You probably already have an opinion formulated about whether or not the woman accusing Aziz Ansari of sexual misconduct was in the wrong to do so or not. Tensions are running so high after “Grace” (not her real name) shared a detailed account of a date she went on with Aziz Ansari, that even CNN correspondents have started to angrily weigh in.
Over the weekend, concerns were expressed that this incident might be the end of the #MeToo movement as we know it. This, the argument went, might be the step too far, the straw that breaks the camel’s back, the point where the movement goes after someone it shouldn’t, ultimately to the detriment of women fighting for equality everywhere.
Truthfully, however, Grace’s story is potentially the most important one yet in the #MeToo movement, because it’s the first that truly gets to the heart of commonplace problematic sexual situations in which one partner misreads signals and the other begrudgingly tolerates the consequences.
In the pro-Ansari camp, arguments are made that Grace did not leave soon enough, was not vocal enough about her discomfort, and was not forced into participating in the sexual contact she engaged in.
In the pro-Grace camp, arguments are made that Ansari was unwilling to listen to Grace (after an objection from her, he agreed to “chill” and put the TV on, only to almost immediately try to instigate sexual activity again) and that he forced her to have contact she did not wish to have (“He probably moved my hand to his d**k five to seven times… He really kept doing it after I moved it away”).
Instead of arguing about it, Grace’s night with Aziz Ansari should be the jumping-off point for America to start talking, in a wider context, about consent, the need to ask for it, and the necessity to enthusiastically give it or deny it.
Arguments about who did what in this scenario are flawed precisely because neither side communicated clearly enough with the other — Ansari failed to ask permission for sexual contact and refused to take multiple hints to back off; Grace, for the most part, merely hinted at her discomfort, rather than expressing it in a definitive way.
While consent is at the heart of almost everything that has come up in the #MeToo movement (especially with Louis “I never showed a woman my d**k without asking first” CK), this is the first incident that has really painted a crystal clear picture about why enthusiastic consent is so incredibly necessary on both sides.
If male and female relations, both professional and otherwise, are ever going to improve, this tricky consent stuff has to be learned early and applied to any and all situations involving physical contact with another human. This video, which uses tea as a surprisingly effective metaphor, is an excellent place to start for everyone who is still confused about what constitutes a “yes” or a “no.”
In almost every sexual misconduct case made public in the last few months, clear lines were present. The behavior of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and others is so abhorrent, it allows the vast majority of people to condemn immediately and continue moving through the world, safe in the knowledge that they’re not That Guy.
Ansari and Grace’s date is important to talk about precisely because it is so relatable for almost every non-celibate person in the country. The reason this conversation has been so heated is the same reason The New Yorker‘s “Cat Person” story was so popular: many of us recognize ourselves in this scenario.
In the end, Ansari and Grace’s date went horribly wrong because both sides were making assumptions about the other party’s understanding of what was happening. And they were doing that because we, as humans in this particular part of the world, frequently have almost no idea how to speak up and effectively communicate safely in moments of physical intimacy.
As a society, we have been trained to think of mid-sex communication as either too embarrassing or as an unsexy spoiling of the moment. Ansari and Grace are proof that we need to rethink the whole thing entirely. If the hurt caused to both Grace and Ansari is to be avoided in the future, better education around consent needs to start immediately and be everywhere. This incident shouldn’t be used to shut down the #MeToo movement; it should take us even deeper into the conversation.