When Even the “Nice Guys” Get It Wrong: Let’s Not Kid Ourselves, This is About More Than Aziz
— Julia LaSalvia
This post is in response to Babe’s article titled, I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life.
To discuss the Aziz Ansari story, I feel like it’d be helpful to start with a story of my own.
It was the summer of 2012, and my parents had just moved to Boston. I was visiting from college in California and, having zero close friends in the area, was prepared for a pretty uneventful summer. After about a week of relative solitude, one of my mom’s friend’s decided she wanted to get “all the young people in the building together.” When I showed up to her apartment for the forced, potentially awkward hangout, I was pleasantly surprised when the “other young people” included two cute French guys around my age.
For the next few weeks, we would hang out around our building and eventually, I developed a crush on one of them. He was really into Frank Ocean — for context, it was *right* when Channel Orange came out — smoking spliffs, and being annoyingly smart and condescending. That year, I had studied abroad, lost my virginity, and was feeling uncharacteristically confident.
One day, after seeming not particularly impressed by me all summer, he invited me to the apartment he would be moving into in the fall — just me. Since it was pretty far from where my parents lived, he said I could spend the night.
I was as happy as a Boston clam: HE WAS INTO ME!
I packed a bottle of wine and my toothbrush and headed over. We chatted for a bit about Frank Ocean and going back to school and then once we ran out of things to say, we started making out. It was escalating pretty quickly, so I stopped and said, “Hey, I just wanted to give you a heads up, I don’t want to have sex tonight.”
At this point, I’d had sex a total of two times, so I didn’t have a lot of experience to draw from. (Understatement and spoiler: I would not have an orgasm for another year). I thought he’d appreciate my transparency, and we could continue hooking up, but instead he was pissed.
“Why would you even come over then?”
He berated me for a few minutes, and at that point, any enthusiasm I had for him and the evening completely dissolved. I asked if I could sleep in the guest room and awkwardly hopped on the T the next morning, very confused by what had happened.
After reading the Aziz story, I had a lot of flashbacks to my own sexual experiences (like the one I just described) and why women participate in sexual encounters we don’t want to engage in. It stems from being worried about the reaction we’ll get if we change our minds or explicitly state boundaries, because history and personal experience tells us they’re often not positive.
Many of the responses to the Aziz story centered around why “Grace” would go along with it and stay at his apartment if she was no longer feeling safe. I will admit that popped into my mind too. But here’s the thing — women participate in uncomfortable or unenthusiastic sexual interactions all the time. You went back to his apartment, started making out, and then stopped? You could hurt his feelings, or wreck the relationship, or make him angry.
Women are taught at a young age to put other people’s feelings above our own, that “blue balls” is real, and that you’re a tease if you just want to make-out after a certain age, or after a certain point in the night, or after you go back to his place, or once he’s in your bed. We don’t know how someone will react if we suddenly say we’d like to stop. Sometimes it’s easier, or less scary, or less confrontational to go along with “it” in the moment, than to have a discussion on why you want it to be over.
But that needs to change.
I have a lot of mixed feelings on this particular situation with Aziz. For one, I don’t think the story was covered appropriately; a number of journalists I respect (Jake Tapper and Bari Weiss, to name two) believe it was “deeply irresponsible journalism.” Babe gave Aziz less than six hours to respond to the story. They should have requested an interview, or at the very least a statement, and given him adequate time to respond. I also felt like publishing the text conversation was a gross violation of privacy and many details of their date felt gratuitous.
The most important takeaway from the article, however, was that I don’t know how we classify this in a way that both accurately describes what happened, empowers “Grace” to be able to openly and confidently discuss her experience, and also holds Aziz accountable without lumping him in with sexual assaulters like Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump. I believe Aziz’s behavior was manipulative and creepy, but I think we need a more nuanced vocabulary for what happened.
We need more terms than the binary: consensual sex or sexual assault. We need to have a larger conversation about the ways we approach sex, consent, seduction, and coercion. We need to empower women to leave as soon as they no longer feel safe, or even if they are just no longer enjoying themselves. And we need to teach men that they are not entitled to sex, in spite of how likely they thought it was going to happen.
Regardless of which camp you’re in (she should’ve just left or Aziz coerced her into staying), the lines are obviously murky and we’re at a standstill. Our society needs to have this dialogue because apparently even the seemingly “nice guys” (and by that I mean that Aziz was deemed by pretty much everyone, including Refinery29, as a “certified woke bae”) are getting it wrong.
There’s a narrative where part of the sexual script is that men have to convince women to want to have sex with them — that persistence is part of the process, and even, at times, romantic. That women are acting coy when we say no. That we’re shy and just playing hard to get as part of an antiquated mating ritual. And maybe sometimes we are, which is why this is all the more convoluted, and also why it’s so necessary that we have these discussions out in the open. I strongly believe that these dialogues need to start at a young age so that by the time we’re sexually active, we feel comfortable being very explicit about what we want, stating when we’re no longer comfortable, and know safe ways to remove ourselves.
As feminist writer Jessica Valenti puts it, “A lot of men will read that post about Aziz Ansari and see an everyday, reasonable sexual interaction. But part of what women are saying right now is that what the culture considers ‘normal’ sexual encounters are not working for us, and oftentimes harmful.”
For women, sex has always been higher stakes. We have much more to worry about going into it — we have higher chances of getting assaulted, raped, and contracting an STD. We have to worry about pregnancy, being slut-shamed, and being physically overtaken in ways that quite obviously dwarf what most men (with the exception of the LGBTQIA community) go through on a regular basis.
I don’t think tying this to Aziz in particular is useful because I view this as more of a cultural problem than an Aziz-problem. I also don’t like the idea of destroying somebody’s career over a potentially misinterpreted, poorly reported sexual encounter. This is such a disturbing, universal experience that anchoring it to one person diminishes the conversation — suddenly we’re talking about whether Aziz is good or bad, when we should actually be talking about how Aziz is like the majority of men who’ve at some point in their lives pressured women into uncomfortable situations.
Yet, if an externality from this shoddy-journalism is that men are more cautious going into sex out of fear of public shaming, is that a bad thing?
Put simply — no.