“Aziz, We Tried to Warn You:” Lindy West Reminds Everyone That Feminists Have Been Talking About Consent for Decades
Since the Aziz Ansari conversation began over the weekend it has reaped several think-pieces from multiple sites. Some really thoughtful that recognize the greys of the situation and why it is an important part of the larger #MeToo discussions. Others, being really dismissive about “Grace” and her experience.
In her opinion piece for The New York Times, author Lindy West mentions books, essays, and events taking place between 1975 and today that brought issues of sexual harassment, rape, assault, and consent into the public eye. She explains that while many of these things were happening in feminist academic and pop culture circles, Aziz Ansari was also working on his own career and writing. While we have slowly been gaining languages and terminology for certain feelings and experiences—the discussion of the experiences themselves is not new.
“There is a reflexive tendency, when grappling with stories of sexual misconduct like the accusations leveled at Ansari this past weekend — incidents that seem to exist in that vast gray area between assault and a skewed power dynamic — to point out that sexual norms have changed. This is true. The line between seduction and coercion has shifted, and shifted quickly, over the past few years (the past few months, even). When I was in my 20s, a decade ago, sex was something of a melee. “No means no” was the only rule, and it was still solidly acceptable in mainstream social circles to bother somebody until they agreed to have sex with you. (At the movies, this was called romantic comedy.)”
Still, as West explains, when discussing men’s relationship with this information, “What’s not true is the suggestion that complex conversations about consent are new territory, or that men weren’t given ample opportunity to catch up.”
“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.”
For me as a recently single girl in her 20s who has gotten back into the dating pool, a lot of what “Grace” talks about in her article is relatable to so many women because it is a common experience. We already went through the whole discussion about “bad sex” and “non-verbal” cues when we were talking about the “Cat-Person” story. One of the reasons it went viral and resonated with so many women was because many of us experienced those things. No one was calling it sexual assault, but we recognized that it was part of a problem of communication between men and women.
Then the Babe article dropped. Suddenly it wasn’t a fictional gross guy, but someone we thought was “safe,” someone we respected, and someone we were rooting for: Aziz Ansari.
There is this idea that commenting and calling out the behavior that Ansari perpetuates means putting him on the same level as Harvey Weinstein or Louis C.K.
I don’t know who these people are that are comparing him to those other men, but I haven’t seen them. What I have seen are women who are asking men to be more aware of cues and hints, both verbal and non-verbal, when engaging in sexual relationships. As I’ve talked to women about this in my own friend group, it was brought up that most of the time men can’t even tell when a woman has an orgasm. They are often so wrapped up in their own sexual experience and it isn’t until it is over that they usually pause an ask “did you?” And if you lie and just say yes because you would just rather end things here, they just nod and say “I thought I felt it.”
If men can’t even (and more so aren’t expected to) tell when a woman they are consensually engaging in sex with is having an orgasm, how they are going to be taught to understand all of the other signs? And more so do they want to know? We can encourage women to be more assertive about their feelings and say no when they feel threatened, but men also need to know how to read women as well. When you put a woman’s hand on your pants and she moves it away—don’t move it back. When a woman says let’s slow things down don’t put your fingers in her mouth.
“Grace” may not have said “no” until later with her words, but she was giving plenty of hints before that.
As West says in her article, we have been talking about the issues of rape and consent for decades upon decades. What has changed, more than anything else, is the ability for women to be heard. We can argue about the “intent” behind Grace coming forward and calling out Aziz by name, but what does that actually prove? The fact that so many women can dismiss what happened to her as “dating in your 20s” terrifies me as a woman in my 20s.
Are we really supposed to walk through life expecting men to not listen to us when we freeze up or don’t respond enthusiastically to them? It seems as though people like Bari Wiess forget that you can like someone, not want to sleep with them in that moment, but also don’t want to push them away completely. That there are levels to things you are sexually comfortable with, some people are much more casual about oral sex than other kinds of sex. That women have been taught in many ways that one of the worst things you can be to a guy is “a tease” and therefore try their best to let men down gently instead of raging out.
What is more important than discussing what should happen to Aziz Ansari and his career, is understanding how we unlearn problematic lessons about dating and sex. How did we get to a place where women feel like they have to accept shitty sexual experiences like this? Where we are afraid to call something sexual assault because it is “too extreme” when sexual assault includes unwanted touching. And how did we get to a point where guys think it’s okay to act this way as long as she doesn’t say no?
The #MeToo movement is supposed to be about addressing the sexual inequalities and power dynamics between men and women within different aspects of their lives. “Grace’s” story does that and does it in a way that makes people uncomfortable and uncertain and that’s why it belongs as a part of this movement. Grey areas are a part of our sexual reality.
(via The New York Times, image: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com)
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