The thing that people always want to know — it is exhausting, how much people want to know this — is whether we should ruin a cool, creative guy over a little thing like whatever it was he’s supposed to have done. The “whatever it was” is largely irrelevant to whether this question is being asked in the first place, because people who value men’s art over women’s lives ask this question no matter what. “Whatever it was” can be anything from unwanted groping and boner-rubbing of the type that Aziz Ansari has been described as doing, to masturbating in front of women without their consent of the type that Louis C.K. has been described as doing, to sexually assaulting his 7-year-old daughter as Woody Allen has been described as doing.
Are we supposed to just throw out those good television shows, those magnificent films, those genius comedic bits, just because of one bad night, these devils’ advocates want to know? Are we the public supposed to go against all the information we have about this guy — that he is kind, or empathetic, or funny, or talented, and just nope the fuck out on him?
Many folks who are asking this question in earnest also have another question: If “Grace” was having such a bad time, why didn’t she just leave?
What astounds me about asking these questions in tandem is that one answers the other, but that’s apparently hard to see for people who are desperate to normalize and perpetuate rape culture in an attempt to insulate themselves from responsibility for its effects.
The information that Grace had about Aziz Ansari before she spent the evening with him is the same information that most of us have about him: That, according to his public persona, he is funny, and feminist-ish, and safe, and goofy, and hapless, and thoughtful. According to her account, before their awful date, Grace had more information about Ansari being a cool guy than she did about him being a creep, which meant his developing creepy behavior on the date read to her as aberrant. Just as his creepy behavior reads, now, to his defenders as aberrant.
It is hypocritical in the extreme to suggest that Grace should have sooner (when? one wonders) done the very thing that Ansari’s defenders still refuse to do: Understand Ansari’s behavior as predatory.
Grace made the same calculations, and experienced the same cognitive dissonance, that comes with being any woman in the company of any man whose constructed identity is crumbling before her very eyes. Grace was a woman who, like so many of us, has watched a man who seemed so good, so normal, so nice, turn into a pair of hands and a dick and an inability to hear the words “no” or “not right now” or “I’d like to go home” or “Why don’t we just watch the movie” or “I’m going to get a glass of water” or “I’m going to call a Lyft” or “I don’t feel well” or “Whoops, I’m on my period” or “Let’s just hold each other” or “I have to get up early tomorrow” or or or or or or or or or or or.
If you are asking why Grace didn’t just leave, just run out the door, just bail off the balcony at the first hint of things gone awry, ask yourself: Why don’t you just leave? Why didn’t you read Grace’s account of Ansari’s behavior and abandon him as a fan? I’ll tell you: Because Grace’s account doesn’t track with what you thought you already knew about the dude. You’re waiting for the “real” Ansari to show up and be vindicated. You’re waiting for Grace to be proven wrong. You’re waiting for somebody to step out from behind the curtain and reassure you that this whole thing is a misunderstanding and that Aziz Ansari is the man you thought he was.
You are waiting for the same man Grace was waiting for before she couldn’t safely wait any longer. You’re welcome to stay there, but if you do, you can’t condemn Grace for doing the same thing.