I remember watching Aziz Ansari in Boston. He was a featured speaker at a marketing conference and I sat, at 8:30am, inside a crowded auditorium listening to him speak about modern love and feeling lucky to have found and married my husband without too much ado in the modern dating world beforehand. It hadn’t taken very long for me to tire of one night stands and drunken companionship and 2am texts that said “hey…”
Yesterday, I conjured the memory of that performance in my mind as I attempted to reconcile the intelligent, witty, and admittedly pretty funny comedian that I saw on stage with the man described in the Babe article I was scrolling on my phone. The one who rushed a young woman through dinner, brought her home to his apartment, and chased her around it trying to fuck her. Nicely. If that’s a thing.
It wasn’t hard at all, to reconcile the two. The smart and funny and NICE guy, and the one who sent a girl home in tears, questioning whether what she had just experienced was a bad date or a sexual assault. Those two guys are not mutually exclusive. I would know.
I slept with one.
Except there was no Uber to call because I was in my dorm room with a
man (boy?) guy I invited there. Who I wanted to be there. Who was nice and smart and good looking. Who I had a crush on for months and couldn’t believe was actually interested in me.
And then things got carried away. Faster than I was prepared for.
And I felt like I couldn’t stop it because after all, I started it.
And night turned into day and he was gone and I was still there, aching and hungover and covered in bruises from my neck to my waist.
I cried and was angry and sad and humiliated. My roommates held me and listened and brought me bagels from the cafeteria that I couldn’t go to because what if he was there?
Eventually I called him. I told him he hurt me. He said he was sorry and he didn’t mean to.
I believe him.
And I never heard from him again.
We went to a small school and we saw each other all the time. At dinner, at parties, in classes. And he looked right through me like he never knew me and that hurt worse than the bruises, I think.
Eventually, summer came and two months at the ocean helped to heal, like it does. I met Dan that summer and he was patient and kind and gentle. I fell in love and life went on, in the best way.
And when I read the allegations against Aziz Ansari, and the debate that it has stirred up over whether or not he’s a monster or a victim I couldn’t help but think he’s neither.
He’s a product of a culture that portrays sex as something you get from a woman rather than engage in with her. A culture that defines consent as not saying no and getting in a taxi and going home.
And so Aziz Ansari found himself in a gray area. One in which his date didn’t say yes, but also didn’t leave. She consented to sexual contact, but not intercourse.
“Most of my discomfort was expressed in me pulling away and mumbling. I know that my hand stopped moving at some points,” she said. “I stopped moving my lips and turned cold.”
Nevertheless, he persisted.
Do I think that Aziz Ansari meant to hurt that woman? I honestly don’t.
In a statement earlier today where he confirmed the encounter, he added “…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.”
But just as ignorance should not be mistaken for bliss, neither should it excuse sexual assault.
The fact that he couldn’t differentiate between sexual interest, apathy, and fear – that’s on him.
If you’re not sure, don’t.
If you think you’re sure, confirm.
And for fucks’s sake if she’s not moving, stop.
You can hurt someone without malicious intent, and still be responsible.
Aziz Ansari is not a monster but he is responsible for this woman’s pain.
And he for sure is not a victim.
If he loses his career over this it will be unfortunate. But he brought it on himself.
He made it very clear that he doesn’t respond to subtle cues.
So just as I did on that unfortunate night of my sophomore year in college, this young woman learned that if you want someone to stop you can’t just insinuate it, you have to shout it.
So she did.
Hopefully now he’s listening.