I am a feminist and I support Aziz Ansari: The true victim of this vexing incident is the #MeToo movement
After the thousands of conversations last year on #MeToo – which made feminism the word of 2017 - this Aziz Ansari incident has thrown into sharp relief the one question we should’ve all been asking: what can be done now?
When I sent out a tweet yesterday, in support of Aziz Ansari, I received a lot of flak. My fellow feminists were disappointed that I had not immediately agreed with the lady who had accused the actor of sexual harassment. To me this fact, along with the scores of reactions that have been pouring in after this incident, are deeply disturbing.
They threaten not only to severely undermine the #MeToo movement, but also underscore how brazenly feminism is being brandished without being understood.
We may still be teaching men like #AzizAnsari about consent, but accusing a man of sexual misconduct comes with a responsibility to the truth. Sorry, but bad foreplay does not constitute sexual harassment and #MeToo is not a bandwagon that every woman has to jump on.
— Meghna Pant (@MeghnaPant) January 15, 2018
To begin with let me clarify: being a feminist does not mean that you have to side with every woman. Being a feminist means that you have to side with the ‘truth’. This is the truth that imperils one gender for the other.
As a woman, and a vociferous feminist, I have zero tolerance for sexual coercion. I believe that yes can mean yes but yes can also mean no. I believe that no means no, and that no cannot mean yes. Befuddling, yes. Understood, no. Consent rarely is. While this might explain why consent has acquired so many fanciful ascriptions since this weekend, if you take away the frills you’ll find perhaps a handful of those who have analysed what it means in this particular case.
In matters of consent two things are crucial: intention and force. What is clear is that Ansari did not have any intention to sexually assault or rape Grace, the woman in question. This is evident by the fact that a) eventually no sex took place b) he apologised when the lady explicitly expressed her discomfort c) he seemed genuinely befuddled by the woman’s reaction the next morning. On the matter of coercion or sexual assault, when exactly did this take place? Was it when she gave him head - twice - or when he went down on her?
Which is why, while I have a very clear-cut view on consent and sexual assault, in this particular case, I am not convinced.
Grace didn't like the wine that Ansari ordered for her or the way in which he paid the bill at the restaurant. Yet she willingly went back to this apartment. She says that she didn't want to have sex, but at the same time she willingly engaged in sexual acts with him. She willingly consented to his sexual advances: kissing him back, engaging in mutual oral sex and lingering on at his apartment. Instead of putting on her clothes and getting out, she became a willing participant in the game of foreplay. She said 'no' only when they were in front of the mirror at which point he backed off, they put on clothes and watched Seinfeld.
Why would a woman who was genuinely uncomfortable or threatened, stay on in his house, despite having the window to escape? Why would she remain naked if he had frightened her so? While there is consent, where is the assault?
Yes, Aziz is guilty: of being overly amorous, of being obnoxious, of not being a mind reader. But to accuse him of rape and to say that he assaulted her? This is wrong on so many levels.
Let’s ask ourselves this: Are Ansari’s actions a criminal offence? Does his career deserve to end because he failed to read non-verbal cues and mixed signals? Does being boorish make you a rapist? I ask myself this and in all honesty cannot abide by it. If he was wrong, then so was she.
The truth is that neither Grace nor Ansari are the victims here. The true victim of this vexing incident is the #MeToo movement.
And this is what gets me seriously riled up. Through all the chatter of #MeToo, Grace stayed quiet. She conveniently chose to speak up a few days after Ansari created history by becoming the first Indian-American to win the Golden Globes. I’ll stop short of calling it opportunism but emphatically state that this is NOT feminism.
By repackaging a bad date as sexual assault Grace is guilty of mangling the #MeToo movement and undermining the kind of horror that most women have had to go through.
By putting the onus of defense on a man who cannot be distinctly condemned, she has given armour to all the meninists who decry that men are the victims of gender disparity.
By harping on about Ansari’s celebrity status, of which she is painfully aware, she has delineated the case that has been building up of power and fame exonerating men from accountability.
Grace had the power to say ‘No’ but she chose not to exercise it. This narrative reaffirms the regressive notion of women being victims who can't exercise agency and are always acted upon. It's a step back for feminism and everything that women are fighting for. If we continue outraging without accountability we are at the danger of alienating the public and not achieving the justice that thousands of wronged women deserve.
After the thousands of conversations last year on #MeToo – which made feminism the word of 2017 - this is the incident that has thrown into sharp relief the one question we should’ve all been asking: what can be done now? This allows us a sliver of hope. That we can take forward the conversation of #MeToo and use it to remove the good law of the jungle and introduce the bad law of civilisation.
First, we should stop the trial by media. This endless ranting ends as such, in rants, forgotten for the next sensational headline. What we need is for laws to be changed, in India and around the world.
Secondly, we should talk about sex and dating to men and women. We should teach men that they do not have to approach every woman like a conquest in a dirty old Hindi movie. We should teach men to understand what non-verbal and verbal cues mean. Women should also not expect men to be the only ones to change. That is assigning them the very power we are fighting against. Women need to be told that it is okay to say NO – loudly, clearly and emphatically. You cannot expect someone to read your mind.
If someone makes you uncomfortable you cannot smile and suffer through it; walk out with dignity and assertion. You can say no without being confrontational. You can draw the boundary and ask for what you want, whether it’s romance or a one-night stand, without feeling guilty for getting what you deserve. You can stop being the abla nari and become a krantikaari.
Be brave. Be assertive. Be a man without the props.
It’s 2018. We’ve had the conversations. We’ve paid our dues. Perhaps the reason this incident has unfolded the way it has right at the start of the year is to give us the opportunity to take #MeToo to the next level.
I end with what I said in my tweet: We may still be teaching men like #AzizAnsari about consent, but accusing a man of sexual misconduct comes with a responsibility to the truth. Sorry, but bad foreplay does not constitute sexual harassment and #MeToo is not a bandwagon that every woman has to jump on.
Meghna Pant is an award-winning author, columnist, feminist and TEDx Speaker. You can follow her on Twitter @MeghnaPant.
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