By Anindita Mukhopadhyay
Earlier this month, a new face was added to the long list of men publicly accused of sexual harassment, actor and comedian, Aziz Ansari. In a 3000-word exposé published by the feminist website Babe, a 23-year-old photographer, publicly named as ‘Grace’, describes a date with Ansari.
In conversation with Katie Way of Babe.net, she alleges that he pressured her to have sex, and terms the date as ‘the worst night of her life’. Her account has renewed the debate around sexual harassment, assault, and the concept of consent. Ansari and Grace met at an Emmy’s after party where they bonded over vintage cameras, flirted a little, and finally, Grace left him with her number. Flirting over texts for about a week, they decided to meet up for a date. They met at his apartment and had a glass of wine before walking to a restaurant. “It was white,” she mentioned. “I didn’t get to choose, and I prefer red, but it was white wine.” At the restaurant, Ansari seemed eager for them to leave and rushed them back to the apartment.
When they walked back in, things escalated quickly and Grace felt repeatedly pressured by Ansari. Throughout the course of her short time in the apartment, she used verbal and non-verbal cues to indicate how uncomfortable and distressed she was. However, Ansari seemed oblivious to her reticence and continued to pressurise her. After a point, Grace decided to be firm, “I stood up and said no, I don’t think I’m ready to do this, I really don’t think I’m going to do this.” Following the encounter, Ansari arranged for an Uber to pick her up. “I cried the whole ride home. At that point I felt violated,” she said, adding that she felt her experience with Ansari amounted to sexual assault.
For Grace, the Golden Globes brought the events back to the forefront of her mind. “It was actually painful to watch him win and accept an award,” she said. “And absolutely cringe-worthy that he was wearing the Time’s Up pin.” She told Babe, “I believe that I was taken advantage of by Aziz. I was not listened to and ignored. It was by far the worst experience with a man I’ve ever had.”
In his defence, Ansari released a statement, acknowledging his unawareness of her discomfort. He said, “It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned. I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said.” He added, “I continue to support the movement that is happening in our culture. It is necessary and long overdue.”
As with Grace, several women journalists have jumped to Ansari’s defence, though denouncing his behaviour as sexist. Jill Filipovic, a blogger at Feministe writes, “It seems to have been reported only because there was a celebrity name attached, and not even because the celebrity broke the law or leveraged his power to do wrong. But because he was sexist and sexually entitled – while despicable, that’s shaky grounds for broadcasting an individual’s sexual play-by-play.”
Bari Weiss for The New York Times articulates what most readers have felt, “If he pressures you to do something you don’t want to do, use a four-letter word, stand up on your two legs and walk out his door.” She further adds, “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.”
Caitlin Flanagan, a contributing editor at The Atlantic asserts, “Together, the two women may have destroyed Ansari’s career, which is now the punishment for every kind of male sexual misconduct, from the grotesque to the disappointing.”
The #MeToo campaign
Back in October last year, actress Alyssa Milano used her Twitter account to encourage women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted to tweet the words #MeToo. The campaign with the same name and aim, though without the social media virality, was initiated by an African-American woman, Tarana Burke ten years ago. The aim was to ‘give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem’. This was consequently established as, within 24 hours, the hashtag had been tweeted nearly half a million times. In the following weeks, accusations tumbled out of closets, revealing the widespread pervasiveness of sexual violence. However, the movement has not been without criticism, with Margaret Atwood comparing it to the Salem witch trials.
Since Babe’s exposé, Grace’s story has become a target for the ongoing backlash against the #MeToo movement, largely due to its tabloid-like style of reporting, and salacious attention to minute graphic details. This steals credibility from the account, rendering it a mere revengeful retelling by an unsatisfied woman. However, women like Grace, whose accounts have been vetted, deserve to be believed, irrespective of the way their stories are broadcast.
Another major criticism of Grace and Babe.net has been their attempt to lump this incident in with the same movement that brought down violent, sexual predators. It trivialises what #MeToo first stood for. Undoubtedly, sexual abuse cases vary in degrees of severity. A violent assault is not comparable to sexual harassment. They are not equivalent to being pressured for sexual intercourse despite being visibly resistant and unenthusiastic. However, they all occur across the same spectrum of unwelcome sexual advances and they all warrant condemnation.
Grace’s story involves a situation that many men and women can picture themselves in. Acknowledging her story does not mean sentencing all these men to prison. However, it does mean admitting that many men and women behave as they do, as a result of centuries of misogynistic social attitudes. It means asking men to recognise that and do better. It means changing the culture so that badgering and pressuring women into sex is deplored, not endorsed. In addition, the solution does not begin with women condemning men for failing to understand non-verbal cues. It is for women to be more verbal so that consent can be clear, communicated, and enthusiastic.
The incident should be construed as a new chapter in the #MeToo movement that brings to the forefront the obvious misogyny of our sexual interactions. There is a need to confront the deeply ingrained sexist attitudes that have created a culture of male entitlement and blatant disregard of a woman’s consent.
Featured Image Source: Pixabay
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