[Trigger warning for sexual assault]
Much of the country has been talking about the recent exposé by a woman, pseudonymously known as Grace, who went out on a date with comedian Aziz Ansari and ended up getting persistently and aggressively pursued, and aggressively kissed, fingered, and dry humped, plus a weird thing where he kept sticking his fingers down her throat, over her objections. In a statement Ansari released in response, he doesn’t dispute her account of the events of the night — he just noted that he’d thought she was into it.
Grace said she hasn’t had any contact with Ansari since the day after and had worked to process her feelings and move past it, and it was only the Golden Globes that brought it back to the front of her mind — watching him win an award, Time’s Up pin firmly in place on the lapel of his all-black tux, a “certified woke bae” and and self-described feminist who persistently shoved his hand down her pants after she specifically asked that he slow down. So she said something.
There have been a lot of analyses and responses, many of which I’ll get to later on this blog. But then Caitlin Flanagan decided to jump in — because of course she did — being, as is her way, the fucking worst. So here’s some stuff about “The Humiliation of Aziz Ansari.”
The world in which it constituted an episode of sexual assault was so far from my own two experiences of near date rape (which took place, respectively, during the Carter and Reagan administrations, roughly between the kidnapping of the Iran hostages and the start of the Falklands War) that I just couldn’t pick up the tune. …
I was a teenager in the late 1970s, long past the great awakening (sexual intercourse began in 1963, which was plenty of time for me), but as far away from Girl Power as World War I was from the Tet Offensive. The great girl-shaping institutions, significantly the magazines and advice books and novels that I devoured, were decades away from being handed over to actual girls and young women to write and edit, and they were still filled with the cautionary advice and moralistic codes of the ’50s. With the exception of the explicit physical details, stories like Grace’s — which usually appeared in the form of “as told to,” and which were probably the invention of editors and the work product of middle-aged women writers — were so common as to be almost regular features of these cultural products. In fact, the bitterly disappointed girl crying in a taxi muttering, “They’re all the same,” was almost a trope. Make a few changes to Grace’s story and it would fit right into the narrative of those books and magazines, which would have dissected what happened to her in a pitiless way. …
Those magazines didn’t prepare teenage girls for sports or stem or huge careers; the kind of world-conquering, taking-numbers strength that is the common language of the most-middle-of-the road cultural products aimed at today’s girls was totally absent. But in one essential aspect they reminded us that we were strong in a way that so many modern girls are weak.
Here’s what my 40-year-old issue of Teen would have said about it. Ah, those were the days. I realize that “back when men were men and women were quiet” is kind of her brand, but it’s beyond stale all the way to gross. Her romanticization of a time when “the signal rule about dating… was that if anything bad happened to a girl on a date, it was her fault” is grotesque (and not because that’s still, in large part, a common attitude today, and something that #MeToo is having to struggle to counter). If she’d gone on to say that such an attitude is wrong and unwelcome in modern society, that would be one thing. But she only used it to accuse modern women, women who expect better behavior out of modern men, of weakness. (#MAGA)
Was Grace frozen, terrified, stuck? No. She tells us that she wanted something from Ansari and that she was trying to figure out how to get it. She wanted affection, kindness, attention. Perhaps she hoped to maybe even become the famous man’s girlfriend. He wasn’t interested. What she felt afterward — rejected yet another time, by yet another man — was regret.
Yes, how ridiculous it was for her to hope for “affection, kindness, attention” from a guy she was on a date with. Don’t most of us put on our cutest outfit to go out with a guy we have stuff in common with in hopes of getting hands in our mouth and a rough fingerbang? While Flanagan says that Ansari couldn’t read Grace’s mind, it looks like she herself isn’t so limited — she can postulate that maybe Grace was really motivated by a superficial desire for a celebrity boyfriend, and that what she really felt was rejection and regret — not, as Grace had said, discomfort and violation.
Twenty-four hours ago — this is the speed at which we are now operating — Aziz Ansari was a man whom many people admired and whose work, although very well paid, also performed a social good. He was the first exposure many young Americans had to a Muslim man who was aspirational, funny, immersed in the same culture that they are. Now he has been — in a professional sense — assassinated, on the basis of one woman’s anonymous account. Many of the college-educated white women who so vocally support this movement are entirely on her side. The feminist writer and speaker Jessica Valenti tweeted, “A lot of men will read that post about Aziz Ansari and see an everyday, reasonable sexual interaction. But part of what women are saying right now is that what the culture considers ‘normal’ sexual encounters are not working for us, and oftentimes harmful.”
Twenty-four hours ago, Aziz Ansari was still the type of guy who offered to just “chill,” because “it’s only fun if [they]’re both having fun,” and then immediately demand a blowjob. He was the kind of guy who repeatedly asked where she wanted him to fuck her after she expressed that she didn’t want him to. We just didn’t know about it yet. And we don’t know how this will affect his career — unlike other #MeToo accusations, Ansari’s doesn’t involve workplace harassment, and there hasn’t exactly been a flood of statements from the Hollywood elite giving any indication one way or the other.
We do know that many of the feminists who have spoken in support of the #MeToo movement have taken Grace’s side. But unlike so many other accusations of sexual harassment and assault, this doesn’t have the usual kind of “his side” and “her side” — he doesn’t dispute her account of their date, and she doesn’t dispute that he thought everything he did was okay. The two sides are a debate — and not an uncommon one — about whether what he did constitutes assault, whether she should be criticized for not immediately leaving, whether her objections were explicit enough to be accepted as such, what a man’s responsibility is to pay attention to a woman’s nonverbal signals, whether he should be let off the hook because of his inability to read her mind. Of any of Valenti’s tweets that Flanagan might have quoted, that one was possibly her most bizarre choice, because it was basically indisputable — a lot of men really are characterizing Ansari’s actions as everyday and reasonable, and a lot of women really are saying that society’s everyday-and-reasonable is not okay.
I thought it would take a little longer for the hit squad of privileged young white women to open fire on brown-skinned men. I had assumed that on the basis of intersectionality and all that, they’d stay laser focused on college-educated white men for another few months.
It’s unsurprising, considering Flanagan’s self-acknowledged hatred of feminism, that she’d pull out any accusation that she could throw at feminists who are calling Ansari out and objecting to behavior like his. She can’t even bring herself to dispute the fact that feminists have been going after powerful white men for months now, but she seemed to take a certain amount of glee in pulling out “privileged” and “intersectionality and all that” to vilify criticisms, and critics, of a college-educated man with a decade-long career and a net worth estimated at $18 million and a Golden Globe that’s not two weeks old for taking “I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you” as a lighted sign for the exit to beejertown.
Allegations against the comedian are proof that women are angry, temporarily powerful — and very, very dangerous.
I realize that writers usually don’t get to write their own headlines, so I won’t ding Flanagan for this personally. But I can still criticize the implication that women are suddenly drunk on power and taking men down indiscriminately, but that once the Purge has ended, we’ll go back to letting our boss low-five us without complaint. That if we shelter in place for just a few more hours, it will all blow over and celebrities will once again be allowed to ignore “no,” on account of not being a mind reader, with impunity.
That it’s histrionic and vindictive to let women know that they might get unwillingly dry humped on a date with Woke Bae Aziz Ansari, and to let men know that while they’re happily oblivious to our discomfort (or pretending to be), women have been historically socialized to be polite and delicate in our objections, and that we prefer not to be raped by a man who may abruptly turn violent upon being turned down (which never happens, of course), so men would do well to maybe read the room once in a freaking while and not assume that she’s cool with it just because she’s not biting your dick off.
But don’t worry about it — women are only temporarily powerful. And dangerous. If we just ride it out, everything will go back to normal, and “no” will mean “convince me,” and only mind readers will be responsible for their actions.