When ReVamp's Co-Founder/Co-Artistic Director Erin forwarded me an opinion piece from The Guardian about the story "I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life," published on Babe.net on January 13, asking if I might want to write a blog about the whole affair, I was like, "Girl, I am 10 steps ahead of you." The only thing that had stopped me thus far was figuring out how to fit all of those thoughts into a coherent narrative that would add something new to the discussion that has been raging about this story for the last 5 days. So here's my best attempt.
I. My first thought upon seeing the headline was, Fuck, really? Aziz Ansari? Seriously, are we not allowed to have any nice things anymore? Full disclosure: I'm a big Aziz Ansari fan. I think he's a hilarious comedian, a talented actor/director, and a great storyteller. But, in this present moment of reckoning, we can't sweep inappropriate behavior under the rug because we like the perpetrator too much. Pretty sure that's part of how we got into this mess in the first place. So I took the moment to reconcile myself to the fact that whatever I was about to read might ruin Parks & Recreation and Master of None for me, and clicked.
II. It's an uncomfortable read, which you probably already know, because I'm assuming you have also read it, dear reader. Uncomfortable because a lot of it was all too familiar to me - the poking, the prodding, the hands here, the mouth there, it all happening so quickly that you don't even have time to decide if you want it or not before the next thing is happening. Yup, I'll admit it, I've been Grace, caught in that awkward place between "Hey. it would be fun if we made out" and "Holy shit, that's your penis." #MeToo?
III. After reading the story and continuing on with the rest of my day. one thing kept gnawing at me: Why didn't she leave? At first, I didn't even want to acknowledge the thought, because of the inherent judgement and victim-blaming in it. The attitude that the responsibility for not getting harassed, assaulted or raped is solely the burden of the woman trying not to get harassed, assaulted or raped is another hallmark in the development of this current climate. But nevertheless, the thought persisted - At some point, isn't it at least partly your responsibility?
Is Ansari's behavior, as described in Grace's story, rude, disrespectful, aggressive? Yes. But, when he continued to act rude, disrespectful, and aggressive, why didn't she leave? As Bari Weiss points out in her New York Times editorial published on January 15, there were many instances in which Grace could have ended the date if she felt uncomfortable or wasn't enjoying herself. Why didn't she? Again, that's a question we're not supposed to ask. It could be because she's been socially trained to be accommodating and meek, to be gentle with men's feelings and not reject a man outright. Maybe she felt threatened, and was fearful that Ansari would retaliate physically if she tried to leave. Or she really did want to have sex with Ansari, but only on her terms. Or because he's a successful, well-connected actor and she's an aspiring actress who wants a role on Master of None. I don't know because she doesn't tell us, and not that she has to, but the fact is, that lack of information skews the narrative to the point where, as Weiss says, "It transforms what ought to be a movement for women’s empowerment into an emblem for female helplessness....The single most distressing thing to me about this story is that the only person with any agency in the story seems to be Aziz Ansari. The woman is merely acted upon."
If we are going to shift the sole burden of responsibility for preventing sexual assault and rape from one gender to another, then frankly this whole exercise is moot. The responsibility for making sure that sexual encounters between anyone, regardless of gender, are healthy, safe and consensual, must be shared.
IV. Reading this story brought to mind another article I read last week, "Neither Slave Nor Pharaoh: Finding the Divine in BDSM," by Randa Jarra, published in the latest issue of Bitch magazine. At one point in the article, Jarra writes of her relationship with a sub, "Before we did anything, we had very long discussions over text about what he would and would not consent to. This openness, these clear boundaries, felt nothing like vanilla dating or vanilla sex. It was the vanilla stuff that was scary, I finally understood: often unnegotiated or under-communicated....With BDSM, nothing 'just happened.' Every action, desire and movement is discussed beforehand....Kink meant consent, always. It meant a discussion of boundaries, desires, fears. Unlike vanilla hookups, it meant safety."
I couldn't get Jarra's words out of my head before the Ansari story broke, and keep returning to them now. What if, when inviting Grace on the date initially, Ansari had said, "I would like to take you out to dinner, and then I would like to go back to my apartment and have sex with you, orally and vaginally"? What if Grace had said, over dinner, "What are your physical expectations for this evening? Here are mine." In the vanilla dating world, such conversations are all but unheard of, considered uncomfortable and sometimes insulting. But it's obvious that we'll start getting far better results if there is some honesty and openness in our sexual encounters with each other. Re-reading Grace's account, to write this post, it's a textbook example of everything that's wrong with modern dating and sexual encounters. Everything is subtext, subterfuge, coyness, coercion, confusion. Grace and Ansari play their parts perfectly - he is aggressive and persistent, she is demure and acquiescent. I cannot tell Grace how to feel, or define her experience for her. But as someone who has been in similar situations, I say her anger is largely misdirected. It's not Ansari who needs to be put on trial - it's the whole system which teaches men like him, and women like her, that this is the way to get what you want when it comes to sex.
-Kristen M. Scatton