SHAH: Both genders necessary to combat sexual assault epidemic
Opinions Column: Wait, Was That Racist?
Like all social revolutions, although the #MeToo movement has garnered great support, it still succumbs to great controversy. While this bold stance against sexual assault perpetrated by famous, untouchable figures is admirable, it also calls into question how to deal with sexual misconduct allegations when the most that can oftentimes be done is unfairly pit one person’s words against another's. The #MeToo story is one of female empowerment, but could it also be a story of a story that, in retrospect, can be compared to the Salem witch trials? With new allegations sufacing daily, the #MeToo movement is at the precipice of mutation, which can be detrimental to its legacy.
Arguably the most controversial of the stories involves Aziz Ansari, a man who is both lauded for his feminist humor and accused of sexual assault. This flagrant disconnect is heartbreaking and prompts conversation about our current sexual culture.
The article on babe.net follows “Grace,” who went on a date with Aziz and called it the worst night of her life, detailing an extremely uncomfortable sexual encounter. She unsuccessfully used “nonverbal cues” to stop him, and even labels the incident as “sexual assault.” The next day, she expressed her concerns to him via text, and he responded: “I’m so sad to hear this. Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry.”
The story may give Grace a warranted spotlight, but it also forces Ansari into the interrogation room over a sexual interaction where nothing he can say will change the damage the allegation has already done. Frankly, it is irresponsible not to give both sides of the story an equal opportunity to create a nuanced, balanced narrative. In this scenario, Ansari's response is seen more as a defensive strategy than his perspective of the night. It creates a spectacle of a sexual transgression that he himself might call embarrassing and wrong, creating a single story of all of his sexual encounters.
Not understanding nonverbal cues in a sexual encounter can be equated to that awkward friend who does not quite understand social cues no matter how obvious they may be, which is why it can be difficult to pin the blame. In no way was Grace treated fairly in this scenario, but context is vital.
Ansari did not wield physical or professional power over her. Perhaps his starpower dazzled her, but this is not an ordinary case of conscious abuse of power, such as in allegations against Weinstein and Spacey, more than it is a story of the unfortunate culture where men are taught to take what they want and women are afraid to verbally decline — a culture where male pleasure is the priority in the bedroom. And like Matt Damon said (in bungled speech), all sexual misbehaviors must be eradicated but should not necessarily be conflated.
But, we also cannot stop after preaching enthusiastic consent — we must acknowledge and repair the difficulty women have with saying “no” by empowering them to decline unwanted advances. And it is incredibly unfortunate that women must feel inherently hyper-aware and distrustful of their surroundings, but this hyper-awareness is not inherently a bad thing — it allows women to better control what happens to them. It allows us to move beyond just being portrayed as victims who are acted upon.
If we rely on men to solve the problem entirely, women simply become pawns in a game, merely acted upon and left with no power. Women are not helpless or fragile, but when we create a narrative in which men are seen as the root of (and the solution to) all problems in our sexual culture, women lose control. Women like Grace become side players in their own stories, entirely vulnerable to any man’s whims.
Teach your sons about respect and consent and your daughters that it is okay to say no despite entrenched patriarchal values — but do not choose one over the other. We should not create a culture in which we protect women from big, bad men. We must make an effort to unite both genders to combat this epidemic. The bottom line is to reduce the violence and number of sexual assaults — not to perpetuate an era-long blame game. Somewhere along the lines, the purpose of the movement has muted in favor of determining who is in the wrong. Instead, let us work to tangibly create a safer and more enjoyable sexual culture for everyone.
Anjali Shah is a Rutgers Business School first-year, double majoring in finance and political science. Her column, “Wait, Was that Racist?”, runs on alternate Fridays.
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