It’s time men took responsibility for their actions.
Comedian Aziz Ansari joins the list of men in Hollywood who, time and again, use their power to coerce and hurt women. This weekend, feminist magazine Babe published a story about Ansari repeatedly overstepping boundaries with his date Grace, an anonymous 23 year-old photographer. She tells Babe about how Ansari paid no heed to her discomfort, pausing only to make empty statements about consent before quickly grabbing and kissing her again. After he made it clear he wouldn’t respect her wishes to stop, she rode an Uber back to her apartment in tears. It is familiar experience for many women.
And this is why it is not surprising that when Grace texted him about his discomfort, he said he “misread things in the moment.”
People have responded to this story saying Grace was at fault and that we can’t expect better of men. They push the burden of consent on to women. The lack of male accountability is exactly why an adult man, especially one who has written and profited off of books and episodes on these issues, does not grasp the simple concept of consent.
According to the article, Grace verbally indicated several times she was uncomfortable and clearly not consenting–“I said I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you” and “I said something like, ‘Whoa, let’s relax for a sec, let’s chill’” are just a few of the things she said during the incident. She even gave him multiple non-verbal cues which he ignored. “He probably moved my hand to his dick five to seven times. He really kept doing it after I moved it away,” she recalls. But while these were clear indicators of how Grace was feeling, Ansari, and those who are coming to his defense, don’t see it that way. It is not fair that people expect Grace to be more direct about her discomfort but do not expect Ansari, a man in his 30s, to pay attention to verbal or non-verbal cues while engaging in a sexual act.
And mixed signals or no, Grace is not responsible for the abuse she experienced. Ansari should have been aware of her feelings or if he was confused by her “mixed signals,” he could have asked her what she wanted. But he doesn’t do that in the story. His sexual advances should have been responsive to Grace so she would not be put in a position where she would have to express discomfort or feel violated in the first place.
And the fact that Ansari, who has candid discussions of women’s rights as part of his brand, doesn’t understand that, shows that even nice guys have a sense of entitlement when they enter sexual situations.
Working off of Ansari’s nice guy image, Caitlin Flanagan writes for the Atlantic that Ansari is a man who “doesn’t deserve this” humiliation. She egregiously asserts that this is a case of “revenge porn” by a woman who did not receive the “affection, kindness, attention” she craved from a famous celebrity like Ansari. Grace did receive attention from him. And no matter what kind of sexual encounter, kindness should be a given. It is even more bizarre that Flanagan, a white woman herself, claims that this is an unjust case that has allowed “privileged young white women to open fire on brown-skinned men.” Flanagan needs to know that South Asian men perpetuate rape culture too. They also need to be kept in check. If she is so interested in calling out racism, she could have tried talking about how we must not use Ansari’s actions as an indicator for traits limited only to South Asian men.
Even Ansari’s apology is a cop out empowered by these erroneous defenses of his actions.
The private response to which he refers stated that he “misread things in the moment.” This not only extends the mixed messages and victim blaming that has followed the article, it also implies that he should not be held accountable for his actions when he is in a sexual haze. The argument that men lose control of their faculties that assess emotions of others because they get too lost in the moment is a common one. But it is also highly flawed and both furthers their sense of entitlement while making them out to be uncontrollable animals.
The dialogue in cases like this needs to focus on what the man did or didn’t do, not what his victim didn’t feel safe to. The only way to change this very common narrative is to task men with understanding consent and ensuring their partner is as willing as they are. We need to stop making excuses for them and refuse to sanction their meaningless apologies that show no understanding, remorse, or change. It is time that the conversation moves from blaming women to one that expects more of men.