekend, when a woman came forward with a story about Aziz Ansari and his allegedly sexually aggressive behavior on a date, there was some pushback from people who thought that maybe the conversation was getting too nuanced. An alarming amount of people, including prominent female writers writing for legacy publications, read the story and went right to the victim-blaming angle, concluding that what happened with Aziz Ansari merely amounted to “bad sex” and that the woman simply had a case of buyer’s remorse when a date with a famous comedian went wrong.
But the fact that so many of us are having trouble articulating what, exactly, was so traumatic about her experience is definitely a sign that we need to recalibrate the way we’re talking about assault and consent, especially when it comes to how sex is still primarily thought of in terms of the man’s experience, even in 2018.
In case you’ve been off social media all weekend: The young woman interviewed recounted a story that feels so familiar. She met Ansari at a party, they went out to dinner, and then back to his place. Then, she says, things got sexual much faster than she had intended or anticipated, with Ansari going to get a condom within minutes of kissing her. When she asked him to slow down and take things easy, he reportedly would take a minute and then get right back to it, going so far as to perform oral sex, receive oral sex (after gesturing at his penis), and finger her after lubricating his fingers in her mouth. The woman explained to Babe reporter Katie Way, “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 f*cking game.” To a lot of women, it sounded way too much like some dates we’ve had.
When Ansari texted her the next day about how much fun he had, the woman texted him back saying that she felt really uncomfortable, that he had misread her repeated verbal and non-verbal cues to stop, and she wasn’t interested in anything more with him. He apologized via text at the time and again (kind of) after the story came out. He issued a statement saying,
Here’s where it gets hard for some people. What happened between them didn’t strike some people as “rape” or “assault,” because in the way that we understand assault, it wasn’t. It read as just another bad hookup. Familiar, regrettable, but not necessarily egregious. Bari Weiss wrote in the New York Times, “I’m sorry Grace had this experience. I too have had lousy romantic encounters, as has every adult woman I know. I have regretted these encounters, and not said anything at all.” That’s a shame, because we should call out these kinds of encounters when they happen, even if it feels safer to do so via text the next day, from the safety of your own bed, instead of in the heat of the moment.
Just because something happens all the time doesn’t make it normal. And Grace’s story does not, as some women are suggesting, “chip away” at the #MeToo movement. No one is saying that Ansari’s behavior is akin to molesting a child or violently raping his coworker, but that doesn’t mean it’s not creepy, aggressive behavior rooted in misogynist mindsets. It’s something that shouldn’t have happened at all, not something a woman should have just put up with because she went on a date and chose to return to a man’s apartment.
A woman shouldn’t have to fight back or scream “no” for a man to realize that she’s not comfortable with what’s happening. So many people are shaming this woman for not “doing more,” or worse, not just filing the experience away in the back of her brain and getting on with her life. Really, we need to be asking men to take a woman’s verbal and non-verbal cues more seriously. When it comes to getting sex from women, most men aren’t doing this because they’re taught to think sex is something they have to “get” or women should “give,” instead of as a team sport supported by mutual consent.
What’s tripping some of us up is that women have let this kind of behavior slide for way too long, partially because we’re taught to accept it and in part because we’re genuinely afraid of how a man might react if we reject him overtly. It’s not our fault — we’re conditioned to go along with men, assume it’s going to get better, try again, second guess that sick feeling in our stomachs. Some women have obviously internalized this to the extent that they feel like putting up with these experiences makes them tougher or that women like Grace are infantilizing themselves for not taking “more control” of the situation, even though they have to know that that’s not always possible. Some men refuse to hear our “no” no matter how many times or how forcefully we say it.
Maybe that’s because we learn to say “no” in admittedly roundabout ways in order to protect a man’s ego or not make him too angry. But usually, it’s because men aren’t taking a woman’s hesitation or straight-up refusal seriously because they don’t take women seriously. If they don’t take us seriously, then sexual encounters are never going to be about what a woman wants. Yet, if a woman wants to touch a man’s penis, give him a blowjob, or even text him back, she will. Trust us. That Ansari walked away from the experience Grace described thinking that everything was normal — even without considering her editorial and just the sheer logistics of the entire sexual encounter — is mind-blowing.
No, we’re not asking men to be mind readers, we’re asking them to remember that we’re in the room, too, and that our experience matters.
The problem is that so many men are not getting our drift or blatantly ignoring it when they think they have a chance at seeing us naked — the problem is not that women who feel like Grace don’t “just leave.”
We’ve conditioned men to assert dominance and feel entitled to a woman’s body — it’s the entire basis of pick-up culture — and that behavior needs be unlearned. If Ansari had just suggested that they “chill but with their clothes on” the first time that Grace indicated she needed some more time to get into it, instead of an hour later, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation (or, at least, we might not be having it about him). She might not have been turned off by his behavior and they could have possibly had good sex another time. Why is that so hard for some people to understand?
The fact is, she asked to slow down, so they moved to the couch, where he pointed at his penis so that she would perform oral sex on him. That was his version of “chilling out.” He continued to be grabby as she moved away from him throughout the apartment. How many women have acquiesced to oral sex after a move like that (or worse, the head tap) because well, we felt like it was up to us to not crush our date’s expectations, since sex is simply expected when a man and woman go back to someone’s home to hang out more. We too often keep going and put up with something we don’t want because we feel like we’re not holding up our part of the bargain, even though no one asked us if that was a deal we wanted to make to begin with.
It’s not chiseling anything away from the #MeToo movement to say that we don’t want those experiences anymore and that we want men to consider our desire and experience during sex. If anything, it means we’re starting to get to the bottom of the problem. Men are going to be have to be better. If they’re confused about how to do that, they can always come to us for some actual pointers. We’re talking and all they have to do is listen. But more vitally: women need to stop telling each other to shut up and get over it.