Parlor Talk: Aziz Ansari

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The controversy surrounding Aziz Ansari was first reported in a babe.net article earlier this month. A woman dubbed Grace, to protect her identity, met Ansari at a party in Los Angeles in 2016. Grace was excited to meet him and said they flirted during their initial encounter and bonded over a vintage camera. At the end of the evening, they exchanged phone numbers and agreed to meet for dinner. At dinner, they exchanged small talk like most first dates. As the date was winding down, Grace noticed a clear sign that Ansari was eager to get back to his apartment quickly: he rushed to get the check and leave the restaurant, even though they had not even finished their wine. Upon leaving the restaurant, she accompanied him back to his apartment. Once they arrived, everything escalated at an uncomfortable rate, especially for Grace.

Both Grace’s and Ansari’s stories are similar in the acceptance of sexual contact occurring, specifically oral sex. The biggest disagreement around their encounter focuses on mutual consent. Grace said she “used verbal and non-verbal cues to indicate how uncomfortable and distressed she was,” in a text message sent to Ansari. He responded that “clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry.”

While Grace and Ansari disagreed on mutual consent, public opinion has been divided as well.

Support for Ansari’s innocence was found in The New York Times. Opinion Editor Bari Weiss wrote that Ansari was only guilty of not being a mind reader, stating bluntly that “if you are hanging out naked with a man, it’s safe to assume he is going to try to have sex with you.” Weiss criticizes Grace for being naive to his aggression and failing to stand up for herself at various points over her evening with Ansari. Weiss refutes Grace’s sexual assault claims, going as far as simply calling their encounter “bad sex.”

In an article by The Atlantic, writer Caitlin Flanagan puts the blame on Grace. Flanagan writes that Grace was looking for something from Ansari like “affection, kindness, attention.” After not receiving what she wanted, Flanagan states that Grace reported her story “not to validate her account but to hurt and humiliate Ansari.” She believes that women have become overly powerful regarding sexual encounters, with situations like this being something men would consider “reasonable sexual encounters.” Grace was upset she didn’t get what she wanted, so she set out to ruin Ansari’s career.

On January 17, 2018, comedian Samantha Bee focused her monologue on sexual assault. She said that there are vast differences between bad dates and sexual assault and that “we know the difference between a rapist, a workplace harasser and an Aziz Ansari. That doesn’t mean we have to be happy about any of them.” She wants us to set a higher standard for sex and make it a situation we should all be able to talk about freely. Bee does not want Ansari’s career to be ruined, but if men can’t respect and listen to their partners, they probably shouldn’t be having sex at all.

Comedian Amy Schumer also spoke out against Ansari’s actions in an interview with Katie Couric. Even though she considers him a friend, her first response was to think of how Grace felt in that situation. Schumer said that making someone uncomfortable in any situation, regardless of legal standing, is unacceptable and can leave lasting negative impacts on their life.

Even though public opinion has been varied, there are clear lessons to be learned from this story. In every sexual encounter, we need to be open about mutual consent and any limitations. Not only will mutual consent be much clearer but understanding what each person likes and doesn’t like will enrich the entire experience. I’m not suggesting there should be a full conversation during sex, but communication will improve every level of the experience.

Sex is a wonderful part of our lives. As Samantha Bee said, we should be setting a higher standard for our sex lives. While what Ansari did wasn’t illegal, it belittles the magical experience of sex. He was clearly interested in having sex, while Grace wasn’t; in the end, no one enjoyed their experience.

We will all have different opinions of who was right and wrong in this situation. Consent can be a grey area, where it sometimes seems like someone is comfortable when they may not be. It is our responsibility to make our consent clear; allowing consent to linger in this grey area involves too many uncertainties that could potentially impact one another’s emotional well-being. Do the right thing next time you’re getting hot and heavy; make sure you and your partner are on the same page. Recognize their verbal and non-verbal cues. Even though the stories of these Hollywood predators are terrible crimes, we can use their mistakes to grow as by not allowing these types of problems to happen to us and those we care about.