I’m sitting here knee-deep in research on the neurobiology of trauma when I take a break to check Facebook and happen upon some drama around an article in which everyone’s favorite funny guy, good guy and apparent women’s advocate, Aziz Ansari, has been accused of sexual assault. I’m physically disturbed, not by the accusation, but by the response.
The reason I clicked on the article was because it was posted with the comment that maybe “this girl” was taking it a bit too far in calling the incident an assault. One woman commented that this account sounded like nothing more than a “bad date”, saying she has had many of her own. The timing of the article was questioned, as Mr. Ansari has just been recognized at the Golden Globes. The woman’s age was questioned, like maybe she just didn’t know better. Almost universally, the people I see on FB were firmly planted on the side of Mr. Ansari.
I’ll be honest, I like Aziz Ansari. I think he’s funny and I’ve loved watching little Tom Haverford succeed on his own with his new show. He does and says great things for a very many causes. I was sad that he was next on the list of assaulters, so somewhere deep down I wanted this article to shine brightly with his innocence and have all these women on FB who were telling me it did be right. This is what compelled me to click.
In the article on a website I’ve never heard of, the young woman’s account (seemingly gathered from friends’ interviews, her own interview and a string of text messages) of the night sounded familiar. Young woman goes on date with older, in this case famous, man after some “tipsy” flirting and a perceived connection at a prior event.
At the end of dinner, she feels a bit off about the vibe but puts that away because she’s still intrigued by him, and after all, he’s supposed to be one of the good ones. She goes back to his apartment, they mess around. He tries things she doesn’t want. She gives off some physical cues, not kissing back, moving her hand off where he’s placed it, whenever he gets too far for her. But she still does stuff. Maybe she wants to, maybe she feels like she has to. Who knows? Either way, she does some stuff and resists other stuff and finally even says something about it not going as far as he wants tonight.
The whole time I was reading, I was thinking that she was saying no, in a variety of different ways, to whatever limit she felt he was crossing. She didn’t say no to everything. But she made it clear that some things were over the line. By her account, he responded every time, in a way that indicated he heard what she was saying, so to speak. So, when the argument was made that he was unaware of her limits or having to “read her mind” it seems inaccurate.
Another thing that struck me was this:
“Ansari instructed her to turn around. “He sat back and pointed to his penis and motioned for me to go down on him. And I did. I think I just felt really pressured. It was literally the most unexpected thing I thought would happen at that moment because I told him I was uncomfortable.” “
I’m not going to get into the whole neurobiological response to trauma stuff that I was researching just moments ago. Just google it. What I will say is that there is plenty out there to support the idea that we react from our primitive brain in crisis situations; meaning, we do what we know in our unconscious mind when our conscious mind stops being able to make sense of something. You know what women KNOW? Like, have been taught to do in order to protect themselves for so many years that it is ingrained in our brains as rote reaction? Accommodate. We effing know how to accommodate.
When a woman is being pressured by anyone to do sexual things they don’t want to do often their first response (because they can no longer make sense of the situation so the brain kicks in to autopilot) is to be polite and try, politely, to extricate themselves from a situation. I bet if you think hard enough you can come up with one instance where you said something like, “Oh, I have to get up early tomorrow.” or, my personal favorite, “but you have a girl/boyfriend.) as a way to get someone to stop doing something you didn’t want them to do, instead of just saying, “no” because that may have caused a scene or been uncomfortable or made him/her mad. If you can’t remember yourself, just listen to everyone’s favorite date rape Christmas carol for some examples.
But none of this is really why I’m mad at the reaction this girl is getting from the internet-mostly women. I’m mad because we, and I mean me too because I wanted to think this way at first, we women all looked at the description of this behavior, hers and his, and our first thought was that SHE was responsible. She should have been more clear about her intentions. She shouldn’t have gone back to his apartment. She should have left sooner. She shouldn’t be complaining now about it because she was just as responsible as him.
Why can’t she go back to his apartment and do some stuff but not all the stuff? Why can’t she stay longer when she thinks he heard her request and will certainly back off? Why can’t she go back through the events of the night afterward and tell him he really made her feel uncomfortable with the way he acted?
How about this?
Why shouldn’t he be more in tune with her physical cues and when she gives him “dead lips” stop trying to kiss her and ask what’s wrong? Why shouldn’t he go back to the couch with her after she explicitly says she doesn’t want to feel forced to have sex and STOP TRYING TO HAVE SEX WITH HER? Why shouldn’t he be responsible for respecting her wishes even when he’s “drunk”? (She never said that he was, by the way. The internet just used it as an excuse for him.) Why does he have to hear a specific and clear “no” before he stops aggressively pursuing someone he supposedly cares enough about to ask out to dinner?
Why should we use this event as a reminder to “teach our daughters how to be more clear with their responses” and not as an opportunity to teach our boys about the importance of being attentive and respectful of your partner when you’re having sex? Why is the onus always on us and never on them? I have two sons. I get the need to protect them. But how is teaching them to be respectful of their partners or that they are never entitled to sex not protecting them? Why are men constantly given the benefit of the doubt? Or worse, why are men expected to behave like horny, aggressive pigs? Why are women made to feel like whiners when we dare to speak up about it?
Somehow, we’ve lost site of sex as an important thing. I’m not suggesting we go all puritanical here and tell our kids to avoid it at all costs. But, we should be more open to the idea that we need to have conversations around sex being more than a physical exchange between two people. Maybe only then can we really know how to act, how to teach and what to accept as normal.
I know we love Aziz, so maybe he was the perfect person for this to happen to. After all, he seems to have reacted well when she called him out on it privately, so there is hope. Should she have kept it private and not told the world? Maybe. But I’m glad she didn’t. Because, his behavior that night and our reaction to it is indicative of a much larger problem we have when it comes to humans and sex and it needs to be in front of us, and talked about so hopefully one day it can be rectified.
I hope everyone reads the account of this date with Aziz Ansari, because that woman on my FB feed who compared it to a bad date isn’t wrong. This behavior is common. I hope everyone reads it and everyone checks in with how they feel about accepting what he did as normal from now on. Then, decide who you’re going to teach to act differently.
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Why does it have to be one of them or the other? She absolutely bears responsibility for what happened. He absolutely does too. But it was not assault. And while his behavior left her miserable and upset, her outing their mutual failure here may well result in the end of his career. Hardly seems fair.