“Just a Bad Date”

Y’all defending Aziz Ansari are on some serious Camille Paglia shit, but moreover, missing the entire point of what “Grace”’s story really tells us. Before the babe story came out, I had read the New Yorker’s Cat Person story and marveled at how hyped it’d been, because although I found the writing beautiful, the events it described, to me, seemed wholly unremarkable. Because, hoooooo, boy, have I been there. And when I read the story of this “bad date” with Ansari, I thought the same thing: unremarkable. Common, even.

BUT THAT’S PRECISELY THE PROBLEM.

Since then, I’ve seen post after post putting all of the responsibility onto the anonymous Grace, with justifications ripped from the 90s-era date-rape grey-area victim blaming playbook. I’m not so interested in whether we call this assault, nor do I think Ansari should be demonized or publicly shamed or lose his career. I do think he can take responsibility and have an honest conversation with himself about how he and his date could see the same events so wholly differently.

But that’s the thing when we talk about sexual assault. We like to pretend like there are clear lines, like those who do it are through and through bad people, that they must be condemned and cast out. We like our ideas of good and bad separate. Nice and clean and tidy.

Because that’s so much easier than a far scarier prospect: that good people do bad things. That people we love and trust have done those bad things, sometimes not even realizing it was a bad thing, because we as a society have taught them that they can and they should. That that’s just what modern romance is (fuck yeah, pun intended). And that sometimes those good people who’ve done bad things can be vocal advocates of women’s rights and go on national television wearing a “Time’s Up” pin with a gorgeous lack of awareness of the irony.

I told a friend recently, who’d just found out someone she cared about had been accused of assault, that I had no doubt in my mind that her friend genuinely thought he’d had consensual contact and the woman in the scenario thought very differently and both viewpoints could easily be entirely true. Because men and women have been socialized to view these scenarios differently. Most of us have been taught that men push and women decline, so men must keep on pushing. We teach women it’s not okay to be direct with their feelings, and we teach men that “no” is more “not now.” We teach women not to share their feelings unless asked, and then we never teach men to ask.

Because — let’s just admit it — our culture as a whole still doesn’t see women as full human beings.

When I was assaulted, one of the things that really struck me about it was how not a big deal it was. I feel guilty even calling it an assault. I wasn’t 22 anymore. I never felt like I didn’t have a handle on what was happening. I never felt violated or ashamed. I wasn’t raped. I was old enough and schooled enough by then to know bro was clearly in the wrong. But at the end of the day, a man touched me everywhere without my permission, even after I clearly and firmly removed his hands from my body THREE TIMES. (I was sober, and yes, I counted.) Yet it felt utterly ordinary. Not a big deal. Just a bad date. Just a part of being a woman. But it was still assault. And right now a whole lotta folks are (in so many words) calling verrrrrry similar actions just a part of dating. Just a part of being a woman.

DON’T. YOU. THINK. THAT’S. FUCKED?

A lot of people have asked why Grace didn’t just leave. My guess is that it has something to do with how women are taught this is just how men are, and she kept hoping that he’d back off and they could still spend time together, still enjoy each other’s company. But of course her continuing to stay was read by him (and apparently a lotta y’all) as consent. IT’S NOT.

And we gotta grapple with these two very different perceptions of that same scenario and ask ourselves why it’s happening. Why are we just accepting these scenarios as commonplace?

I think the reason so many people want to defend Ansari is because if they don’t they’ll be forced to take an honest look at themselves and ask if they may have done the same things to a partner. And if they have, does that make them a bad person? It doesn’t. Unless they continue that behavior now that they’ve learned they shouldn’t.

We have some serious soul searching to do. But before we can, we have to accept this: It’s possible to love someone and still hold them accountable for their actions.

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