Since sexual assault accusations against Harvey Weinstein came to light in October, many other stories against Hollywood celebrities have been told to the press.
On Jan. 13, Babe released an article recounting a problematic date between comedian Aziz Ansari and a 22-year-old Brooklyn-based photographer who went by the pseudonym “Grace” for the story. They met at an Emmy Awards after party last year, exchanged numbers and had a date that ended up at his place.
This account of wrongdoing has been the source of much controversy because it reads differently than other articles about accused stars. It isn’t a narrative about abuse of power in the workplace, nor does it indicate a serial offense on Ansari’s part.
Grace wasn’t wrong for coming forward with her story, but Ansari isn’t a terrible person. Many people enjoy his work for tackling social issues and view him as a feminist. Ansari comes off as a goofy guy, often unlucky in love, in his comedy sketches. His book “Modern Romance: An Investigation” tackles common problems in today’s dating world, so he knows more than anyone about this topic. And his Netflix show, “Master of None,” even has a plotline about a beloved TV chef accused of sexual assault.
Ansari’s actions weren’t criminal, and anyone is capable of making a mistake. Grace told her story because she wanted to be heard, not to put him behind bars. That night proved a low point for Ansari, one he can hopefully learn from and do better by. In his official response to the accusations, Ansari didn’t deny being intimate and said, “It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned.”
However, the events of that evening still need to be discussed because some people have reacted in a way that show his behavior is too prevalent among other sexually active people.
There was no lead up to the sexual contact between Ansari and Grace once they reached his apartment. He suggested Grace jump onto his kitchen countertop, and she obliged. She said she was already uncomfortable with how fast the evening was progressing because he wanted to grab a condom within a few minutes of kissing. She asked if they could “chill.”
For a short time, they made out and performed oral sex on each other. Ansari became increasingly eager throughout the rest of the night to have vaginal sex. He moved her hand down toward his penis “5 to 7 times” even when she moved it away. For about 30 minutes after that, they played a game of cat and mouse where Grace moved to another area of the apartment and was followed by Ansari.
Besides physical signs of disinterest, Grace also gave verbal cues to Ansari. After he had already asked her, “Where do you want me to fuck you?” a few times, this is what happened when he asked again:
“Where do you want me to fuck you?”
“Oh, you meant second date?”
“Oh, yeah, sure.”
“Well, if I poured you another glass of wine now, would it count as our second date?”
Ansari should have took what she said as a clear sign that she didn’t want to have vaginal sex with him whereas he took it as an invitation to negotiate. In cases like this, it can be the words traded between partners that leave a lasting mark and not the sexual activity itself because of the glaring refusal to consider the feelings of another person.
Society teaches women that they must cater to men and make them as comfortable as possible. This would explain why Grace doesn’t blatantly tell Ansari she doesn’t want to have sex and instead tries to show her desires other ways. In similar situations, women might be intimidated by their aggressive partner and see themselves as the weaker half in the power dynamic.
Grace excused herself to the bathroom. A brief talk when she returned let her express concerns of feeling “forced.” Ansari’s empathetic reaction gave her false hope that he understood her discomfort.
“Oh, of course, it’s only fun if we’re both having fun,” Ansari said to Grace, suggesting they sit on the couch.
She sat on the floor in front of Ansari, hoping for some comforting touch to her hair or back, but he took their seating position as an opportunity to ask for oral sex again. Grace reluctantly agreed because she “felt really pressured,” and he thought this action meant vaginal sex was a possibility. He led her to a mirror in another part of the house and pushed her against it, asking that same vulgar question as before, but she told him she wasn’t going to do it.
While watching TV afterward, Grace said it really started to hit her that she was “violated.” Even with all that had happened, Ansari kissed her again and tried to undo her pants.
Before leaving his apartment, she made the comment, “You guys are all the same, you guys are all the fucking same.” He asked for an explanation but smothered her mouth with a kiss before she could answer. If nothing else, her final remark should have made him realize what an unpleasant experience the night was for her.
The Babe story had some critics who tried to diminish Grace’s feelings about the date or said it may have been a bad night and still isn’t worth ruining a man’s career. Regardless, anyone who hasn’t experienced a similar situation doesn’t know how she felt in those moments.
When I read the Babe exclusive, I thought back to Kristen Roupenian’s short story “Cat Person” for the New Yorker (read the BedPost column here). It’s a fictional narrative about a college student who goes on a date with an older man and has a sexual encounter that makes her feel violated later on. Both works used similar storytelling techniques tell ordinary tales of women who felt uncomfortable and pressured by men sexually.
The Merriam-Webster website defines sexual assault as “illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent or is inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent (as because of age or physical or mental incapacity) or who places the assailant (such as a doctor) in a position of trust or authority.”
With these standards, Grace’s account might not make people jump to the word “assault,” but the other phrase she was debating in the article, “awkward sexual experience,” doesn’t do the date justice either.
Enthusiastic consent is crucial in having appropriate sex. This doesn’t mean a partner has to yell “YAAS” at the thought of being intimate with you. You should also know by their body language. If they accept your sexual advances and even progress to the next stage on their own, you’re about to have a good time. Even though Grace gave Ansari a blowjob for a few short periods, there’s so much evidence from her side to support the claim that she didn’t enjoy the intimacy.
Society teaches a gendered view when it comes to sexual violations. Men think these experiences are black and white, but women see different shades of gray, especially because they’re often the victims in these situations. We need to discuss this gray area of sexual encounters and change our vocabulary around consent. If we had more words better suited to describe these incidents, the public might not be so quick to write them off as unimportant. A person can still feel gross about a date without it being considered assault.
Meghan Morris is a sophomore studying journalism with a focus in news and information at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. What're your thoughts on this? Let Meghan know by tweeting her @marvelllousmeg.