On Tuesday, I dismantled Caitlin Flanagan’s steaming hot pile of take on the moral failings of Grace — the woman who talked about her horrible date with Aziz Ansari — and feminism and modern women. Here are women who are also speaking on the matter and who aren’t just the worst person ever. (I have my own thoughts to come — and, like, lots of them, seriously, you’re going to be hearing about it, and it’s my blog, so I get to, so there, brace yourself.)
At The Guardian, Jill Filipovic (you might remember her) explains why this exposé was the wrong entry point into an important discussion about “sex, consent, pleasure and power.” The poorly reported Aziz Ansari exposé was a missed opportunity:
It seems to have been reported only because there was a celebrity name attached, and not even because the celebrity broke the law or leveraged his power to do wrong, but because he was sexist and sexually entitled – while despicable, that’s shaky grounds for broadcasting an individual’s sexual play-by-play.
As a result, we’re arguing about whether Aziz Ansari is a sexual assailant, and missing the more relevant conversation about sex, male entitlement and misogyny in the bedroom.
Journalistic integrity aside, this story missed the boat in a much more important way. It was only a matter of time before the focus of the #MeToo movement turned to sexist sexual experiences more generally. And here is where there remains much feminist work to be done.
At Jezebel, Julianna Escobedo Shepherd takes on Babe for using Grace’s story as a salacious, sensationalist entrée into the #MeToo conversation, sacrificing her best interests for clicks and exposing her to public judgment and abuse. Babe, What Are You Doing?:
Prestige incentivizes reporting, and although this is a positive development, it also means that more and more of these stories are botched. The revelation that Grace didn’t come to Babe, Babe came to Grace raises questions about the website’s eagerness to tell this kind of story and why. Reporting on sexual violence and misconduct is an incredibly delicate undertaking that requires a working understanding about how best to do it. At its most basic level, this means that reporters must be careful not to re-traumatize subjects, which includes consideration of the ways that their reports will be received — that is, often with skepticism and disbelief — and account for that with journalists’ sharpest tools: fidelity to confirmable facts, thorough arguments, and an abiding lack of sensationalism.
At its core, Babe’s piece about Grace is important, but the inexperience evident in the execution of the piece did a disservice to the topic—and it’s a shame, because its execution obscures an extremely valuable, timely conversation at a time when it seems finally possible to have it in a public forum… The areas in the account that feel clear to some readers and fogged to others are worthy of serious and good-faith interrogation, and yet just two days on, we are having arguments about bad faith thinkpieces and grotesque attempts to belittle Grace’s experience, rather than actually talking about the socially ingrained cultural and political disparity that shows itself in dating scenarios.
Shepherd also highlights some of the worst takes on the subjects:
[W]ithin hours, neoliberal icon Caitlin Flanagan had written a confused, disingenuous essay in The Atlantic using Ansari’s race as a rhetorical device for her disdain for #MeToo; within days, hardline carceral-state cheerleader Ashleigh Banfield was accusing Grace of harming the entire #MeToo movement. To no one’s surprise, The New York Times‘s Bari Weiss weighed in on Monday night, rolling her eyes at what she considered to be Grace’s requirement that Ansari be “a mind-reader.”
At KatyKatiKate, Kate offers one reason that many women are so quick to dismiss Grace’s experience as just “bad sex”: because a lot of women have been through that kind of thing themselves and don’t want to acknowledge that it might have been more than just bad sex. not that bad:
As a woman, I am supposed to take what’s given to me, to shrink my pain, ignore my bad feelings about what just happened, and generally be FINE WITH EVERYTHING! Also I have to have a good banana bread recipe.
What I’m realizing now, after reading Grace’s story and the responses to it, is that when I shrink my own pain, I also shrink my empathy for women who feel the same pain and feel it full-size. I resent Grace for talking about her hookup as if it’s an assault. I’m mad at her for talking about it at all.
But that’s not because she was wrong to talk about it. And it’s for sure not because she was wrong to go on a date, drink wine, or try to have a pleasurable sexual encounter. She wasn’t. She wasn’t wrong.
It’s because if what happened to her is a violation, then we are all violated. And everyone is a violator. And that’s a scary fucking world to live in. I don’t want that to be the world I live in.
At the New York Times, Lindy West outlines four decades of activism that have given men plenty of opportunities to understand how consent works. Aziz, We Tried to Warn You:
In 1975, 42 years before the comedian Aziz Ansari reportedly brought a date home to his apartment and repeatedly tried to initiate sex with her after she told him “next time” and “I don’t want to feel forced,” Susan Brownmiller published “Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape.”
There is a reflexive tendency, when grappling with stories of sexual misconduct like the accusations leveled at Ansari this past weekend — incidents that seem to exist in that vast gray area between assault and a skewed power dynamic — to point out that sexual norms have changed. This is true. The line between seduction and coercion has shifted, and shifted quickly, over the past few years (the past few months, even). When I was in my 20s, a decade ago, sex was something of a melee. “No means no” was the only rule, and it was still solidly acceptable in mainstream social circles to bother somebody until they agreed to have sex with you. (At the movies, this was called romantic comedy.)
What’s not true is the suggestion that complex conversations about consent are new territory, or that men weren’t given ample opportunity to catch up.
And at the Mary Sue, Teresa Jusino notes that Anzari’s statement didn’t give an indication that he actually understood what he needed to be apologizing for — and that it’s something that all men need to understand. What Aziz Ansari’s “Apology” Says About How Men View Their Encounters With Women:
First, in his original apology, he talks about “misreading things.” According to “Grace’s” account, she didn’t just rely on visual cues. She asked him to slow down, and he said he would…before immediately trying again. If that is true, then there’s nothing to “misread.” He simply wasn’t true to his word. If a woman asks a man to slow down, and the guy agrees to slow down, but his version of “slowing down” is trying for sex again two minutes later, and then proceeding to engage continually, that’s a problem. That’s him not really registering what she wants or needs.
The second thing that stood out to me is that, in his subsequent statement, Ansari says that everything “seemed okay” during their encounter, so he was “surprised” and “concerned” when she said that wasn’t the case. Her flat-out asking him to stop aside, it’s highly disturbing that, if she was even half as unenthusiastic about the goings-on in his apartment as she says, to him everything “seemed okay.”
Men are grown-ass adults who have work to do. If they suck at non-verbal cues, the answer isn’t “well, she didn’t say no, so…” The answer is for men to learn how to pay goddamn attention and get good at it. Women aren’t inherently better at reading non-verbal cues. It’s something we’ve been socialized and trained to do over centuries to better care for children and husbands.
I’m sure this conversation isn’t anywhere close to done — and honestly, I hope it isn’t, because despite this being a really shitty situation, it has the potential, at least, to open the door for important discussions. (The danger will be if it doesn’t open that door and remains a pointless exchange about Grace’s failings and Ansari’s reputation and why #MeToo is, like, totally bullshit.) Feel free to link to other pieces below, including your own, if you have something to say.
Updated 1/22. On Twitter, Bree Newsome points out pretty much everything that’s been gross for the past week: Babe.net, Ashleigh Banfield, Katie Way’s email to Ashley Banfield, “derailing” #MeToo, everything. Thread: