In case you are unaware, Emmy and Golden Globe winning comedian Aziz Ansari was recently (and very publicly) called out for sexual misconduct by a woman he went on a date with. It’s been everywhere, so if you don’t know about it, a 2 minute Google search will explain what’s going down.
Here’s what’s wrong with this picture: a man who has been vocal about being a feminist and who openly supports movements fighting intolerance of all types, is being dragged through the mud because of a bad date, and it’s happening in the name of #MeToo.
I really feel sorry that “Grace” had such a bad, awkward, and upsetting experience at the end of her date (and so does Aziz, because he immediately apologized for his actions to her after she expressed her feelings, and then again publicly after the article was published). But let’s be clear here: She wasn’t raped. She wasn’t taken advantage of by someone in a position of power or in her career field. Her job and her safety were never in jeopardy at any point. The only thing that was in jeopardy was her evening with a celebrity.
Grace says that after their consensual hook up had already begun, Aziz began trying some moves that she wasn’t enjoying, and so she tried to indicate her disinterest by non-verbal cues: “Most of my discomfort was expressed in me pulling away and mumbling. I know that my hand stopped moving at some points. I stopped moving my lips and turned cold.” Sorry if this isn’t what the women want to hear, but if a man is already aroused and thinks he has the go-ahead (which Aziz clearly did), non-verbal cues like unmoving hands/lips will be completely unnoticeable. And on the very very very slim chance he does notice, he’s not thinking that you changed your mind and have mentally withdrawn consent, he’s thinking that you are momentarily frozen because you are enjoying it so much or are just pausing to catch your breath or some other weird thing because honestly aroused brains (in both sexes) don’t think very logically.
Grace then goes on to explain that when she finally did verbally communicate her discomfort, Aziz responded positively at first by stopping the activities and suggesting that they could just chill, saying ‘Oh, of course, it’s only fun if we’re both having fun.’ Sadly, Aziz too quickly returned to his pursuit, which, by my account, was his biggest mistake of the evening (although, in his defense, you shouldn’t “chill” naked with someone you don’t want sex with, right?). Did Aziz behave inappropriately? Yes. Should he have been more respectful of her wishes when she verbally said no? For sure. But the solution to this problem is not shaming him publicly in the press while rallying behind the legitimate sexual harassment cases of the #MeToo movement – it’s by actually doing what the #MeToo movement is all about: using your voice.
The women who have been taken advantage of by men like Harvey Weinstein were entrenched in a system that perpetuated and excused sexual harassment. They feared that their careers (or even their personal safety) would be jeopardized if they spoke up or said no. But by claiming “Me too!” for every bad sexual encounter, women like Grace are cheapening the progress these women have made. Those women were quite literally trapped, and it has taken decades to bring their stories to light and give the victims the courage to speak up. Grace wasn’t trapped. She was indecisive. Those women had seemingly no choices. Grace had many, including:
- If you don’t get to choose your preferred red wine on a date, you can say, “Hey, actually, I like red.” Or you can just leave.
- If he hurries through the check and you feel like he’s just trying to get you back to his place to hook up, you can say “Hey, what’s the rush?” Or you can just leave.
- If you get back to his place and consent to fooling around, but then he has some weird moves that you aren’t into, you can say, “Hey, don’t do that, it’s uncomfortable for me.” Or you can just leave.
- If he doesn’t understand your non-verbal cues that you have changed your mind, you can immediately say, “Hey I don’t want to do this.” Or you can just leave.
- If he stops pressuring your for sex like you asked, but then you continue to hang out naked on his couch and he’s clearly still aroused, you can say, “Hey I’m gonna put my clothes back on and you should too.” Or you can just leave.
- If he can’t take a hint and continues to pressure you, you can say, “Hey you’re a (insert expletive of choice here) and I’m leaving.” And you can just leave.
That is what the #MeToo movement is about. Giving women a voice to say “no” and not be afraid to come off as rude or cold or b*****y or any other stupid adjective that could describe an assertive woman clearly and confidently stating what she wants.
To take Aziz’s unwanted sexual advances on a woman who he had been flirting with (mutually) for weeks and was on a date with and was (consensually) naked with in his apartment, and lumping it together with the sexual assault cases of film executives pressuring young actresses or factory owners harassing their employees does a disservice to the progress the #MeToo movement has made.
Let me blatantly clarify that I am not blaming Grace for what happened to her. Aziz behaved inappropriately. No questions asked. This is not victim blaming. But both parties had fault in this particular bad sexual encounter. Aziz behaved badly, for sure, and hopefully he’ll behave differently in the future, but he had no power over her. If she had said no and left nothing bad would have happened to her. Her career wouldn’t be over. She wouldn’t be blackballed. She would just have gone home with a disappointing dating experience. Hopefully one day we live in a world where no men ever make any mistakes in dating or sexual encounters. But today, right now, we can live in a world where women feel powerful enough to say no and leave.
The point of the #MeToo movement is not to defame every single man who has made mistakes in his dating and sexual encounters. The point is to stop the bad experiences before they happen at all by giving women the courage to speak up and and stand up – to remind them that they don’t have to be victims. It’s giving voices to women everywhere who feel powerless and trapped. Because guess what? For the millions of women who have bad dates and uncomfortable sexual encounters with men who aren’t Emmy winners, they don’t get to publish an article that will go viral to try and shame the guy. They don’t get the voice of the media. They only get their own voice. A voice that the #MeToo movement is working so hard to ensure that women can use to stand up for themselves. But because Grace chose to use the media’s voice instead of her own, Aziz Ansari is getting dragged through mud because of one bad date, and the #MeToo movement takes a small step backwards.