BANSAL: Be careful not to victim blame in Aziz Ansari case
Opinions Column: Call For Change
After accusations of sexual harassment were made against Aziz Ansari by "Grace," whose real name remains anonymous, a controversy sparked. People debated over issues involving victim-blaming, a lack of sex education and a misinterpretation of the #MeToo movement. Babe.net released an in-depth article describing Grace’s account of her night with Ansari, how she felt pressured into certain sexual interactions, how uncomfortable she felt and how she cried on the way home.
This led many people to believe that the #MeToo movement is being torn apart. This movement has been used all across social media to unite women who have experienced some form of sexual harassment. The movement has encouraged many women to come forward with their stories of sexual assault by pushing for new legislation. #MeToo is a platform for women to feel listened to without fear or judgment. But, many believe that the movement’s goal is to focus on making strides against “actual” sexual assault, in contrast to what Grace experienced, which in their eyes does not count. In journalist Anna North’s , “Critics worry that #MeToo will lump together inappropriate behavior and sexual assault. But women know how to make the distinction.”
#MeToo is not a movement in which stories are proven valid by relevance to other stories. Sexual harassment is not based upon relativity. Hugh Hefner may have committed acts considerably more apparent than Ansari did but that does not make Grace’s story any less valid. The point of #MeToo is to focus on the harmful widespread effect that patriarchal norms have on women. While the movement was primarily popularized by upper-class, privileged women, #MeToo is meant to communicate the voices of women everywhere, in every race, socioeconomic status and with every variance of traumatic experiences. No one can judge the level of trauma that Grace experienced except Grace herself. “They presume that at its best a feminist movement is all about individual empowerment, as opposed to fighting patriarchal oppression. Only a narrow outlook of feminism could see these two things as coextensive or interchangeable,” said writer Natasha Lennard.
Many also believe that Grace could easily have left Ansari’s building earlier. They say that she had the power to stop the discomfort she was feeling earlier in the night, to clearly tell him "no." This point of view completely disregards the position that Grace was put in.
An important factor, which is mysteriously left out by so many critics, is that Ansari has a reputation. He has a reputation of being "one of the good guys." Not only did he wear a Times Up pin to symbolize his partnership with women to end sexual violence in the industry, he made a name for himself. He dedicated an entire of "Master of None" to sexual harassment. He wrote a book on communication. He acknowledged himself as a feminist and an ally and he set up a facade of himself as a man who knows the struggles that women go through.
So can we blame Grace for being taken by surprise? Can we blame her for expecting Ansari to act mannerably, to live up to the man he said he was? Moreover, can we blame Grace for being put under so much pressure by Ansari, a well respected actor? Theoretically, given the same status and privileges that Ansari has, Grace had some power to stop the uncomfortable night. But that was not the case. “... privilege blinds people who have it to assume everyone else has the same power and therefore should react how they might,” writer Halima Mansoor.
Victim blaming is not the solution to Grace’s problem. Supporting her and the #MeToo movement as a whole is close. “To target only the most egregious 'monsters' is to treat only the severe symptoms; the goal is prevention,” said James Hamblin for We need to start questioning men like Ansari. It is not enough to say you are aware of societal issues. It is not fair to assume that you are not part of the problem just because you are a self-proclaimed feminist.
Priyanka Bansal is a Rutgers Business School sophomore double majoring in business and journalism and media studies. Her column, “Call for Change,” runs on alternate Mondays.
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