Last week, a story broke about an incident between actor, writer and comedian Aziz Ansari and a woman given the pseudonym Grace. While we won’t link to the highly sensationalized, poorly-written story here, the main point of the article was that Grace went on a date with Aziz, and later went back to his apartment. He repeatedly ignored her nonverbal cues that she did not want to have sex with him, and her specific statement that she did not want to “feel forced.” Aziz continued to pressure her for sex, with Grace ultimately agreeing to his demands and then leaving. On the ride home, Grace texted her friends and roommates about how upset she was. She then texted Aziz the next day to tell him how she did not enjoy the previous night, and that he ignored her verbal and non-verbal cues. He never responded. Notably, Aziz Ansari wore a “Time’s Up” pin at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards.
This incident may not have been criminal in nature. Yet it highlights just how much work we as a society have to do around consent and sex education, particularly when it comes to teaching men that they are not entitled to sex. While many people will read this story and protest, “but she didn’t say no,” this standard puts the burden of communication during sexual activity entirely on the shoulders of women. In our culture, boys and men have been taught that they should try to “score,” that they need to “get some,” and that they shouldn’t take no for an answer. At the same time, women have been taught that sex is something that they “give up” after repeated demands. In this unhealthy dynamic, men continually pressure women for sex, not accepting no for an answer — and women are put in the position of having to constantly say no until men finally accept their no as an answer.
This is why the concept of affirmative consent is so vital. Rather than proceeding unless you hear no, wait until you actually hear yes. If Aziz Ansari had made sure that Grace wanted to engage in sexual activity with him, she would not have left in tears — because he would have learned that she was uncomfortable and would rather wait. He wouldn’t have to be a “mind reader,” as some have claimed, because he could have simply asked her if she wanted to do something before doing it. Of course, most people do understand non-verbal cues in their daily lives — they don’t pet dogs that appear to be upset or they avoid a co-worker if she or he has a surly expression — but somehow, when it comes to sex, these same people claim that it is absolutely impossible to pick up on non-verbal cues, such as a person freezing up physically or not returning a kiss.
Some commentators have attacked Grace, claiming that the #MeToo movement has gone too far. No movement against sexual violence should be used as a sword to attack victims of any type of violence. There is a continuum of sexual assault, and sexual misconduct of the type experienced by Grace is included — even if it may not be criminal in nature. We can recognize that her experience is complex without diminishing it, and utilize it as a way to open up a broader conversation about affirmative consent.
Undoubtedly, Grace’s story will inspire many conflicting feelings in people — in no small part because Aziz Ansari self-identifies as a male feminist and a “nice guy.” Yet his actions show that he, like many people in our society, have a lot to learn about consent — and that simply saying that you are an ally or a feminist does not make you one.
At Blackburn Center, we are devoted to changing our culture that accepts sexual violence as the norm. We offer a number of training and education programs, including awareness programs for schools, that teach concepts such as affirmative consent. Contact our administrative office today to schedule one today!