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On the Sexual Assault Narrative: Aziz Ansari

The #MeToo movement and the #TimesUp movement brought a sense of much needed change of social consciousness on rape, sexual assault, sexual coercion, and the term consent. Dialogues continue left and right, with women constantly coming forward to reveal their stories to the media and bring predators to light. We are all gathering together to track down these “villains,” bring them to at least a public justice with their “true” natures revealed.

And that’s where we actually fail to make real change.

The Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K.’s of the world are easy to condemn. Big men with big power using their power against the women below them on the media totem pole, skeezy hotel rooms, a narrative and plot we’ve known. It’s familiar territory, Lifetime movie drama that, ironically, would be easy to translate to a big screen.

But then we have the Aziz Ansari story.

Aziz Ansari proclaims himself a feminist. He wrote a book, got an award a “Woke Bae,” and up until the article hit seemed like the “cool guy” you would want to date. To the public at large, he would be the last person suspected of sexual coercion or assault. Surely a guy who prides himself on getting what women want and even joining their movements couldn’t be responsible for such a thing, right?

Women and men alike have fired at Grace, the anonymous photographer who just had one of the worst nights of her life published for the world to see, with all the fervor we usually reserve for the “villains” in our stories. Her story is full of moments she could’ve gotten out of there, they say. Her story has alcohol and going home with a guy along, they say. Her story can’t be believed because she never said no, they say.

Let’s change this narrative to something familiar. We the public are the police. Grace is a woman who feels violated, coming to us with a story. So now we ask her all the standard questions: Did he put a knife to your throat? What were you wearing? Did you drink? Did you say no? Oh you didn’t actually have sex? Well then, case closed. You weren’t raped. You weren’t assaulted. Case closed. Who would believe you anyway? This story would never hold up in court…

All too familiar, isn’t it?

Despite all the progress we make towards giving women platforms to be heard, we still fall back to the same narratives comfortably enough when a woman’s story gets messy, complicated, and focuses on someone well regarded. Rapists and sexual molesters can’t be people we actually like, because that doesn’t fit with our perceptions of them as ugly monsters.

For women, we are also inviting the terrible idea that we ourselves might have experienced sexual coercion or assault, but we refused to put that label on our past encounters. Our stories can’t have that label, we protest, because…Because we didn’t say no, we didn’t get out, we drank that wine, we dressed that way, we went home with that man, we didn’t…oh.

The realization that your own life’s narrative holds more pain than you want to face is devastating. We say he was just being pushy, we could’ve done more to prevent it, and the excuses cushion us from the truth. Stories like Grace’s happen to women every where. We go into a date thinking we will end up having our bodies respected, only to end up ending our nights in tears and scalding hot showers.

Aziz Ansari gets to keep his dignity and respect. He will never see himself as part of the grand problem, because in his mind “he’s a feminist.” He doesn’t have to admit wrong when he’s on those red carpets talking the talk, ignoring the fact he doesn’t walk the walk. In the end he is as Grace shouted at him that night: the same as every other man who doesn’t respect women’s bodies.

Feminist men exist, those who recognize that a woman’s body isn’t a plaything. Aziz Ansari isn’t one of them. He wants to have the moniker, yet he also wants to treat women as if they’re still just objects for his use. Or maybe for him it was just this one particular woman that he saw as vulnerable, as someone with no clout to control a narrative like this one, and knew he could get away with treating her in an awful manner. Someone anonymous, someone with a standard story that no one will believe, and no proof besides her own words what happened.

We see people finding all the faults with Grace, not the faults of a man who promised to the world at large he was a feminist, but behind closed doors was just as much a creep as a stereotypical drunken horny frat boy.

But as someone so widely liked and respected, he will control this narrative, and so will those who like and respect him. Already we see articles like “The Humiliation of Aziz Ansari” that cut down Grace for, to paraphrase, “not calling a cab, being weak, and using her story as revenge porn against a man of a different color.” Because, as we all know, “good women don’t go home with men alone.” It’s disappointing to see that still, despite all of the conversations and talk, it’s still too much to expect men not to be aggressive and forceful for sex, and women are still expected to “know better” than to expect anything more.

And we have near apologetic levels of defense for him, such as “Aziz Arsani is Guilty. Of Not Being a Mind Reader.” Boiling down the entire encounter to “bad sex” as if it were that simple, as if women are groomed from childhood to not take the initiative in anything (much less sex) before we get to adulthood. Consent means more than just saying yes or no, more than just being uncomfortable and giving non-verbal cues. Aziz Ansari didn’t get consent, he just jumped right into the porn narrative where the guy got the girl home and now they can bang.

Grace’s failing is that she expected to be treated with respect, and it’s unfortunate that almost no one thinks she deserved it.

Jessica Valenti, a Guardian columnist and author, points out a similar thought by tweeting, “A lot of men will read that post about Aziz Ansari and see an everyday, reasonable sexual interaction. But part of what women are saying right now is that what the culture considers ‘normal’ sexual encounters are not working for us, and oftentimes harmful.”

Our cultural narratives about sexual assault need to change. We can’t keep going back to the same old tropes, of the disbelieving public and the overly victim blamed women. We can’t keep blaming women for expecting basic bodily respect.

The media outlet Jezebel is calling out Babe for many narrative detail issues in “Babe, What Are You Doing?“, citing that putting out all of the gritty details about the story actually undermined the more important discourse within it:

Because Babe did not have the range or depth to present Grace’s story for what it is—a starting point to discuss the ways consent can feel blurring, no matter how clear we might wish it were, and our lack of language to describe this—we all ended up opening up a conversation that did us no good at all. The story had the unfortunate effect of leaving the door a little wider for self-righteousness, allowing detractors to reiterate their shitty assumptions about millennial women and their motivations instead of questioning a set of injustices so commonplace that many people seem not to register them as injustices at all.

Babe had an opportunity to change the sexual assault narrative, to get the story focused on how we remain tied to the ideas of consent being “you must say no or it’s ok.” It had a vital chance to open the dialogue towards what it means to have someone a decade your senior and a supposedly “woke” Hollywood feminist treating you like you don’t matter to him except as a  sex object.

But instead the media has been presented a grand way to re-victimize Grace, and tear her narrative to pieces, along with the narratives of so many other women out there who have experienced this story.

It’s vital to change the narrative, because we’re not just change it for Hollywood alone. The U.S.A. Gymnastics association allowed a doctor to sexual molest and assault women for years, paying girls to keep silent (and yes, girls as most of these victims were underage). These young girls grew up in the culture of being one of the more “woke” when it comes to these issues, but even still their stories are only now being heard after decades of abuse. He was a doctor, a trusted and well respected person, with the control of the narrative for years. We can’t keep letting that happen.

We can’t stop talking and revising what it means to be sexually assaulted, coerced, molested, etc. We need to keep talking about Aziz Ansari, and we need to continually reevaluate how we treat the victims. The narrative needs to become one where if a woman goes home with a man and leaves feeling violated and in tears, we validate that experience instead of dismiss it.

Grace, I believe your story, and you deserve better.

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