Aziz Ansari and the Other Side of Feminism
The rhetoric behind the click-bait title “I Went on a Date with Aziz Ansari. It Turned into the Worst Night of my Life” beacons a one-sidedness that is hard to ignore. It milks the context of current trends: predominately the progressive #MeToo movement that began in October 2017 with the Harvey Weinstein scandals. A combination of women speaking openly about sexual assault and mistreatment in the workplace and the amount of them opening themselves about their experiences empowered a movement that eradicated silence — an initial reticence caused by fear of unemployment, lack of agency, the ambiguity of the term sexual violence (e.g., is asking a girl out for a drink harassment?), and the stigma that follows all of these things.
From the title of the article (published on Babe.com) alone, we can infer that a woman was unarguably assaulted by Aziz Ansari. That, or she got some horrid form of food poisoning. However, if we dig into the content article, it tells a different narrative. One that involves a common trend of a woman with no agency, a man with complete and utter control of the situation… and some rhetorical fallacies in the mix.
The issue here is that these situations of assault can absolutely be one-sided. They can involve a complete lack of consent or care. They can involve abuse and psychological damage. Fear and robbed-agency. A desperate feeling of powerlessness. Talk to any of your female friends and it’s safe to say they have a narrative like that of their own. I know that I do. I know many of my friends do. And those stories need to be told to their full effect. They need to draw conversation. Conversely, there are also stories that have two sides. It’s easy, after all, to put the burden of blame on someone else. The issue is that these two-sided narratives are often told one-sided, and in that style of rhetoric they completely remove any choice of agency from the woman, and they also dampen the words and legitimacy of the narratives that are actually one-sided. A cry-wolf effect, if you will.
This is not to say that Grace, a pseudonym for the girl in the article, was not wronged by Aziz — nor is it to defend the actions of him. It is also not to discredit the idea behind the article — two-sided or one-sided these narratives need to be told and addressed. It is simply to point out the problematic effects of promoting this style of narrative in the wrong way: loss of agency and effectiveness ultimately demotes the conversation around the ideology and agenda of modern feminism. We need to talk about what consent means. About sexual assault versus a non-criminal violation. We need less ambiguous language and more nuanced discussions.
If we read this article from the angle of Grace, it’s apparent that Aziz was relentless in his pursuit of sex with her. He rushed through dinner. Asked her to get on his marble countertops. Asked “where do you want me to fuck you?”. He initiated oral sex. He asked her to undress. He undressed himself. He stuck his fingers down her throat. He asked for oral sex in return. Aziz is the one with agency here. He does everything; the action verbs follow him throughout the piece. He does not, however, read Grace’s mind.
Grace, on the other end, does nothing. She has little to no agency over her actions. Before her date she “consulted her go-to group chat about what she should wear to fit the ‘cocktail chic’ dress-code.” But, after that, she wasn’t even willing to request red wine… she told the reporter “It was white,” … “I didn’t get to choose and I prefer red, but it was white wine.” Both red herrings. Both not relevant to the actions of Aziz at the time or the claim of the article. Cherry-picking in ambiguity.
When Aziz asked the blunt question: “Where do you want me to fuck you?” she did not say no. Instead she gave no initial response, and when she finally did respond he stopped his pursuit (albeit, momentarily). She did not decline giving or receiving oral sex. She did not refuse him undressing her.
Told in a one-sided manner, this article only addresses the wrongs of Aziz. We can all sit and point fingers and gossip about how awful he is. How he falls under the the multitude of men in positions of power who harass and objectify women. But, what progression is there in a finger pointing diatribe? In discussing the actions of Aziz, and only Aziz, we fail to see one of the most alarming aspects of the narrative: Grace has no action. She was trapped in herself. Why is that? How do we prevent that? And why was Aziz not aware of this possibility?
Conversely if, instead of pointing fingers, we discuss the two sides to the story, we can use conversation to expose contemporary flaws. Aziz did indeed act like a sex-hungry teenager: incessantly persistent, selfish, apathetic towards empathy. And, sadly, Grace fell within the programmed societal norms: women oblige a man’s desire before their own and lack any sense of agency in doing so. These are conversations we need to be having. Should Aziz have more self-control? Absolutely. Should men be more self-aware of their actions? Yes. Should this situation have happened? No. But the only preventative message we can create, and the way to put these stories into action, is to have conversations. It’s important for women to continue the movement and create a narrative in which we carry agency. It’s important for us to keep talking: “Not right now.” “This is what turns me on.” — these are the things that will prove we are on equal playing fields in relationships and otherwise. We can make choices and put ourselves first. We have the power to say no, even though it did not seem that way in the past. Even though we are, at times, afraid to now. We can say no. And, at the same time, we can also spread awareness of what actual consent is, reflecting back on “yes means yes.” As Lindy West wrote in the New York Times:
“The notion of affirmative consent did not fall from space in October 2017 to confound well-meaning but bumbling men; it was built, loudly and painstakingly and in public, at great personal cost to its proponents, over decades. If you’re fretting about the perceived overreach of #MeToo, maybe start by examining the ways you’ve upheld the stigmatization of feminism. Nuanced conversations about consent and gendered socialization have been happening every single day that Aziz Ansari has spent as a living, sentient human on this earth. The reason they feel foreign to so many men is that so many men never felt like they needed to listen. Rape is a women’s issue, right? Men don’t major in women’s studies.”
Grace’s experiences should not be discredited. They were uncomfortable, disheartening, and problematic. But, to view Grace’s experience as one-sided, as synonymous with rape or direct sexual assault, is to assuage actual one-sided accounts. It removes credibility from the feminist movement: to teach men that women have an agency equivalent to their own, to empower women to take on that agency, to bring equality to all places. The fight for feminism is not the job of just women. It falls on both sides. We need these conversations, complex and uncomfortable as they are. We need to not involve hasty generalization, least we lost credibility. We need to define things with clarity and stop avoiding doing so because we are not comfortable. It falls on conversation with both sides. So, stop pointing and let’s talk; it’s time to perk your ears.