Content warning: mentions of abuse and violence against women.
Aziz Ansari is meant to be a model for many: a feminist man of colour, who’s written books and a TV series about romantic encounters. And, as a brown man from a Muslim background myself, his career success in a white male dominated industry and his support of feminist causes has meant a lot to me. Things, however, change.
The Ansari situation seems to be striking a lot of men deeply and it’s probably obvious why: if his actions are on the continuum where the end is a horrible crime, then how many of us have hurt or manipulated women in other ways?
Would this not mean that the problems of male entitlement and toxic ideas of what’s acceptable are far worse than we men actually realise? Won’t this mean being constantly in a state of discomfort when it comes to our interaction with women, particularly when we’re alone with them?
And that’s a good thing because discomfort leads to action and improvement.
Rolling your eyes at women’s alleged hypersensitivity is less effort than changing your behaviour so you don’t make others, at the very least, uncomfortable. It’s easy for men to speak out against horrid monsters like a Weinstein than alleged manipulators like an Ansari.
Now is not the time for men to be comfortable, it’s the time for men to reflect, to do some hard work on ourselves and our place in the world. Too many men are using the Ansari situation to berate a women’s movement and women’s actions for going “too far”, rather than reflecting on why his alleged actions led to women speaking out.
The belief that women are hypersensitive has long been used as a way for men to do nothing; targeting women as emotional, unreasonable and out of touch has been one of the most effective mechanisms society has used for maintaining the status quo — which advantages men, telling them their beliefs are real, while women’s are make believe and irrational. “Their views don’t align with reality — yours does!” is a great message for men if you want to keep the current power imbalances, rather than work to address them.
By asserting women’s views don’t align with normality, all their actions can be dismissed or criticised as being not rational. By making women into “crazy” or “irrational” people, whose views don’t align with reality, men can assert women don’t communicate normally. It’s then easy to hide behind excuses like “insufficient cues” or “poor signals”, when a woman experiences a crap encounter with us. (Men like to boast about intelligence, except when ignorance can get us out of dodgy sexual encounters.)
Feminists are currently debating the Ansari situation, but that’s not my lane. My concern is men using this debate as a reason for apathy rather than action.
Instead of believing that women understand nuance and know the difference between actions worthy of criminal punishment and those which are discomforting but common, men would rather focus on the criminality question. Because, as a man, you have more likely been a creep than a criminal and men don’t want to know this.
This is also why so many men got angry at a short piece of fiction, which also involved a man alone with a woman, her discomfort and the gross sexual encounter that transpired. Men can’t even stand hearing fictional women being creeped out by non-criminal creepy behaviour! (The perfect victim cannot and does not exist, which is why this is the standard many men have set before they’ll believe a woman.)
We also should not ignore that abusers have long used ambiguity as camouflage for abuse. As Zoe Quinn notes: “Violence is just one way that people control their victims. Instilling fear, breaking down their sense of safety and self-worth, and silencing are others.”
It easy for men to roll their eyes at women’s alleged hypersensitivity than look in a mirror and think about a history of sexual encounters. It’s easy to believe “I’m not like other men” than confront the fact that “actually I am — so what am I going to do about it on an ongoing basis?”
(Men should also not ignore the disparity of what a bad sexual encounter means for us versus for women.)
What’s normal doesn’t indicate what’s right. What’s legal doesn’t dictate what’s moral. When men double down claiming an experience was “fine” because it was “consensual”, rather than bad because the other person says so, we have a problem.
You don’t get to dictate to others how they should feel. Just because a situation wasn’t criminal doesn’t mean it wasn’t uncomfortable, gross or creepy.
Men don’t seem to want any barometers that aren’t overtly criminal when it comes to interactions with women.
Too many men refuse to even hear about minor instances of creepiness or discomfort (I mean they can’t even stand fictional ones), because such situations are all too common — and believing that such situations are that pervasive, that common, would be too much and would require effort on our part to change. If anything, men are the hypersensitive ones, unable to deal with stories and encounters that tell us we’re not perfect.
In these scenarios, a man not being called out on it is not a sign a woman was fine, but speaks to the overarching problems in society — as indicated, women being told they’re hypersensitive, that they “asked for it”.
It’s men who benefit from women’s silence and it’s men who benefit when victims and targets are berated for speaking out.
What’s normal in society remains what benefits men and their views, though we are seeing small shifts. However, men aren’t losing their jobs in droves and aren’t in danger of being jailed by some kind of feminist police.
Men have everything to gain by doing the hard work on reflecting and everything to lose by refusing to do so. If we work at this, we get to be better people, better friends, better partners, better colleagues. Why wouldn’t anyone want this instead of folding arms and saying “women are too sensitive and going too far”?
It’s not on women to change men, it’s on men to change ourselves and to want improvement. To be better than… this. All this. This toxic nonsense we perpetuate. This horrid culture we’ve just accepted as normal, even when every day we see the many ways it’s not.
We refuse to confront how broken things are, how Not OK our gender is, so we just attack and attack instead of reflecting and working.
Every major social shift has always had this: Those in power are happy to support justice until it means having to do any work themselves and then it’s gone “too” far. Look at the men calling MeToo a “witch hunt”, rather than a response to male entitlement and abuse.
It’s easy to dress in black and wear safety pins, but men must ask: What hard work are you actually doing — because I see a lot of men putting more effort into denigrating women than in improving themselves and speaking to other men.
And thinking less of women is how men put themselves and everyone into this position in the first place.
Note: for brevity’s sake, “men” I’m criticising in this article are cishet men.