How Amy Schumer Gets the Aziz Ansari Situation Half Right
Amy Schumer has always been a problematic feminist. (I mean, who isn’t when scrutinized long enough?) When asked during an interview about the recent situation between her friend, Aziz Ansari, and a woman named “Grace,” who spoke out about the alleged sexual assault she experienced while on a date with him, Schumer says a couple of things with which most of us would have no problem agreeing. However, she goes on to say a couple of things that are worth examining much more deeply.
In an interview with Katie Couric on Couric’s podcast, Schumer expressed the hope that people will learn from the Ansari/”Grace” story. However, she also focuses a lot of attention on what women need to learn from this, which is where I think she goes off the rails a bit. Here’s her statement in full:
“I don’t think anyone wants to see Aziz’s career ruined or his life ruined or anything like that, but that’s where people’s minds go. They go, ‘Does he deserve this?’ And it’s really not about that. I think it’s about expressing and showing women that that behavior’s not okay and not only can you leave, but you need to leave. Because then the women who come after you, you’re leaving a mark for them too.
“If you have a doctor that makes you uncomfortable, or you get a massage, or you have a date with someone and they coerce you in a situation like the Aziz one, I don’t think there’s any sort of criminal charge, but I think that it’s good for everybody to learn that that behavior’s not acceptable. It’s not a crime, but it’s not cool. And it can still really mess with a woman.
“We need to be teaching each other the kind of behavior that’s acceptable and so when something comes up, to say, ‘That makes me really uncomfortable,” or just what you’re willing to accept. Those are the hard conversations, but we can’t let things continue the way that they’ve continued because there’s so many different levels of it.”
I agree with Schumer that it’s absolutely not about “does he deserve this?” If he engaged in the behavior “Grace” alleges, he absolutely deserves to be scrutinized in this way, as do all men who do the same. As do all women who do this. Because if this behavior happened, the damage it does to the victim is more indelible and more harmful in the long-term, especially since it’s behavior that is accepted as “normal” by much of society, than a slightly dinged career from which Ansari will most certainly make a comeback.
I also agree that the general conversation about this normalized behavior being unacceptable is hugely important in the effort to combat, and eventually stop it.
Where I have a problem with Schumer’s statement is that she then puts it on women to leave, lest they put other women in danger. Suddenly, because women “don’t know how” to leave “better,” or express when they’re feeling uncomfortable, they are putting the women “who come after” in danger.
First of all, women have been using the whisper network to warn other women about predatory men since the dawn of time. We spend way too much of our time warning women about what guys are safe or unsafe. Us leaving or not leaving in a particular situation is not the thing putting or keeping women in danger.
Secondly, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m so tired of it being the job of women to “learn things” in these situations, whereas men are rarely, if ever, asked to change. Schumer spends a majority of her statement talking about the change that needs to happen in general, and then on what women need to learn. Nowhere does she say, Here’s what men need to learn, or Here’s how men can change their behavior in order to be better. Suddenly, even though this was a case of a man being allegedly coercive toward a woman, we “all” have things to learn?
What’s particularly frustrating is that she insists that “I identify with all the women in these situations. Even if it’s my friend, I don’t go, ‘Oh, but he’s a good guy.’ I think, ‘What would it feel like to have been her?’” That may be, but after identifying with the women, she then places the onus on them to be the ones to do anything about it. That’s not just destructive, but hugely sad. And I get it.
No one wants to feel powerless. No one wants to be a victim, and so for many of us, putting it on ourselves to “get out of there” is much easier and less frightening than admitting that no matter how we try to protect ourselves, so long as this behavior is “normal” or “the way it is,” it can happen to us anyway. Over and over. That’s a shit-tastic, not-fun thing to have to acknowledge.
Doesn’t make it any less true.
In a brilliant piece over at Pajiba, called “The Case Against ‘No’,” Emily Chambers writes specifically about how we expect more of women than we do of men when expressing discomfort, and how actively using the word “no” doesn’t actually apply in cases like Ansari’s for several reasons.
“[F]ucking no one says “no,”” she writes. “We don’t. Think about the last time someone asked you to do something with/for them, and you responded with a clear “no”? Was it to a child or a dog? And if you answered no to that, stop and think about why you’re such a liar, because definitely you didn’t tell your friend/family member/other adult “no, I’m just not going to do that.” You told them, “Oh, sorry, I can’t make it” or “Shoot, we’re busy that day” or “Bummer, Steve’s allergic to horses so we can’t attend your cousin’s Rodeo Clown School graduation, but thanks so much for inviting us!” We beg off. Constantly.
And we’re not even being rude when we do this. It’s considered more polite to make up an excuse for being unavailable than to simply say, “I don’t want to do the thing that you want to do.””
So why, in the context of women being in a sexual situation with men they actually like and might want to be with in the future, just not right now, are we expecting more from them than we expect from anyone at any other time in polite society? And more importantly, why is it that when men hear “Shoot, I’m sorry, I can’t make it,” in any other context, they hear that for the “no” it is, but when women are the same way in a sexual situation, it suddenly becomes not clear enough?
I think that Schumer is putting far too much pressure on other women, and on herself, to be the solution to a problem they shouldn’t have to be dealing with in the first place. These “solutions” aren’t things women “don’t know.” They are things women shouldn’t be expected to do as we protect male apathy.
(via USA Today, image: DFree/Shutterstock)
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