The Aziz Ansari Controversy: An Important Conversation About Consent

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By now, I’m sure everyone has heard about the sexual misconduct allegations against comedian and actor Aziz Ansari. If you’re out of the loop, check out the original article from an anonymous woman calling herself “Grace” that was published on Babe.net. Long story short, Ansari took a young photographer on a date, took her back to his apartment, and when things heated up, he behaved quite aggressively and ignored the woman’s cues that she wasn’t interested in sex and felt things were moving too fast. She left, he texted her the next day to say he had a nice time, and she told him it was the “worst night of her life.” He seemed genuinely surprised and apologized for his behavior. Grace went on to publish a scorched-Earth tell-all about the night.

Aziz Ansari is a writer, stand-up comedian and actor well-known for playing Tom Haverford in NBC’s Parks and Recreation.

The reaction to this story has fallen into two general camps:

  1. The people who believe this story is about an unfortunate date/sexual encounter between an oblivious guy and a woman who should have done a better job removing herself from the situation if she was that uncomfortable; and
  2. The people who believe this type of “lowkey sexual assault” is all too common in our culture and feel Ansari deserves to be lumped into the #Metoo movement of exposing sexual predators.

I think there’s some truth to both those camps. I’m a fan of Ansari’s work, and I was really shocked and disappointed to read this story. Let me start by saying that Grace’s depiction of the night made me really uncomfortable, and she has every right to feel violated by what happened. I’m not trying to take away from her valid reaction, and I agree this experience is far too common.

My opinion on what happened, after reading many articles on the story, is that sex is a messy and confusing process when you don’t know someone very well and have been drinking. Different levels of aggression turn people on or off; sexual compatibility is a delicate balance. When you’re engaging in a sexual encounter with a near-stranger after drinking alcohol, there’s plenty of room for critical messages to get lost in translation.

Should Ansari have checked in with her regularly to see how she was feeling and get repeated verbal consent? Absolutely. Should she have left if she was “having the worst night of her life”? Yes. But there was obviously a major breakdown in communication and understanding. Ansari clearly didn’t pick up on her cues (which is definitely his fault, as well), but he texted her the next day thinking they had a nice time. He didn’t get it. And when she told him how he made her feel, he seemed genuinely surprised and upset and gave a sincere apology. It sounds like her reaction caused a needed personal wake-up call within him, and hopefully he learned a lesson from the experience.

I’m sorry Grace had such an uncomfortable and disrespectful sexual encounter, but I don’t think Ansari intended to hurt her, and I don’t think he deserves to lose his career over this. This story is about the gap in understanding how to genuinely give and receive consent. It’s about a culture that socializes men to believe they should be sexually aggressive. It’s about women not being taught how to properly assert and stand up for themselves without worrying about “being nice.” This story is not about a monstrous predator. And it’s not about a man using his power to control a woman’s professional opportunities, which is the very heart of the Time’s Up movement.

I’m not saying the story shouldn’t have been published–many women saw themselves (especially their younger selves) in Grace’s account. And we’ve spent far too long focusing on how a woman’s “story” might affect a MAN’s career. It’s high time that we start listening to women, and that is what #metoo is all about. My issue with this piece is that it shouldn’t have been published with the intent of adding Ansari’s name to the long list of predatory criminals currently working in show business.

I hope this story generates a needed conversation about the nuances of consent. It’s not black and white. As parents raising the next generation, we must work to educate our children about the importance of asking for and receiving enthusiastic consent before proceeding with a sexual encounter. We must teach our children to be more attuned to others’ signals and to ask their sexual partners to share how they are feeling and if they are comfortable. I feel like the lesson of the Aziz Ansari accusation is that consent is more than a technicality. It isn’t a box to check off for the purpose of plausible deniability. Consent is about truly paying attention to how another person appears to be feeling and taking action to be considerate and respectful throughout the entire encounter. This is a lesson for both girls and boys, and it’s on us as parents to raise kids who are informed and empowered to treat others and themselves with the utmost respect.

How do you feel about this story? 

2 COMMENTS

  1. Lauren, thank you for bravely exploring the subject of being clear regarding unwanted sexual attention and the responsibility of all parties involved in being r’not only respectful to their companion, but attune to communication from their companion regarding their sexual advances.
    I come from a different time, the 1970s, when this kind of discussion was sorely needed yet mentioned by few.

  2. What a great article! I loved reading your perspective and I agree with you. There is so much gray area. We need to teach our kids to be unerringly clear. Thank you for exploring this subject so thoughtfully.

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