I don't know if I want to write this article.
I don't want to be the woman that defends a sexual predator, and I really don't want to be the woman that doesn't believe another woman's account of what happened. The not-believing is half of the problem, it's gross, disturbing, and infuriating. People don't believe women's accounts of violating humiliating incidents. That disbelief, makes the incident seem as if it didn't happen and then the woman is alone with her pain. I have read the articles about Aziz Ansari and I am here to tell the woman who wrote it, Grace (a pseudonym) that I believe you, Grace. I believe every detail you described. Everything Grace described sounds realistic and much like something I have experienced before, at a frighteningly much younger age. And yet… here I go.
I feel like a traitor to women when I admit that at this very moment, with the facts that I have available to me, I don't see Aziz Ansari as a sexual predator, or a man I would be scared to be in a room with. I do see him as a man that seemingly behaved in a very unattractive, desperate manner, and I completely understand why Grace was sad, scared, and felt violated. Because of my obsession with critical thinking, and justice, I do feel the need to explore my current understanding of the situation that Grace was in. I want perhaps to understand why Ansari can simultaneously be an idiot, sexually and socially challenged, and also, MAYBE NOT a sexual predator. MAYBE.
Have I mentioned that I am scared to write this? That I will one day smack myself on the forehead wondering why I was compelled to write an article that even remotely calls into question a woman's words scares the crap out of me. I need to repeat, Grace, I believe everything you wrote/said/accounted/texted. It's the title "Sexual Assault" that is flagging many of the articles, including your own that I want to better deconstruct…because it's a heavy label that can and should have real consequences, like legal ones that prevent perpetrators from repeat aggressions. I am writing this article…I think, because I think Aziz Ansari needed to hear everything Grace told him, but I am not yet compelled to understand why he should receive legal recourse. If we call Ansari a perpetrator of sexual assault, we need to recognize that we want legal action taken. I do believe all sexual assault situations should be subject to legal recourse, (if the victim wants) and always if it could prevent further illegal acts. This includes ass grabs, inappropriate sexual comments, threats, ect. I don't mean every sexist joke should send someone to jail, but it should have a repercussion. If someone steals a pack of gum from a drug store, there is supposed to be a repercussion. Illegal behavior is illegal for a reason and in our democracy should have corresponding legal recourse. So what recourse does Azis's actions deserve is the question?
Let's segue to racism for just a second. Gone are the days that progressives don't admit to being occasionally racist; not because of individual racist acts, but because we acknowledge that we participate in racist systems, systems of privilege, systems that benefit you if you are white. Even the most "woke" white person still benefits from racism, like it or not. This doesn't make them a bad person, it makes them a privileged person. What they do with that privilege can be powerful, subversive, and positive. At it's opposite it can further serve to perpetuate racism, demean, and harm. Most white people probably fall somewhere in between that spectrum, likely not overtly perpetuating racism but not consciously disrupting racist systems or redistributing power. So what is my point? My point is, we live in a world that benefits white people and until you acknowledge this, if you are white, you don't even realize you are participating in racist systems. It's not your fault you are white and born with this privilege, however once someone explains to you this fact, and the pain that racism causes, it is your opportunity to disrupt racist systems, act affirmatively, do your work to redistribute power. People of color forgive white people every day for messing up and getting it wrong. They also have to deal with processing the difference between dumb white people who just don't get it (I love black people! I had a black roommate in college for a week!) and white people who are actively harming them.
Again, what's my point? I'm not entirely sure. This article is not as neat and tidy as I want, and I already feel the urge to apologize to all the Graces out there…but I am going to press on. We give leniency to white people (including white women) to get it wrong, to not understand their white privilege, not realize how they may have hurt someone's feelings, or have frightened people of color with their actions, all of the time. In this #Metoo movement, which I fully support, I want to dare to ask a scary question; is there room for men to learn? Is there a space for men to realize, maybe for the first time that they are GETTING IT REALLY WRONG, without being called a perpetrator of sexual assault? Don't get me wrong, I would like legal action to be taken against all child molesters, Harvey Weinsteins, Charlie Roses and every other sexual assaulting predator. I even want Aziz Ansari to be called out for behavior that he didn't realize scared someone. But I also want to talk about the difference between sexual assault and just being an "un-woke" man who has no idea of the power he holds when he is in an apartment, alone, with a woman.
An investigation by The New York Times found allegations stretching back to 1990 about Mr. Weinstein's treatment of women in Hollywood.
Just like white people are born into a racist system, and will hopefully take some time to understand how, just by being white they are privileged, men too will have to take some time to figure out their un-asked for, but never the less present, privilege and the power that they hold. Men need to understand that when they sit there at the board room table, in their black suit that likely a woman helped them pick out, at a job they got over hand shakes and golf, they carry a ton of power whether they want to or not. From what I read, Aziz has no game, he sounded desperate and eager, but he didn't sound like he knew his date was scared. It sounds like he wanted a sexual experience with this woman desperately. It sounds like Grace didn't. I'm not mad at Grace. I don't think she "should have" said this or "should have" done that. Grace was raised in a world where being alone in an apartment with a man can mean anything from snuggling on a couch holding hands, to being aggressively violated. Sadly, both scenarios happen to women every day. It's ok for Grace to be disappointed that this man just wanted sex. It's also ok that Aziz just wanted sex, this is not a crime. While it was very annoying to Grace that he kept trying and trying, from what I read, it was just that. It was annoying, disappointing, and not how she hoped the night would go. However, I have no doubt that Aziz has found other women who were thrilled to come back to a famous comedian's apartment and get down to business. It's also ok that Grace was scared, as many men don't just wind up being annoying. Many men do become aggressive when a women says "no" to sex. This does happen all the time.
Guess what I also want to say. IT'S OK IF WOMEN GET IT WRONG. Yep, it's ok if women speak up about things that are not rape, but almost, or things that are not illegal but just plain felt gross. I was reading some Facebook comments on the Aziz issue and someone wrote something about Aziz basically staying "just inside" the lines with respect to the law. I disagree. I think there will always be people who beg for sex, who try too hard, and who come off as desperate and only interested in one thing. The sad part of this story is that Aziz didn't realize Grace was scared, because likely he has never been scared that a woman was going to rape him. If in his mind he was never going to violate her, then in his mind she was safe. It's just not a great excuse. He should know. But he didn't.
Again, it's ok that Grace called him out. I am not asking us to have a black or white conversation on what men are now allowed to say or do, and please don't jump to "so now basically we can't even ask to have sex?" in a dude-bro accent. You can, and you will. What I am asking for is to understand this grey area, this space of power and privilege that so many people have. If you are white, or have money, or are a man, you hold invisible power and it is your job to understand this. If you are a man, alone with a woman (or even another man) who doesn't know you well, don't forget we have usually assessed our escape route. We know that chances are we will just talk with you, remain colleagues, or date you, or have consensual sex with you or whatever the arrangement is supposed to be…but we also know you could rape or kill us if you wanted to. Do you know what that's like? To have a "casual" conversation with someone you wonder these things about? Will this be a fun dinner or will he rape me? Will this be a cool professional opportunity…or will he try and have sex with me? Is he reviewing my resume or my ass? It's confusing, so give some grace to Grace, pun fully intended.
Don't be that person who shames Grace. We have been not-believing women for a million years, and most sexual aggressors are never prosecuted and most victims say nothing. There is not a single person reading this article who doesn't know or love a victim of sexual assault and chances are their perpetrator was never prosecuted. So I repeat, don't be mad at Grace. We need more women to speak up. For so many years men have abdicated their power to stop sexism, and white people have abdicated their power to disrupt racism, and so on. Grace is asking Aziz to do his part. As a feminist, a woman's marching progressive, anti-racist, mother of a son and daughter, I am asking more women to speak up, for all of us to say I HEAR YOU, I BELIEVE YOU. I am also asking us to create a space to understand the difference between the Weinsteins and the Azizes… one used coercion, threats, and manipulation to get what they wanted and one just begged for it and promised nothing, failing to realize his power of masculinity could be threatening.
If I have offended anyone, including Grace in this article I am deeply sorry. If I have gotten it wrong, I am open to your feedback. If I have missed something, please point it out. My only hope is to focus less on "what counts" as mentionable and reportable. I hate that a woman needs to have corroborative evidence before she feels entitled to talk about a terrible night. Less evidence, more believing. Men, know your power, know the power of the fellow men in your life. Disrupt this power and privilege.
To the Graces in this world… please keep speaking up. I believe you. To the Azizes in this world…well…maybe work on your game and when it's not working, realize you have a mouse in a cat's cage and the mouse should leave…help her out the door. Not in a patronizing and infantilizing way…but in a way that says, I want to get laid, you don't, I don't want to snuggle, so let's call it a night.
By Rachel Hall, Rachel has a Masters in Cultural Gender Studies, and a BA in Communication & Culture, is a Certified Life Coach, and can often be found hiding in her laundry room from her two children. More about her on her website.
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