No Means No, Right?

You may or may not have read about one of the more recent #MeToo stories involving famed actor and comedian, Aziz Ansari. Although if you haven’t, I don’t know how- because the original story posted on Babe.net garnered a lot of noise online. It’s much easier to understand why one article sparked some heated discussion on the issue of what falls within the realm of sexual assault and what simply constitutes the norms of modern ‘dating’ if you’ve read the Babe piece.

Assuming you know nothing, I have taken it upon myself to summarise the controversial article for you. (I also assume it goes without explanation that you are all familiar with #MeToo, if not- please educate yourselves here, here and here.)

A 23 year old photographer, nicknamed Grace by the online publication, met Aziz Ansari at a 2017 Emmy Awards After Party. They bonded over photography, locked eyes over the dance floor (that sort of thing) and exchanged numbers at the end of the night. A short time later, the pair went on a date that landed the two back at Ansari’s apartment following dinner.

Grace contends that Ansari was very quick to initiate sexual advances, the details of which were not spared by the author. The article moves on to recount a sort of back and forth between the two, whereby Ansari moves to initiate sex and Grace uses non-verbal cues and explains she wants to ‘chill’ to deter him. It was reported that he even acknowledged at one point, “It’s only fun if we’re both having fun” before continuing to attempt to initiate sex.

It is Ansari’s aggressive persistence in place of what should have been his understanding and acceptance of the situation that makes this scenario alarmingly relatable for many.

Some Say It Is; Some Say It Isn’t

In the wake of so many stories of sexual assault, misconduct and rape making headlines, the internet was seemingly divided about whether Grace’s story legitimately constitutes one of the above. The story is markedly different to those told by women who have experienced assault by others belonging to the entertainment industry. The most notable of which involve shamed film producer Harvey Weinstein.

At the very least, it has however sparked conversation about what really is acceptable- and what others simply write off as a bad date.

My own personal experience and that of my friends’ experiences lead me to believe that most women would admit to being in similar situations. But just because it’s common, it certainly doesn’t make it okay. Similar sentiments were shared on Twitter following the breaking of the Ansari story, which has been a driving force of conversation for both the supporters and those who denounce the sharing of Grace’s experience in the context of #MeToo.

It is no surprise that the Ansari story was relatable for so many women, given that statistics show at least one in five women will feel pressured to engage in unwanted sexual activity. Even more alarmingly, I fear that statistic doesn’t accurately represent the true number of women who have been in circumstances like Grace’s.

The painful relatability of the Ansari story did not deter some from criticizing Babe for publishing it; and Grace for telling it.

A piece written by Sonny Bunch for the Washington Post lamented the piece, contending that it was

‘a gift to anyone who wants to derail #MeToo’,

adding ‘however Grace now thinks of the encounter, what happened isn’t sexual assault or anything close to it by most legal or common-sense standards’. While this seems unduly harsh, the author was joined in her opinions.

Bari Weiss of the New York Times described the article as an “insidious attempt… to criminalise awkward, gross and entitled sex.”

Other responses to the article have run with the ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’ angle, claiming Grace should have ‘just gotten up and left’. Worse even are those who have insinuated that by going back up to Ansari’s apartment, Grace was welcoming unwarranted and undesired sex.

These responses really highlight the issue at hand and that social situations are not so cut and dry as to say that it would have been easy for Grace to just leave when Ansari ‘was being a creep’.

Shouldn’t we be focussing as a society on making sure men aren’t creeps in the first place, instead of blaming women for forcibly partaking in sexual activity they never felt comfortable with.

We all know that sexual assault is never acceptable.

Hopefully the time will come where society agrees that coercion, intimidation and manipulation (and everything in between) has no place in the modern dating world. Unfortunately the Ansari story just wasn’t successful in highlighting that.

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