Aziz Ansari sexual misconduct allegation: We need to urgently talk about sex and consent

Vishnupriya Bhandaram

Jan,16 2018 16:25:04 IST

In late 2017, when Raya Sarkar’s list of 'academic predators' came out (it was, as the name suggests a spreadsheet where women could anonymously 'report' men in academia for a wide range of problematic behaviour — from untoward comments to sexual harassment and assault; it was seemingly inspired by the 'Shitty Media Men' list that had been doing the rounds in the US), there was a panic about the 'dangers of anonymity', 'ruined reputations' and how this 'internet vigilante justice' is dangerous. Now, located in post-Weinstein-allegations-Hollywood, with women in the business voicing their experiences, sharing their stories of abuse and trauma, situated within the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement, is the latest anonymous allegation about sexual misconduct by Aziz Ansari. Already, there are camps that are championing both parties involved in the incident — 'Grace', the anonymous 22-year-old who has accused Ansari, and the Master of None actor.

FILE - In this Jan. 7, 2018, file photo, Aziz Ansari arrives at the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. Comedian Ansari has responded to allegations of sexual misconduct by a woman he dated in 2017. Ansari said in a statement Sunday, Jan. 14, that he apologized last year when she told him about her discomfort during a sexual encounter in his apartment he said he believed to be consensual. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

In this file photo, Aziz Ansari arrives at the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. AP Photo

Grace (a pseudonym) told Babe.com about an encounter with Ansari in 2017 in which he made her feel uncomfortable and violated.

In the wake of the allegations by Grace against Ansari, articles in defense of the actor have come up. Twitter threads justifying Grace’s reactions have emerged and also about why it’s hard to say no; Ansari’s own statement about the encounter being (what he thought was) consensual sexual activity has also now come out. And there have been questions and comments aplenty: “Was it even assault?”, “Why didn’t she leave (when things became uncomfortable)?” and “This was just a bad sexual encounter”.

What the incident (and the noise around it) has highlighted, is that — yes, we must talk about consent, we must talk about sexual encounters, power imbalances and unequal relationships, verbal and non-verbal cues, we must talk about toxic masculinity, male entitlement, about raising boys better and drilling it into our daughters’ heads that they must assert themselves.

But, what we must also talk about, is sex: what do we want from it, how do we look for it, what are we willing to do to get it and how are we going to go about it. And most importantly, how are we going to talk to our (prospective) partners about sex.

Grace’s account reflects the nebulous, murky and often-times casual world of modern dating. It’s fraught with the desire to make connections, the impulse for hook-ups and the general idea that this could be something casual and fun. The irony of his situation should not be lost on Ansari, who has written a light yet insightful book on modern dating, titled Modern Romance.

In his book, while talking about how sometimes “nice guys” can be “douchey”, he writes:

“Beyond flakiness, as far as dating goes, I’ve observed many men who, while hopefully decent human beings in person, become sexually aggressive “douche monsters” when hiding behind the texts on their phone. The messages being sent are unarguably inappropriate and often quite offensive, but, again, over text the consequences of the recipient’s being offended are minimal.”

Where else have we read about “nice men” turning into “douche monsters”? Maybe they don’t turn into monsters just behind texts, perhaps also in real life, once the woman enters their home, once the prospect of sex or hooking up becomes a real possibility.

By Grace’s account, consent was not really the issue at hand, but here's the thing — not saying no doesn’t mean yes. It definitely doesn’t mean pointing to one’s penis and expecting a bl*w-job. When she said that she wanted to take it slow, Ansari heard her and proposed that they could just sit on the couch and chill and but just a while later, he completely ignored her stated wish. A version of: “I hear you, but I won’t listen to you.”

Wouldn’t it have been a better situation for both Grace and Ansari, if he had asked, “Wwould you be okay with me fu**ing you?” instead of a “Where would you like me to f**k you?” Instead of sticking his fingers down her throat, wouldn’t it have been better to figure out if she wanted him to stick his fingers down her throat in the first place? (These details are drawn from Grace's account, as published on Babe.com.)

Is it ever  okay to have a disrespectful equation between two adults engaged in sexual activity? The answer is, no.

Louis CK did say something profound in his statement after The New York Times reported multiple women's allegations of sexual harassment against him:

“...What I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your di*k isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.”

They're words that Ansari could learn from as well.

Sexual situations are often fraught with tension, especially when one party is unsure and needs time to make up their mind; it can be frustrating to put up with pressure from the other person. It can also be disappointing, if they are hoping to cement a connection, or if they care about the other person. In Grace’s account, she mentions that she told Ansari: “I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you.” Perhaps it also frustrating for someone who might be in the mood for sex to be met with denial — but that is the nature of the beast. Ansari did say, “Oh, of course, it’s only fun if we’re both having fun.” But did he really work towards ensuring that it was fun for her too?

The sexual situation then isn’t just about sex; it’s also about the other person’s feelings, their perceptions of you and how each one wants to end the encounter. It is also about emotional cost of saying no.

What happens when you say no? Does the night end and you never see the person again? Does your relationship end before it even started? Are you going to be met with violence and aggression? Or is the other person going to respect your decision and ease into things instead of constantly asking you and eventually coercing you into an activity you’re unwilling to participate in? Each no is accompanied by many of these unpleasant thoughts.

Saying no is harder than one imagines and saying no very rarely depends on the level of empowerment one possesses. There are multiple thoughts that we must first deal with before one can even utter the word no. Is consent really that easy to arrive at?

Even getting a sexual partner to put on a condom can be a herculean task. For example, a report in The Ladies Finger highlights how difficult it can be assert oneself during sexual activity. One girl said: “I’ve never successfully convinced someone to stop having sex with me and put on a condom when they don’t want to.” Another said: “Asking my partner would ruin the moment. I’d also worry about him thinking I was questioning our exclusivity.”

While we all believe that men must respect consent and that it should come easily to women to say no, it's easier said than done. We need to rethink the assumption that all the “nice guys” of the world are certified in the art of gaining consent respectfully. And to expect all empowered women to say no, or assert themselves is also not productive. The Ansari incident shows that entitlement comes in all forms, shapes and sizes and that is the instinct that must be kept under check. There is no specific measure of how empowered women can be — a formula that guarantees x percent of empowerment will give you y percent of courage to walk out of an unpleasant situation. We are all a sum of our social world and that is in need of fixing.

If there’s anything the Ansari story highlights, it is how loudly we must have the conversation about consent. It can never be about a simple 'yes' or 'no' and the idea that sex is something women give and men chase — one that legitimises loathsome behaviour and perpetuates an unhealthy, traumatic and unsafe pursuit of sex — must be done away with. The Ansari incident highlights how much of bad behaviour women must put up with as the “chase”. There is no "chase"; there is a respectful conversation that can be had with women to arrive at a sexual activity that's enjoyable for everyone involved. The "gold standard" of bedroom behaviour must be to ask partners how they feel and what they would like to do. Men and women both have to understand that the issue of consent must go beyond one event. Consent is recurring and every sexual situation needs to be one that allows room for consent to grow organically — and not under pressure or because of the demands of an entitled person.

Updated Date: Jan 19, 2018 18:00 PM