In case you haven’t heard the allegations against Aziz Ansari, the beef is this: a woman going by the name of Grace has claimed in an article in Babe that the comedian aggressively pursued sexual relations with her on a date occurring after they met at the 2017 Golden Globes. “Grace” says that she gave Ansari many verbal and nonverbal cues that she wasn’t interested in sex with him that night at his apartment, and yet, he persisted: proposing he do her on the counter, in front of a mirror, on a sofa, during Seinfeld, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseum.
If the belligerent offerings sound familiar, it’s because they might recall a story from your childhood: Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham. This result of a bet between Seuss and his publisher concerning whether or not the author could create a story out of just 50 words is one that looms broadly in my youth. In fact, I still have my copy from when I was a kid: I read it to my own children on the regular.
Green Eggs and Ham tells the story of an unnamed protagonist and how he is plagued by Sam-I-Am, who in real life would be a hipster foodie played by Jared Leto brooding outside your apartment at all hours waiting to accost you with a bag of takeout. Sam-I-Am reeeeeeeeeeally wants the narrator (for the purposes of this metaphor, let’s call her Moana-Don’t-Wanna) to try this questionable titular brunch. Moana doesn’t want to, and badgering ensues for many pages, on various vehicles, in sundry settings. Finally, an exasperated Moana surrenders, takes a bite, and falls down weeping about how delicious it all is. Sam is lauded as a savior, a bringer of delicious foods, a friend Moana could never live without. The end justifies the means.
This story is designed to trick kids into eating anything besides Goldfish crackers and buttered pasta, but even as a child I didn’t buy it. And now in light of the #metoo movement, I can’t help but wonder if we should consider what it means to the concept of consent.
Growing up on Green Eggs and Ham, I understand Ansari. I don’t forgive him or dismiss his actions, but I get why someone would feel justified in convincing to the point of capitulation. Let us imagine for a moment that Aziz Ansari isn’t a predator but a sexual enthusiast trying to persuade this “Grace” to enjoy with him one of his favorite pastimes: would she like to do him on the bed? If not, then would she like to give him head? On a boat, in the sand? Would she stimulate him with her hand? Try it, try it — and you’ll see! You might like it in a tree.
It’s innocent, after all. It’s even polite to give her all of these options. She can always say no, and then he can accommodate her with a different plan. But what the Sams-I-Am of the world need to understand is that this sexual browbeating can be hard to refuse. One doesn’t want to be rude, after all. A “screw you: I’m going home!” bellowed at the top of one’s lungs seems a bit dramatic when the situation is so “innocent” and “obliging.” Not to mention that even when a firm NO (“I will not do you in a box. I will not do you with a fox.”) is met with other suggestions, it can feel low-key forceful, like the only way out is through. To wear someone down, even if we think it is for their own good, is a kind of injustice: it is to say that we don’t care for their opinions or their wants. It is to say we, as Sam-I-Am, know best. And this is unfair considering these kinds of “misunderstood” encounters often happen between people in the beginnings of relationships who might not know each other well at all.
Had Sam asked why Moana-Don’t-Wanna was being hesitant, perhaps he would have learned that she was vegan, or had a dairy allergy, or just ate five minutes ago: perhaps she simply had a stomach ache, or kept kosher, or had food poisoning from weird bacon 15 years ago that she never forgot. Or maybe she didn’t need a reason: maybe she just didn’t want to eat this food at this time, and that’s OK. Had Sam asked, he would have learned something about his friend and seen her as something other than an obstacle to conquer or a palate to fix.
So what is society to do to combat the nefarious effects of Green Eggs and Ham? For one, I encourage all people instigating sex to ensure what we are now calling “enthusiastic consent” is present. “But wait!” I hear some people cry. “Doesn’t that mean the death of romance?” To which I reply, the Green Eggs and Ham scenario is not romantic. It is an exhausting game of push/pull that leaves one member guilt-ridden and powerless. Remember those dinner-table standoffs with your mother over broccoli? That’s what it feels like.
Instead of insisting, try to listen. By all means, “break the mood” by asking — repeatedly — if things are proceeding in a way that is amicable. Turn “Will you?” into “Can I?” Can I kiss you here? Can I kiss you there? Can I kiss you anywhere? And if the answer to any of these questions is no (or a shrug, or a head shake, or something muttered under the breath), know that this is your sign to stop. Know that Dr. Seuss was wrong: nobody has to try anything. Nobody has to see. Nobody should go reluctantly into that bad night of sex they don’t want.
As for the generations that come after us, I’m proposing an alternative text to Green Eggs and Ham. It will be very short: just one laminated page. It will be accompanied by an illustration of two people shaking hands in the doorway of an apartment. It will read like this:
Seuss character 1: I am Sam. Sam I am. Will you eat green eggs and ham?
Seuss character 2: No, thanks. I’m good.
Seuss character 1: OK. I’ll go eat this breakfast alone.
Seuss character 2: Sounds great.
End of story.