Babe missed the mark on Aziz Ansari & our culture’s problems with sex
When I first read about the Aziz Ansari story, my initial reaction was very similar to that of the masses: “this was a bad date and she should have left”. My trip on my high horse was short-lived, however, when I realized that I did not leave either, and many women don't.
Calling this story a "bad date" is wrong and entirely misses the point. Why do women not leave when they feel their boundaries have been pushed, and why do men pressure women for sex when they are not enthusiastic about it? This is an important conversation we need to have, just not in the same breath as the #MeToo movement, and bad journalism is to blame for the backlash.
This is not the same as the #MeToo conversation
One of the best articles covering this story is by Jill Filipovic, who highlights that Babe simply did not do a good enough job covering the complicated nature of sex in a world where gender imbalances (obviously) still exist: "The language of 'a bad hookup' fails to capture the unequal power dynamics and the deep sense of disorientation and betrayal that comes when someone treats you as a hole rather than a person. Nor does it adequately measure the weight of centuries of misogyny that have shaped our most intimate moments." (I implore you to read her piece in full).
This discussion is an important one. I also believe it is a different one than #MeToo. This is about women being socialized to place men’s egos over their own comfort (or discomfort), and men seeing “no”, and visual displeasure as something to be negotiated to have sex. As Filipovic puts it, “Girls are raised with a contradictory set of expectations: be kind and acquiescent, but also be the brakes on male sexual desire. We are taught to reflexively say yes except for when we’re supposed to definitively say no, but we don’t learn how to know when we want to say either.”
The Babe story details a date between Aziz Ansari and “Grace”, where he continues to make sexual advances, ignoring her verbal and non-verbal signals. By her own account, she says "no" in various ways- but also engages in various sexual activities. She said things like:
“I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you”
“Whoa, let’s relax for a sec, let’s chill”
She also gave him a blowjob, he went down on her, and no, she did not immediately leave when she felt her boundaries had been pushed. Should she have left? Yes. But this is more than just a “bad date” when so many women find themselves in exactly the same situation and do not leave.
It’s not so easy to “just leave”
To quote Filipovic again, “In a perfect world, Grace would have walked out the door. But women are so strongly socialized to put others’ comfort ahead of our own, that even when we are furiously uncomfortable, it feels paralyzing to assert ourselves. This is especially true when we are young.”
In my own experience, I should have left. So should have all the women who read the article and were reminded of their own similar stories. I like to think that women have enough confidence, and a strong enough voice to say “you’re being inappropriate” and simply walk out the door. But there are many reasons women don’t just leave:
Men DO know how to read social cues. They choose not to in sexual situations
Let me be clear that I do not think Ansari should take the fall on behalf of all men who behave this way. But this type of behavior is all too common: wearing women down until they cave, and ignoring "no" and other verbal and non-verbal ways women communicate that they are uncomfortable. We let men off the hook too easily when we say they are incapable of picking up on these social cues: "Men aren’t morons, and they know as well as anyone that a woman who is silent, physically stiff, or pulling away is not exactly aflame with desire. But they also know that we are collectively invested in a social script wherein men push to get sex until women acquiesce. And so they push, even when they know it’s unwelcome, because they can."
This was bad journalism
Anchor Ashleigh Banfield released an open later, slamming “Grace”, the anonymous woman in the article:
I understand why many people are angry. They feel "Grace" cheapened a major movement for women. But I think the anger is misplaced. Women have had their careers ruined by denying the sexual advances of men, and trying to fit this story into the #MeToo movement was wrong because it is different. As many publications have already pointed out, Babe missed the mark and people are angry for many reasons.
First of all, people are angry at Babe for irresponsible journalism. Their coverage made readers miss the point; we need to talk about why men seek sex from unenthusiastic partners, and why women don't leave when their boundaries are made to feel insignificant. This was not *just* a bad date. Second, Babe has done us all a major disservice by feeding into the anti-feminist narrative that women will scream assault whenever they have a sexual encounter they regret. Finally, they approached this story in such a poor fashion, that people might not take this seriously, and future discussions might even be dismissed.
All you have to do is search for "Aziz Ansari" on Twitter, and you'll see the harm they've caused. I sincerely hope the movement can recover, and Babe addresses the mistake they've made.