Ansari shows we need to talk about consent

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Last weekend, Babe, an online publication for women, published an article by Katie Way. It was an account of a 2017 date between a 22-year-old photographer named Grace (not her real name) and Aziz Ansari (pictured), in which she claims the comedian made aggressive and unwelcome sexual advances, despite receiving both verbal and nonverbal cues from her to stop.

Aziz Ansari'I believe that I was taken advantage of by Aziz,' she says. 'I was not listened to and ignored. It was by far the worst experience with a man I've ever had.' Ansari has since released a statement, in which he says he was 'surprised and concerned' because he believed they 'ended up engaging in sexual activity' that was by all means 'completely consensual'.

I, like many women I know, have been Grace.

In 2015, I was single and had discovered the wonders of Tinder. I went on dates weekly. Many were downright awkward, like the time I sat through burgers and beer with a writer who barely spoke to me. Others were fun and romantic, like the former football player who cooked me dinner and took me dancing.

On one occasion, I went out with a photographer. He was gorgeous, passionate about his career and worked in media, like me. We sat down for dinner in Manhattan, and the conversation was interesting and lighthearted, so when he suggested he drive us to a bar in Brooklyn, I thought: 'Why not?' After we left the bar, he kissed me, I kissed him back. 'My apartment is right around the corner,' he whispered in my ear. I laughed, 'Thanks, but I'd rather not.'

He kissed me again, 'Come on,' he uttered, 'you know you want to.' I pushed away lightly, trying to ignore the red flags; we were out on a public street, but still, he was a man, stronger and bigger than me. I thought, 'Just be polite, and you'll be okay.' I feigned a smile and uttered, 'Next time, I promise.' Whatever veneer of politeness he had disappeared in an instant. 'You're a prude and a bitch, you know that? That's the problem with women your age.'

Like Grace, I remember texting my friends on the way home. I was humiliated. I had been insulted by this man because I made the choice not to have sex with him; he felt he was owed something, and when that was denied, I, as an individual, no longer mattered. And yet, I still felt guilty. Throughout our lives, we live by The Golden Rule: treat others as we would expect to be treated. For women, unfortunately, we often prioritise politeness and ignore whatever red flags or discomfort we might be feeling in any given moment.

 

"If we are to truly change the institutional misogyny and sexism seen in Hollywood, politics, the media, and even academia, then we must focus on prevention. This begins by talking about consent and respecting boundaries."

 

Many skeptics have denounced Grace's experience. Caitlin Flanagan, in The Atlantic, writes that 'what [Grace] and the writer who told her story created was 3000 words of revenge porn'. Bari Weiss, in an op-ed for the New York Times, calls this 'arguably the worst thing that has happened to the #MeToo movement', adding that 'it transforms what ought to be a movement for women's empowerment into an emblem for female helplessness.'

And Sonny Bunch, in the Washington Post, argues that while #MeToo has been a positive and straightforward movement, focusing on how 'powerful people humiliate and subjugate those who want nothing more than a chance to chase their dreams', stories like Grace's derail these efforts.

The reason we are able to publicly talk about these experiences, however, is because the #MeToo movement has given us a platform through which we are beginning to have honest and open discussions about sex and intimacy. Founded in 2006 by civil rights activist, Tarana Burke, #MeToo was created as a way for victims of sexual harassment and sexual abuse to stand in solidarity with one another. A wonderful consequence of this movement is that now women, and men, many of whom have been having conversations about sex and intimacy in private for years, can now bring this dialogue into public spaces.

If we are to truly change the institutional misogyny and sexism seen in Hollywood, politics, the media, and even academia, then we must focus on prevention. This begins by talking about consent and respecting boundaries, and understanding how women and men are conditioned to view it differently.

This week, I have had many conversations with men I love and admire. We are not seeing eye to eye yet, but we are talking about how we define consent, how we define intimacy, and how a man's aggression, while not being criminal, can still be harmful.

We are discerning, together.

 

 

Olga SeguraOlga Segura is an associate editor at America.

 

Recent articles by Olga Segura.

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Topic tags: Olga Segura, Aziz Ansari, consent

 

 

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The word "boundaries" is the important word in this article, to my (perhaps antiquated) way of thinking. There are geographical boundaries (don't venture on to my property) and psychological boundaries (becoming angry when someone criticises us) and ideological boundaries (casting aspersions on our belief system). All of these are important in interpersonal relationships. Also, the very closest we can be to another human being is in the act of loving sexual intimacy. It's easy to forget how rare and wonderful it should be.
Pam | 19 January 2018


I find your experience with the photographer, Ms Segura, a perfect description of the male culture that followed the radical feminism of the 1960s. I lived during that era in London, as a recently married Australian expat who had come from the typical Western Judeo-Christian society that had existed in the public domain up until the revolution typified by Germaine Greer's book The Female Eunuch. I was stunned by the sexual excesses of the English feminists something quite unlike anything that had previously been espoused by women in my experience. When the radical feminists stepped down from the cultural pedestal that had supported them for generations and demanded sexual equality with the naturally predatory male, men began to treat women as they treated men, abandoning the usual courtesies and taking advantage of the readily available sexual predators amongst women. The sexual culture that evolved led to loss of respect for women generally and all women became fair game. We are all familiar with that culture which now pervades Western society. Thank goodness women are fighting back and demanding the respect that they once enjoyed. The true feminists, those who fight back against the abuse of women. will win hopefully and in so doing displace radical feminism to the garbage bin where it belongs. Perhaps in stepping up to again stand on the pedestal they may even halt the decline of our civilisation. Here's hoping.
john frawley | 19 January 2018


Note: All women who have also #MeToo(ed) should speak out in approval of the (powerful) perfect gentlemen they have known or know. #PerfectGent2Metoo? A phoenix ( examples of high moral male comportment) a flip side, to rise from these black ashes.
AO | 19 January 2018


“[A]nd how a man's aggression, while not being criminal, can still be harmful.” This is the crux of Kate Galloway’s recent article, how to whistleblow sex-related bullying when the bullying itself, although in every respect an assault upon dignity, is not, on paper, a criminal assault. This point seems not to be addressed by the “skeptics [who]have denounced Grace's experience”, although ‘denounced’ might better be reworded as ‘trivialised’. It might be pointed out that when the red line in the sand supported by a religious tradition of no sex outside marriage was dismissed as old fashioned, substituted in its place was a nontheist red line of no sex on a first date based on nothing more than what seemed to be a good idea at the time. Now that that red line seems to have been erased by the disappearance of the good idea, we seem now to be in a position of 'discerning, together' fluctuating red lines based on "many conversations with men I love and admire. We are not seeing eye to eye yet" ---- a red line for each situation to be negotiated by the parties on the spot?
Roy Chen Yee | 20 January 2018


“For women, unfortunately, we often prioritise politeness and ignore whatever red flags or discomfort we might be feeling in any given moment.” This is very true. Red flags are sublimated under coercion. There doesn’t need to be aggression but coercion takes many forms, the moreso when authority and power are involved. “...we must focus on prevention. This begins by talking about consent and respecting boundaries, and understanding how women and men are conditioned to view it differently.“ Indeed red flags fly when boundaries are overriden through coercion. But is it because men and women see consent differently? This is way too simplistic. Consent is invalidated the minute boundaries are overridden by coercion, by expectation, by entitlement, the moreso when authority and power are involved. Dialogue is essential. Authority and power in any interplay removes dialogue leaving only coercion and expectation and entitlement. It’s the last three concepts that need eradication.
Jennifer Herrick | 20 January 2018


Well said Pam, let’s hope predatory men read your comment. Predation rides roughshod over boundaries leaving the victim bare and unable to interact on any equal level playing field. Boundaries are the all important factor. They must not be used though, in interpretation of behaviour to minimise abuse. Calling adult sexual abuse by priest predators “boundary violations” for example, minimises abuse of boundaries by authority and power, abuse that destroys and severely damages lives permanently.
Jennifer Herrick | 20 January 2018


John Frawley, I lived almost thirty years before radical feminism came along. In those thirty years, beginning when I was a small child, I experienced men as predatory, both within the family and in the local neighbourhood. It was not something they learned to do as the result of "radical feminism". Manhood was about owning female persons, young or old. I do not recall being "on a pedestal", being placed on one, or clambering up onto one. A pedestal provides a woman with a tiny area in which to move - perhaps that is the idea. Might I suggest you read John Stoltenberg, who wrote that all men must learn subtle and unsubtle ways to dominate women, and that the only way forward is for men to learn to love justice more than they love manhood?
Janet | 22 January 2018


Well said Janet.Both men and women need at this point to take a long hard look at their ingrained patterns of behaviour and acknowledge the contribution they have made and still make to the ongoing problem.We need to learn how to relate respectfully to one another.We can't do that if we are constantly on the defensive. Some of the most preceptive comments I've heard/read actually come from extremely perceptive male religious (in one case former religious) who have spent some time as outside observers of sexual dynamics.
Margaret | 22 January 2018


The bottom line is respect. Objectionable and predatory male behaviour so often emerges from our sense of entitlement and privilege, something men commonly expect and live out. It’s by no means a straightforward dynamic because we exist as products of culture and upbringing as well as visceral desire and mimetic entanglement. Being a man, I cringe with shame at the word ‘predator’ but it’s at the very least something that demands profound and serious thought, but more importantly, being responsible for my behaviour and accepting accountability for my actions. What’s really changed in our world is the nascent empowerment of women to demand respect and that men learn what that means and act accordingly, which I am convinced is a Good Thing.
Alistair P D Bain | 22 January 2018


Alistair a very wise friend of mine (the ex religious above) notes that men are both predators and providers. In a sense the two may be linked, and denying men their cultural role of provider may have made the predator aspect more prominent? Just a thought...
Margaret | 22 January 2018


Insightful words Alistair. A delight to read. Margaret, your proposition of the inverse power of providation and predation is an interesting one, it doesn’t provide explanation for priests for example who choose to both spiritually provide whilst sexually preying on one and the same person. To be provided for spiritually whilst being preyed upon sexually sets up an intended incongruence in the receiver (victim) of the highest order, the ultimate definition of abuse.
Jennifer Herrick | 23 January 2018


A great article, Olga. It should make all men who read it to consider their treatment of women. I cannot agree with John Frawley's argument that the bad behaviour of some men can be attributed to the radical feminist movement of the 1960s. This is one of the worst "cop out"arguments I have ever heard. I think one of the problems is that many men largely socialise with other men in sporting clubs and bars. In environments like that, I have heard men comment on the experiences of other men - especially when dealing with women who refuse to grant sexual favours. I have heard comments such as "of course, they want it", "don't take no for an answer" or "they are playing hard to get" etc. What is it about some men that they don't understand (or want to understand) the word "No"? Using bullying, and threatening behaviour against anyone is unacceptable. And physical or sexual assault and rape are crimes and the perpetrators should face the full force of the law. Of course, the main issue in all human relations is to show respect. Everybody has the right to say "No" and for that wish to be respected by the other person.
Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 02 February 2018


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