November 18, 2018 | ° F

FOWLER: Lines between bad date, assault unclear


Opinions Column: Sex and the City


Earlier in the week, Aziz Ansari came under fire due to an article published in babe magazine. The story, documenting the date between Ansari and pseudonym “Grace,” quickly became popular, eventually even gleaning a response from Ansari himself. As the #MeToo movement continues to gain traction, and as sexual assault and harassment become increasingly scrutinized within our culture, it is important to think with nuance about allegations as they unfold, so as not to jeopardize the movement. 

Many opinion pieces have unfolded as a result of the article accusing Ansari of assault. Some, like one in the NYT, have simply said Ansari is guilty of “not being a mindreader.” A twitter thread written by Arnesa claims something different, stating that Grace’s situation is familiar but is still sexual assault — and the fact that such a scenario is so commonplace is the very essence of what is problematic in the first place. So what should the movement make of such an accusation?

The most jarring portions of the article come after Grace and Ansari have been on a date, when they are back in Ansari’s apartment. When Ansari began to advance upon Grace, she says she used “verbal and non-verbal cues” when trying to show she did not want sex — and they seemed to have worked. When she said told him to slow down, it seems like Ansari did stop attempting to have sex with her. The author of the babe article writes, “When Ansari told her he was going to grab a condom within minutes of their first kiss, Grace voiced her hesitation explicitly. 'I said something like, ‘Whoa, let’s relax for a sec, let’s chill.''"  Perhaps for Ansari, the lines of what Grace was and was not consenting to were confusing — if everything was fine until the condom, perhaps she was consenting to everything but penetrative sex. But, Grace states later in the article, “I know I was physically giving off cues that I wasn’t interested. I don’t think that was noticed at all, or if it was, it was ignored.” It feels as though it should be the job of any person having sex with another person to be continuously careful, and to continuously notice if their partner seems uncomfortable or unhappy during the encounter. 

Eventually, Grace leaves. She texts Ansari, and he apologizes. When thinking about whether this is assault, one can certainly say that it is a perplexing encounter. The fact that Grace performed oral sex on Ansari has been called into question. Are there situations where a woman feels forced to perform sex on a man that contain coercion, a lack of power and a lack of safety for the woman if she does not comply? Absolutely. Without a doubt, these things occur. And it seems like if someone feels uncomfortable and has a reason to leave, and a way to leave, perhaps she should.  It is not Grace’s fault that this happened to her. Ansari certainly was more famous than her, more well known. There was likely a power dynamic at play. But perhaps it was not to the extent that she could not have left. As those who dispel Ansari will say, men feel as though they can eventually wear a woman down so that eventually she complies to sex. This is evidence of a deep patriarchal imbalance, and perhaps this is what Ansari was trying to do, perhaps consciously or subconsciously. 

But it seems problems that emerge on both sides — whether one believes Grace could have left, or if one believes Ansari did assault and take advantage of her — both stem from these sort of stereotypical portrayals of women and men. A woman afraid to act, a man who is presumptive and obnoxious, who may belittle or be unwilling to understand what his female partner wants. One needs to look at this situation with nuance on both sides. 

I do not think what happened to Grace should have happened. But perhaps her story is less helpful in the context of assault as it is when we have conversations about women who have bad sex, who feel unable to speak up about what they want, who are the victim of power dynamics that compromise their ability to act with agency. “Cat Person,” the story from The New Yorker that went viral in December, comes to mind, because the popularity of the story seems to suggest that people are willing to listen about the negative sexual experiences of women. We can talk about assault and bad sex, but where the line is blurry, it might be good to talk about the blurriness of the line and why that is, and how to combat these situations from happening again. 

Ashley Fowler is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in English. Her column “Sex and the City,” runs on alternate Thursdays.

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Ashley Fowler

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