The People vs. Aziz Ansari vs. Samantha Bee vs. Cenk Uygur, Are Any of Them Helping Women?
On January 13th, Babe.net published a piece by Katie Way entitled: I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life, which lit a media firestorm as journalists and commentators reacted with a fascinatingly variegated array of opinions and conclusions. Though the consternation and uproar have been painful, is there any possibility it has also yielded something positive?
Among those on the victim-shaming, shut-the-fuck-up-slut side: HLN host Ashleigh Banfield, Megan Kelly, the New York Times' Bari Weiss with Aziz Ansari Is Guilty. Of Not Being a Mind Reader, The Atlantic's Caitlin Flanagan with Babe Turns a Movement Into a Racket, and The Washington Post's Sonny Bunch with Babe’s Aziz Ansari piece was a gift to anyone who wants to derail #MeToo.
On side of "it doesn't have to be rape to be unacceptable" were Samantha Bee (see Full Frontal episode 31), The Independent's Biba Kang with Here’s a list of everything that's wrong with the backlash against Aziz Ansari’s accuser, and the Huffington Post's Neel Swamy with What We’re Getting Wrong About the Aziz Ansari Conversation: A Man’s Take. Somewhere around the middle: The Young Turks' Cenk Uygur and co-host Ana Kasparian.
Ashleigh Banfield, like the rest of the victim-shamers, claimed that Ansari's accuser wasn't being clear because she relied on non-verbal cues. Banfield went on to state that the victim (referred to as "Grace" in the Babe.net article) of Ansari's lewd, disrespectful and forceful behaviors was harming women and the #MeToo movement by going public with her accusations.
Ashleigh Banfield railed that Grace was "seeking a public conviction and a career-ending sentence against him [Ansari]. You had an unpleasant date and you didn't leave. That is on you."
Setting aside the fact that Aziz's career hasn't ended, Banfield, like the rest of those trying to shut down the discussion, is guilty of intentionally overlooking the woman's unmistakable spoken and physical resistance to Aziz's unwanted advances in order to legitimize her opinion. In intentionally ignoring Grace's words and actions, she is essentially acting precisely as Aziz did, which makes her outrage both unwarranted and disingenuous. Banfield is also wrong in saying that Grace's actions have hurt women and #MeToo. In fact, Banfield, and those that share her opinion, are doing more harm than good.
Banfield forgets that it's easier for someone like her--someone with a strong personality, wealth, a public following, a televised bully pulpit and an army of lawyers to criticize--than it is for someone with little socio-economic power, self-confidence and empowerment to stand up for herself during a terribly awkward or difficult moment.
There are lots of people who don't know how to extricate themselves from extremely uncomfortable situations and freeze when they are scared or anxious. Can anyone be surprised the victim was in shock here? Here she was on a date with a supposed super-feminist. She could rightfully expect Ansari to be a total gentleman as he so publicly claims to be. Instead she got a forceful little monster. Of course she was shocked.
More nuanced were Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian of The Young Turks show. While they too overstated the threat to Ansari's career and intentionally overlooked clear actions and language informing Aziz to cease and desist, they also appealed for calm, for people to carefully examine the stakes for all involved, for all to try to understand the perspective of those of the opposite sex, as well as the perspective of those on the opposite side of the political aisle; and importantly--for men to be aware of their partners' feelings and to desist when women demonstrate discomfort--far more constructive suggestions than Banfield's more burn-that-bitch-at-the-stake approach.
Sadly, at the end of the day, Uygur and Kasparian do fail their audience, men and women alike, when they conclude that Ansari's accuser should shut up because she's harming the #MeToo movement. To their great discredit as so-called "progressives," The Young Turks cynically exscinded key parts of Grace's account to sway their audience.
Video: The Young Turks: Aziz Ansari Accused Of Sexual Assault: Are The Charges Fair?
This exclusion is what allows Kasparian to bend the narrative and claim that the only obvious verbal cue Grace gave came at the very end of the encounter just before Ansari called her a cab, but that simply isn't true.
Kasparian said: Non-verbal communication is not clear, right? So what might seem like clear non-verbal communication to you, might not be clear communication for the other party. Which is why it's so incredibly important to verbally communicate that you're not interested."
There are three things wrong with this statement:
1) By Kasparian's logic, a girl could be punching a guy in the face, shoving him away and screaming in rage and fear and the guy could be excused for interpreting her actions as meaning she desperately wants sex instead of get the fuck away from me.
2) By this standard, if women must verbally indicate they don't consent, then men must also be verbal and explicit in asking if they do have the woman's consent. There's no law or logic that says a woman has to bear the entirety of the responsibility for clarity on sexual consent or for a man's sexual initiative is there?
3) Ansari's accuser DID indicate very clearly both verbally and physically that she did not appreciate his advances.
In Grace's account she says that when Aziz tried to kiss her the first time she withdrew, went cold, limp and started mumbling. We're not sure about Aziz, but when a girl goes limp in our arms, withdraws and starts mumbling rather than kissing us back, we take it that she's very uncomfortable. It seems ridiculous to have to point out, but a girl that is into kissing will do the opposite, draw you closer, kiss you back, and make some sort of noises indicating enjoyment.
From there, Aziz forced his fingers down her throat, then took her to another room, bent her over and slammed his cock into her ass, at which point she said "no, I don’t think I’m ready to do this, I really don’t think I’m going to do this." How is this language confusing? How can the words "no," "I don't think I'm ready," and "I really don't think I'm going to," mean "yes"?
After further pressure from Ansari, Grace said: "I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you,”
We're not sure how one could mistake these words for an invitation.
Don't. Forced. Hate.
Surely the English language contains sexier, more inviting words.
Aziz, Cenk, Ana. What the fuck is so difficult to understand here? Grace's words are NOT ambiguous.
Cenk goes on being intentionally dense saying: "Aziz cannot read your mind."
Cenk. Do you really have to be a mind-reader to understand that the words "don't force me," are not invitations to take your cock out and force a woman's hand on it? Come on man, it's fucking common sense.
As far as we're concerned this was a huge fail on Aziz Ansari's part. He had "Grace" over, she was interested and she likely hoped for a romance. Had he mustered just a little more common decency and manners, he stood a very good chance of getting lucky. Instead, he failed, and rather than get laid and connect with someone special, he hurt her, alienated her and then got his reputation trashed.
Men, be warned: If you creep out the way Ansari did the results will be the same. Whether Babe.net gets a hold of the story or not, it'll get out and your reputation will deservedly get trashed because people talk to each other.
Cenk redeemed himself a bit when he said "by the way guys, if she doesn't look like she's into it then for God's sake stop." But it's terribly unfortunate that this wasn't the main point of their broadcast the whole time. It's a message many, many men could actually use. Unfortunately the message The Young Turks leave us with appears to be "women shut up." Let's be unequivocal here and say: That's a sexist position. It's bad for men and women alike.
When men are as creepy and forceful as Aziz was, women have every right to call them out. Why? Because men need to learn that this creepy bullshit is wrong, it doesn't work, and there will be consequences.
Samantha Bee really put it best in her Full Frontal monologue:
"What many people fail to understand is that it doesn't have to be rape to ruin your life and it doesn't have to ruin your life to be worth speaking out about. Any kind of sexual harassment or coercion is unacceptable."
"People like me had to wade through a sea of prehensile dicks to build the world we now enjoy. And part of enjoying that world is setting a higher standard for sex than just not rape, and women get to talk about it if men don't live up to those standards, especially if that man [Ansari] wrote a book [Modern Romance] about how to sex good . And if that seems harsh, I'm sorry, In fact I'm sorry for a lot of things. I'm sorry that anyone ever thought the contents of that list ( ) or any of the other ways we protect ourselves from men were your goddamn business. I sorry you thought you got to choose what experiences we can share or how we react to the shitty ways we've been treated. And to men specifically, I'm sorry our requests to be respected makes office life a bit less fun and flirty. And I'm sorry we tattled about that stuff you did on us even when it was totally not rape. But listen, if you don't want to tune in to your partner's feelings throughout sex, maybe you shouldn't be fucking a person at all, may I suggest a coin purse or a ziplock bag filled with grape jelly? Men, if you say you're a feminist, then fuck like a feminist. And if you don't want to do that then take off that fucking pin, because we are not your accessories."
Looking back at the incident and all the uproar, is there anything positive to takeaway? We'd say yes. Ansari's case is more nuanced than Harvey Weinstein's and people have rightfully asked that we don't conflate the two. This incident can serve as a valuable learning moment for both men and the media. The most positive and important aspect is the discussion itself. False narratives can be deconstructed, terrible practices can be criticized. The only wrong people can do here is try to shut the discussion down. To his credit, Aziz Ansari apologized and has not tried to impede the discussion in any way, which is pretty brave considering what's at risk for him.
Any discussion that informs men on how to actually be better is good for women and #MeToo. Bear in mind, when men are allowed to be aggressive it reinforces negative behaviors that could be repeated and escalate. In another man, the forceful single-minded behavior Aziz engaged in could very, very easily have escalated into rape. If men aren't taught to be less aggressive and to be more aware of the feelings of the person they are with, then we are inviting further pain and tragedy. We don't need to wait for that day. We can teach men to be respectful, charming and sexy and to get laid without the violations, coercion, disrespect and force. Agreed?