Saturday, January 27, 2018

Grace, #Metoo, Ashleigh Banfield, and Aziz Ansari

The #metoo movement has emboldened many women to share stories of actual or attempted rapes, sexual assaults, threats, or harassment. Women have also spread stories of uncomfortable interactions that were not illegal.

An anonymous woman referred to as Grace went on a date with Aziz Ansari, an actor, writer and comedian of note, and male feminist. The couple returned to Ansari's apartment. Unfortunately Grace did not enjoy herself. Sadly, it was probably difficult for Ansari to be sure that Grace wasn't enjoying herself as she engaged in a number of sex acts multiple times with Mr. Ansari. You can read her entire LONG account here if you are so inclined

The summary is that by Grace's retelling Ansari was an inattentive and pushy partner. Ansari ordered the wrong wine at the restaurant; Grace's joy lessened from there. Per Grace, Ansari was overeager for what many heterosexual men and women would consider the main event. She declined that. Ansari didn't recognize Grace's non-verbal cues that she wanted to proceed at a slower pace. Ansari made requests. Grace claimed she felt compelled to comply with them. Grace harshly describes many of Ansari's sexual idiosyncrasies or boudoir moves which offended her. Grace was irritated at Ansari's repeated and insistent requests to do that last thing. Finally she left the premises. Ansari offered a qualified defense/apology for anything he may have done wrong:

“In September of last year, I met a woman at a party. We exchanged numbers. We texted back and forth and eventually went on a date. We went out to dinner, and afterwards we ended up engaging in sexual activity, which by all indications was completely consensual. “The next day, I got a text from her saying that although ‘it may have seemed okay,’ upon further reflection, she felt uncomfortable. It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned. I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said.

Although Grace's account very carefully stops just short of explicitly labelling Ansari a rapist it does everything but that. Grace does claim that she was violated. This story will damage Ansari's reputation and finances. Other people have thrown around the terms "rapist" and "sexual misconduct" in regards to Ansari's actions. Some have argued that although Ansari may not technically be a rapist, his behavior was still sexist and "rapey". And many of the usual suspects chimed in to claim that Ansari shows that all heterosexual men are potential rapists.

There are a multitude of verbal and non-verbal cues that men and women use when they are engaged in or about to engage in intimacy. We all know that. We also know that no one can read minds. It is incumbent upon adults, both men and women, to speak up and say what they like and don't like, what they will do and won't do, what they want and don't want. No one should expect the other person to have ESP. If person A asks person B to do something and person B does that thing that doesn't mean person A was a bad person for asking or accepting the "yes" from person B. In a sign that even some feminists are realizing that attempting to place every awkward or unpleasant interaction between men and women under a "rape culture" rubric is a bad idea, Ashleigh Banfield, a journalist and feminist, read Grace the proverbial riot act:

Banfield's open letter set off a snarky response from the Babe writer Katie Wray attacking Banfield's age, hair styles, and fashion sense. Ouch.

During her show on Tuesday, Banfield read an email she said she received from Katie Way, the reporter who broke the Ansari story, after Banfield delivered a monologue on Monday saying the article endangered the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and sexism. "Ashleigh, someone who I am certain nobody under the age of 45 has ever heard of, I hope the 500 retweets on the single news write-up made that burgundy-lipstick, bad-highlights, second-wave-feminist has-been really relevant for a little while," Banfield read from Way's email. Banfield said she wanted to share the email "because if you truly believe in the #MeToo movement, if you truly believe in women's rights, if you truly believe in feminism, the last thing you should do is attack someone in an ad hominem way for her age — I'm 50 — and for my highlights."

But that's not really important. What is important is that Banfield's open letter shows that there is still support for objective standards and charges supported by evidence. Without that we're lost as a society. Grace didn't know what she wanted. She changed her mind throughout her encounter with Ansari. And that is fine. No one is ever obligated to be intimate with anyone. We can make a different decision any time before an activity commences or even during various activities. And that's ok. The other person might be disappointed but that's too bad. We own our own bodies. We set the rules. No means no. For everyone.

But it's not rape or sexual assault or sexual misconduct if you willingly engage in intimacy with someone and don't tell your partner that you don't want to do it. Changing your mind afterwards is completely understandable. But mild regret or a frantic realization that you made a big mistake doesn't mean that a violation occurred. Criminal behavior occurs when someone ignores a "no" in response to a request, doesn't even ask permission in the first place, or compels a yes by clearly illegitimate methods (do what I want or I will hurt you or someone you care about). Even by the most sympathetic reading of Grace's account, I don't see that Ansari committed any criminal actions. Ansari asked Grace to do some things. Grace did some things and declined others. The two people were just a bad fit.They both appear to have misread each other.

Grace's account paints herself as passive. Grace takes no responsibility for anything, not even when Ansari is providing her a certain sex act. Grace seems to think that sex is something that is done to women and not something in which women engage. If a "yes" can no longer be understood to mean "yes" then we are saying that women are not adults. I reject that. If we head down that path we'll be like Saudi Arabia or some other countries which do not allow unmarried women any sort of room for decision making. That is undesirable. Women are adults. They can make their own choices. Sometimes those decisions won't work out for the best. But that's part of being an adult. You take ownership of mistakes, learn from them and grow. If Grace can't be trusted to make her own decisions about intimacy, then who in the world can?
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