By: Caitlyn Richtman
The first article I ever wrote as a college journalist was about sexual assault for Sexual Assault Awareness Month in 2016. Since that article was written, the social landscape that we live in has changed. We now have a movement in Hollywood demanding that “Time’s Up,” the #MeToo movement which encourages women to talk about sexual assault, and a new president who has admitted in a recording to nonconsensual sexual harassment. Something that hasn’t changed since I wrote that article two years ago is the need to talk about sexual assault.
On Jan. 14, 2018, Babe.net published an article titled “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life.” Ansari played Tom Haverford on the NBC series “Parks and Recreation” and now stars in the Netflix show he created, “Master of None.” The article details a woman’s night with Aziz Ansari in which she told Babe.net that she was “physically giving off cues” that she wasn’t interested in having sexual relations, but Ansari either didn’t “notice at all, or if it was, it was ignored.” The woman’s identity remained anonymous, but was given the alias of Grace by the original publication.
After the article was published, conversations about sexual assault and harassment were sparked and people speculated if Ansari would lose his Netflix show because of the allegations. While speculating about celebrities can be fun, the big takeaway that everyone should be talking about is consent.
The situation with Ansari isn’t similar to any of the other celebrity sexual misconduct stories that have been circulating in the media so far. This is not a situation like what was detailed in the October 2017 New York Times article about Harvey Weinstein, most people have come to a consensus on his actions being a horrifying and disgusting misuse of power. To most Americans, it is hard to empathize completely with Hollywood elite even if sexual assault is something that can be empathized with.
The Ansari story is completely different. For me, as well as other women I have talked to, this story rings closer to home. Most women can say #metoo to being in a sexual situation that they weren’t quite comfortable with and didn’t know how to get out of because of power dynamics or fear.
This story has less to do with rape and more to do with rape culture. Rape culture is defined as a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse. That is what this story is about.
The comments on the Ansari story have asked why Grace didn’t just leave, why she didn’t just say no or why did she do anything sexual to him if she felt uncomfortable. These questions stem from a place that questions victims and gives perpetrators the power to control the narrative. The question we should be asking is big and bold and simple: why did Aziz continue trying to have sex with this woman if she was visibly not into it?
Ansari’s statement in response to the Babe story was that “everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned.” Rape culture leads to women’s stories being disvalued and men being able to erase stories of misconduct with just a statement pleading ignorance.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 323,450 people age 12 and older were raped or sexually assaulted, but only 23 percent reported the incidents to the police. Not even one-fourth of victims are reporting incidents to the police and an even smaller number go to trial.
The bottom line is that Ansari lacked consent. The thing is, a lot of people don’t know what consent truly is. Consent is active, based on equal power dynamics, freely given and a process. You can’t just assume, like Ansari did, that since the girl was at your apartment and not leaving that you have consent. Consent must be audible. It can’t be implied. If you are engaging in sexual activity with someone, ask them if what you are doing is okay. Consent is sexy. Wouldn’t you rather know that the person you are with is into the sexual act you are trying to engage in rather than just keeping their mouth shut because they didn’t know how to get out of the situation or they were scared?
We need to talk about consent, today, tomorrow and everyday after that because too many men read the Babe story and didn’t see what Aziz did wrong and too many women read the story and nodded in agreement and nausea that this story was eerily similar to something that happened to them in the past.
Ultimately, this story is for every woman who didn’t leave because they didn’t know how. This story started a conversation about consent and rape culture which we can’t let die out anytime soon.
Despite this article not being as journalistically reputable as other #MeToo stories, it nonetheless is important to fighting rape culture and the people who play into it.