Aziz Ansari and Divisions Within the Me Too Movement

Aziz Ansari at a luncheon, taken in 2012. The author, actor, and comedian who has recently faced accusations of sexual misconduct. Photo via Creative Commons.

Amidst the Me Too movement, accusations of sexual harassment and assault have come out about many powerful men in Hollywood. On January 14, 2017, an anonymous woman has publicized an uncomfortable sexual encounter with author, comedian, and actor Aziz Ansari. This allegation is particularly significant due to Ansari’s reputation as an idol for male feminism; Ansari is a critically-acclaimed author of Modern Romance, a New York Times best-selling book that explores modern dating culture in America and across the globe, as well as a self-proclaimed advocate for women and gender equality. A woman under the alias of “Grace” has accused him of ignoring “clear non-verbal cues” that she wasn’t enjoying this specific sexual encounter. Grace released her full account of this interaction on a feminist blog called babe.net, in a post titled “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life.” Her accusations have become incredibly controversial, creating a divide between those who think Grace is trying to end Ansari’s career in order to achieve her fifteen seconds of fame, and those who believe that her claims were not with malicious intent and should be trusted and respected. This debate has put many women against each other and is shifting the conversation from who is to blame for this act of sexual misconduct to what it means to give consent, what is consent in general, and what it means to rescind consent mid-sexual interaction.

According to her article, Grace felt uncomfortable throughout the majority of the date, even telling Ansari that she didn’t want to continue to be pressured into performing sexual acts, stating, “I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you.” Grace explained that while Ansari briefly recognized this statement and her feelings, he then continued to encourage her to have sex, repeatedly asking, “where do you want me to fuck you?,” making Grace feel increasingly uncomfortable. This encounter only ended after Grace pulled away and found herself crying in the back of an Uber on the way back to her apartment.

Grace’s accusation has a massive effect on the Me Too movement and is challenging accepted definitions of sexual misconduct. Manager of the PCC Sylvania Women’s Resource Center and mass contributor to the PCC Vagina Monologues, Traci Boyle-Galestiantz, is a supporter of the Me Too movement, but feels that it is only “focused on privileged women and their stories.” Boyle-Galestiantz notes that the issue with the Ansari case is that it’s “in a grey area; it’s not as clean cut as other stories…but [Ansari] made some fucked up choices.” She sees that the power dynamic between Grace and Ansari isn’t commonly recognized and could be the cause for the lack of communication and Grace’s feelings of violation. “She was just trying to share her truth…if I was wronged in that way, I would be pissed off too,” Boyle-Galestiantz adds. Boyle-Galestiantz also states that this reminds people that sexual harassment and assault “doesn’t just matter when you have won an Oscar,” and it affects mass amounts of women across the globe. She wants the women of the next generation to “feel pride and ownership of their bodies so they will expect sexual experiences to result in joy and pleasure, instead of pain and discomfort.”

Rebecca Peatow-Nickels is also a prominent feminist figure in Portland as a leader of Call to Safety, a Portland crisis line for women. Peatow-Nickels has made massive amounts of progress to improve the safety of women by helping them leave situations where they are under abuse. She feels that the Me Too movement is a “long time coming” but also questions what “people are actually learning” from this movement. She notices how this movement could be empowering to some but triggering to others who have experienced sexual assault or harassment. The small amounts of information that she has heard about the Ansari allegations bring up concerns about how much rape culture affects our society. “The narrative that women and girls are supposed to be submissive is toxic,” Peatow-Nickels said. This narrative is to blame for many cases of sexual assault, including Ansari’s, so there needs to be a massive increase in education around enthusiastic consent. “Giving an enthusiastic yes makes sex better for all who are involved,” Peatow-Nickels adds.

This encounter clearly made Grace feel violated and uncomfortable and is unacceptable, but a bigger disservice was done to her in the way that it was reported. Babe.net is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, a major contributor to news programs such as Fox News, which is known to report information incorrectly or in a biased way. This website was the first to cover the story. The article on this encounter and misconduct was written by reporter Katie Way, who after the article was written, attacked many who questioned the article’s motives. Way and babe.net took advantage of Grace’s story in order to increase their sites profitability and popularity. Grace’s story was soon forgotten after Way engaged in arguments with those who didn’t entirely agree with her account, including reporter Ashleigh Banfield, who had a negative response to the story on CNN Newsroom. Way targeted Banfield’s looks, attacking her publicly in a way that violated feminist ideals.

These accusations against Aziz Ansari are incredibly complex. The situation is responsible for massive amounts of backlash against the Me Too movement and is causing many to forget the meaning of this movement. Ultimately, this story highlights many of the things that need to change in modern society. Rape culture needs to be recognized—the fact that men are taught that sex is a right of passage and something that they should compete for is disgusting. The idea that the only way that you can have sex is if you push and harass others is commonly accepted, and it leads to violation. Everyone needs to be better educated on having enthusiastic and enjoyable sex. The mass amounts of sexual assault and misconduct won’t change until we learn to have open and honest conversations about sex and consent

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