Was it a Bad Date? Or Was it Coercion?

I’ve been obnoxiously glued to the Aziz Ansari news story the last couple of days. It’s not a pleasant story, but I can’t seem to get it out of my mind. At this point, I’ve probably read a dozen essays in response, and another 2 dozen lengthy Twitter threads dissecting the situation, and placing blame on him, or on her, or on both.

If you haven’t seen the story, it’s from a woman who is using the name Grace, and it’s about a pretty terrible date she had with Aziz Ansari. You can read the original report here.

The story has grabbed me for a couple of reasons. At first it was just because it was about Aziz Ansari. We’ve always been big fans at our house — since the Tom Haverford days. In fact a couple of hours before the story broke, my 16 year old daughter, Olive, pulled out the GQ issue with Aziz on the cover to reread his interview, and we were talking about wanting to move to Italy, inspired by a recent re-watch of Season 2 of Master of None.

That night when I was getting ready for bed, I saw a tweet about the story, and my first thought was that I hoped that somehow Olive would not see it, because I knew she would be crushed. (But of course she saw it. And of course it broke her heart.)

I think the other reason I haven’t been able to stop following the story, is because the responses are so polarized — and not in a political way. Some people have read Grace’s story, and are furious at her. They believe she was very wrong to share the story. Others think Aziz was in the wrong, and feel like this story — though it’s not violent, and not rape — opens up important conversations. And the profile of the people who hold these views is not clear cut at all, for example, there are staunch feminists on both sides. And I have dear friends who completely disagree on this.

I can see where the angry-at-Grace folks are coming from. I could feel it as I started reading the story. Since I had already seen the headline, and knew it wasn’t going to end well, it was like watching a horror movie. I could feel myself thinking: Don’t do it, Grace. Don’t go home with him. Nope, don’t let him undress you. Walk away Grace. He’s not going to listen! He’s going to keep pushing and pressuring! He clearly doesn’t care if you’re into this or not. Get out! Go home!

Of course, I can assume that part of me thinking those thoughts was because as fan, it would feel better if Aziz was never the bad guy, and it would be easier to blame Grace.

But then I started picturing Grace, who was 22 at the time. That’s not a child, but it’s still quite young. And she’s with a celebrity who is 12 years older than her, and GQ-cover famous. He may not be physically imposing, but the power dynamic is still very much in his favor. Additionally, he’s known as being a feminist ally — someone you can feel safe with.

I could imagine her hopeful perspective, even as the date got weirder. Thinking that this is a good guy. And she should want to be there, right? She should want this opportunity to hang with super cool Aziz Ansari in his apartment. She doesn’t get a perspective change until later in the evening, and once she does, she leaves. But until that perspective change, I can picture her hopeful for a great night.

In contrast, we go into the story without that hopeful perspective. And it’s easy to think she’s dumb for not seeing it, or not leaving right away. I don’t think she was dumb. I think it’s understandable.

There were several things I read that changed my original attitude about the story, and ultimately I am glad Grace shared it. Some of the stand out pieces:

I read this tweet about seeing this as an everyday normal sort of interaction: 

This really struck a cord for me. If this is normal, if this isn’t something to talk about, then that’s a huge problem. Then, I read this thread by Sady Doyle, and was like woah. She goes through each argument, and rebuts it. It’s strong.

Next was a compelling heartfelt essay from KatyKatiKate, called Not That Bad. The whole thing is really good, and the line that hit me? “This is a common, normal hookup. A shitty, painful hookup where Grace’s comfort and pleasure were like #7 on the priority list. Mean, punishing sex is normal. And awful. Our normal is awful.”

That kills me. And it resonates. How in the world do we continue to keep what women are feeling or experiencing such a low priority?

And then I read this thread, where a teenage Mormon girl is coerced into performing oral sex, and didn’t dare speak up until she read Grace’s story. It reminded me how common this kind of situation is, and that it’s confusing and horrible. As the coerced person, you know you didn’t want to do it, but didn’t scream NO and run away, so maybe it’s your fault? (It’s not your fault.)

I read another essay that talked about how some people are rejecting this story, because if we accept it, we have to examine all of our past sexual experiences, and maybe admit some were worse than just a “bad date.” Perhaps if we’re honest, we were pressured or coerced. Maybe we only gave in because we were too tired to stop saying no, and giving in was easier. Or because giving in was the safer option, and more likely to keep anger at bay. And who wants to have to think of that? It’s heavy stuff.

As I read, I saw one commenter point out that maybe the differing responses to this news story are generational. If you’re Gen X (like me) or older, maybe you’ve been on these kinds of “bad dates” many times, so this is just sort of normalized. And since Grace wasn’t physically forced, then someone in my generation might feel that this doesn’t qualify as a #metoo story. But younger generations — like Millenials, and my own kids (Gen Z), expect better.

A Facebook friend, Steph Lauritzen, wrote that she hasn’t ever liked Aziz, because she feels like the worlds he creates through writing show his real feelings, and that his real feelings are he doesn’t respect women. She writes, “I keep thinking that I’m not surprised by men anymore. If a man spends a lot of time talking about feminism while simultaneously creating a world devoid of gender equality, his actions in public inform me about his actions in private. Look at the art men make. Art doesn’t lie.”

Another conversation talked about the over-arching problem of our society telling men to chase, and to keep pressuring, and to achieve sex no matter what. And then, the same society not telling women how to talk about their sexual preferences at all — and not even letting women know they’re allowed to have sexual preferences.

Much of the discussion has been about communication. Some people feel Grace clearly communicated with both verbal and physical signals. Others say we’re expecting Aziz to be a mind reader, and that she should have been more clear.

On this point, I’m with those who feel she communicated clearly. I was convinced when I read a thread about how studies have been done on gender, miscommunication, and ‘soft nos,’ and the overwhelming conclusion is that men demonstrate competence in all areas, but claim ignorance when they are talking to women and the topic is sex or dating. From the study:

“Drawing on the conversation analytic literature, and on our own data, we claim that both men and women have a sophisticated ability to convey and to comprehend refusals, including refusals which do not include the word ‘no’, …we suggest that male claims not to have ‘understood’ refusals…can only be heard as self-interested justifications for coercive behaviour.”

Another topic that comes up a lot in the discussions is the concept of Enthusiastic Consent. The idea is that “no means no” isn’t even close to being good enough. Instead you need an enthusiastic YES! And you need to keep getting those yeses throughout the sexual encounter, because consent can be withdrawn at any point — meaning you might be into it at first, but if you get distracted, or uncomfortable, or remember something sad, and are no longer into it, you’re allowed to say: Never mind, I don’t want to keep having sex.

There’s also many ongoing conversations about how this story is hurting #metoo. Or how this is #metoo jumping the shark. Or how women have gone overboard now. I say: Baloney. Clearly, the responses show us we need to talk about this stuff — out in the open where we can hash things out. And I haven’t heard a single person call for Aziz to go to jail, or boycott his work. Things are not out of hand.

Interestingly, the articles I’ve read from bigger publications have all been sympathetic to Aziz, and really quite condemning of Grace:

Caitlin Flanagan wrote in The Atlantic, The Humiliation of Aziz Ansari. Caitlin thinks women are being bullies.

And Bari Weiss wrote in the NYT, Aziz Ansari Is Guilty. Of Not Being a Mind Reader. Bari thinks women are being helpless weaklings.

But some of the smaller (but still powerful) publications have been the opposite:

Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote in Salon, Aziz Ansari and #MeToo backlash: We won’t stop talking about consent. Mary responds to both Caitlin and Bari and says;

“So are we helpless or power-mad here? Snowflakes or bullies? Whatever you may think of Grace’s narrative, or her use of the unquestionably loaded word “assault,” it’s clear that the eagerness to demand that women limit what we share has become increasingly intense — as if self-policing isn’t exactly what we’ve been doing all our lives.”

And Anna North wrote for Vox, The Aziz Ansari story is ordinary. That’s why we have to talk about it. Her final paragraph:

“Perhaps what is especially threatening about Grace’s story is that it involves a situation in which many men can imagine themselves. But this is a reason to discuss it more, not to sweep it under the rug. Listening to Grace doesn’t mean deciding all men should go to prison, or should lose their jobs. It does mean admitting that many men behave in exactly the ways their culture tells them to behave. It means asking men to recognize that and do better, and it means changing the culture so that badgering and pressuring women into sex is deplored, not endorsed. None of this will happen if we refuse to reckon with stories like Grace’s.”

Me personally? I have mixed feelings. But for sure, I feel sympathetic to Grace. I feel like I can imagine some of the thought process she might have experienced. Maybe something like: I’ve communicated I just want to chill, and I think he’s a good guy, and I want this experience to be cool because celebrity and awesome comic genius, so if I can just navigate this, I’m hopeful we’ll have a great night…

And at the same time, she may have combined that thinking with: He’s relentless. He keeps pressuring me, maybe it’s easier to just do this? He’s a good guy, right? So why does this feel so confusing and coercive?

I also feel sympathetic in a small way toward Aziz — it must be awful to have your sexual preferences and peculiarities shared all over the news. But mostly I think he should have stopped. He was the more powerful person in that duo. Within minutes of the first kiss Aziz wanted to go get a condom, and Grace said, “Whoa, let’s relax for a sec, let’s chill.”

To me, that’s a clear NO. And at that point, Aziz should have said something like: Okay. Sounds good. Let’s hang out and watch TV or something.” And then not pushed for sex unless and until she was enthusiastic about it. Or, a much harsher but straightforward response would also have worked. Something like, “Cool. I won’t get the condom, but here’s the thing, I really want to have sex with someone tonight. And preferably right away. So if you’re not into it, let me call you an Uber, and we can end the night before one or both of us gets frustrated.

Yes, she could have left too, but I can see how it would have been harder for her to do that. Twenty-two years old is young enough to not have had other dates like this; for this to be a first. To not understand right away she should leave. Plus, women deal with dozens of micro-aggressions every day, we’re socialized to be polite, we’re taught by our culture that being sexualized is connected to our self worth, and we live with the real fear of violent retaliation. We’d like to think we’ll always be bold and walk out of a bad situation, but sometimes, all those things can make it really hard to leave.

I realize others see this story differently than I do. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you been following this story? Or is it new to you? And have you read the original report? What’s your take on the whole thing? Do you feel like this negatively affects the #MeToo movement? How about consent? At what age do you think parents should talk to their kids about it?

P.S. — As a parent, I was sad Olive read such an awful story about one of her heroes, and I was also sad that by reading this story, she would get a very weird idea of what a typical date might look like.

127 thoughts on “Was it a Bad Date? Or Was it Coercion?”

  1. Thank, you, Gabrielle, for providing such a great overview of the story and response. I hadn’t heard about it over here in Europe. I have now read the original story, his official statement in response, and your summary and take. I completely agree with absolutely everything you have said and think that this is a great opportunity for a more nuanced discussion of consent. Thank you!

  2. Dan Savage has a theory on what straight couples can learn from gay couples – ask “what do you like?” Instead men are expected to have all the knowledge and be the initiator. Asking this question makes consent explicit and emphasizes female pleasure.

    1. YES. This should be such a basic part of sexual conversations before and during sexual encounters. And there is this idea that speaking frankly about what you like, or asking for consent is unsexy, but I’ve found the opposite to be true.

    2. This is something I’ve wrestled with myself in previous relationships, I never wanted my partner to think I didn’t know what I was doing but also wanted to know what he enjoyed. In my current relationship I felt comfortable enough to ask and things have been SO much better. But it is tricky to work up to!

  3. Alexandra Graves

    I’ve thought about this issue for years, the concept of being a “survivor” without ever having “survived” a sexual assault. There’s a film, High Fidelity, in which the main character, in a ridiculous attempt to figure out why women always leave him, goes back and talks to ex girlfriends about why they left him. His first girlfriend, who had refused sex over and over with him, but subsequently slept with her next boyfriend says “It wasn’t rape because I didn’t say no, but it wasn’t far off” when talking about having sex with the next man she dated. When I saw the film in high school, that was an eye opening and validating statement. When I was 13, I spent the night at my boyfriend’s (who was 16) house after a day at an amusement park. When he came into my room in the middle of the night, I didn’t say no when he told me to give him a blowjob. I didn’t push him off me, I didn’t beat him off, I may have even said yes. But he also didn’t stop when he saw me crying, he didn’t stop when he saw me gagging, he didn’t stop. I am not a “survivor” who’s survived sexual assault, but it wasn’t far off. Reading Grace’s story was hard because I like Aziz Ansari’s work and who he claims to be as a person (that person may actually be an act, I’m realizing). Sexual nuance is hard, but we should be able to read people’s signals, and if we can’t? We shouldn’t be engaging. Grace’s story wasn’t rape (and she hasn’t claimed it was), but again, it wasn’t far off.

    1. Oh wow. “It wasn’t far off” is such a helpful concept and phrase for these discussions. Thank you for your comment.

      And for the record, you certainly don’t have to see yourself that way, but I would definitely think of you as a survivor of sexual assault. You were 13 for goodness sake. And cried and gagged through a blow job you didn’t want to give. If that happened to one of my kids, I would think of it as assault. (And I know that might just be semantics.)

  4. I’d been avoiding reading the story, to be honest. I feel like it takes too much emotional energy to ‘judge’ each time a new accusation of this sort emerges. (See also the celebrities coming out to effectively condemn Woody Allen.)

    Having acquainted myself with the story and the reactions, it still looks to me like there are two camps, shouting at each other across a huge canyon and not really hearing each other properly. But how do you start a properly nuanced conversation about consent? If Grace had had the same experience with a non-celebrity, Babe would probably not have been interested, and nor would anyone else.

    As for my opinion, I can imagine how Grace got into the situation. Things went really bad, but she really hoped that she could get back to a point where the cool famous guy would be interested in hanging out with her as a person, maybe talking about that shared interest in vintage cameras, rather than just being a random shag. I totally do not blame her for not leaving and hoping things would improve. I know what it’s like to want to exit with a bit of grace later, and without the possibility of hurting the other person’s feelings with rejection, or offending them. I definitely do blame Ansari for not meaning it when he said “Let’s just hang out then.” His behavior is such obvious bullying. I don’t think he deserves utter vilification and career-destruction, and I don’t even think that he deserves to learn a lesson in such a hard way. But in the end, he was in the wrong.

    And poor Olive, too! But I suppose at 16, it’s not a bad time to start talking about things like consent. if only it were straightforward…

    1. I love what you said here about if it wasn’t a celebrity, Babe wouldn’t have cared about the story. I think that point is so important because I don’t hear a lot of people discussing this as ‘a guy shouldn’t treat a woman like this’ but more so as ‘he had more power than her and was in the wrong.’ Is it wrong because he had power or wrong altogether? Definitely an important distinction to make.

  5. Thank you for this. I’ll admit, I backed off reading into this case because it saddens me and yes, takes some thought to work out.

    I love the “wasn’t far off” comment above mine. I have never been able to fully join the me too movement (I have supported it endlessly, but never personally joined). I have three stories that fall into the wasn’t far off category and they make me feel sick to remember them and ponder how much they have shaped me. I’ve got clever titles for each story, but somehow can never bring myself to type them out.

    1. I also have a 16 year old daughter and a date should look like a football game or a movie, maybe an awkward hand hold, grabbing burgers at in n out and sharing fries, and getting home before curfews so everyone is accountable to the earlier curfew. They do not spend time alone in homes with no parents present or in bedrooms and cars are tranportstion only and not for lingering, parked. That’s appropriate boundaries for a 16 year old.

  6. Thank you for working out your confused feelings on this matter with all of us! Sometimes it’s okay to sit in the conflicting grey area…and I for one need permission to do so. Thank you for giving me permission by showing me that other smart, self-aware, socially conscious people do so too!!

  7. I keep coming back to the idea that being in a private space with a person you just met is so unsafe. So, so unsafe.

    If you entertain the possibility of being physically intimate with someone you don’t know, you are taking a whole lot of chances.

    1. Hmm, yes and no. Why should it be on the woman to only spend time with a possible intimate partner in public? Why can’t the intimate partner be responsible for not being a creep who would hurt her? This kind of thinking, while necessary in this particular period of time, goes back to putting the onus entirely on the woman instead of squarely on both parties, which is how we got here in the first place.

      1. I meant it for both people (possibly even more so when the person is a celebrity and has a public reputation that can be harmed). Why would you be in a private location with a stranger? They met that night. You have no idea who this person really is and that is unsafe behavior.

      2. I agree that the onus should not be entirely on the woman and that men should not act like creeps whether in public or private. But until creepiness in men is eradicated not being in a private space with a person you just met is good advice. And it’s on women because I would never trust my safety to a stranger.

    2. I know what you mean, Andrea, but just for clarification, in this particular story they did not meet for the first time that night. They had already hung out at a party, and had been texting for weeks. And then, I imagine he also felt familiar because of his celebrity.

  8. Thank you, as always, for using your platform to discuss these issues. That’s how we change things.

    I’ll admit I’ve not followed this story closely, but from what I do know I can say is that this is exactly why we need the #metoo movement and need to keep talking. It’s behavior like this, that may seem “normal” to many of us, that needs to change.

    I completely relate to the “not far off” comment above. My first experience with a boy when I was maybe 14 (he was older) was a “not far off” experience and not something I look back on warmly.

    As for my daughter who is 16, a couple years ago we all (my husband, my daughter, and me) read Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein, which was a great conversation starter. When she started dating a boy last year, we had many conversations about consent – how everyone needs to be into what’s happening, how it’s ok for anyone to say no or not want to continue, how it’s important for everyone to have a good time. But it’s a conversation I think we have to have over and over because society continues to give girls and women a different message about who they are and what they can reasonably expect. (And we need to change the messages boys and men get too.)

    Learning to advocate for yourself is one of the most important skills we can develop, and I wish I’d had someone helping me learn how to do that more proactively. I hope I’m righting that wrong somewhat with my daughter.

    1. I should clarify that my comments aren’t meant to suggest that it’s up to girls or women to “advocate” their way out of uncomfortable or unsafe situations. Rather, that those are skills we all need in life generally, and that being comfortable exercising them can help someone navigate those situations.

      However, what really needs to happen is that our society needs to be one that values everyone and prioritizes respect and communication. But we’re not there, as we sadly know.

      1. Just a question – I have very young sons but often think about how to raise them to respect and value women. How to recognize verbal cues and consent. I’ve heard of that Girls and Sex book a few times. Do you think that would be appropriate for a young male teen to read? beneficial?

        1. I was wondering that as well. I have a daughter (older) and a son (younger) and I feel that it is important for both of them to understand these things.

        2. Liz, I think it would be appropriate for boys to read it, but I think it would be helpful to parent read it too so you can have a conversation based on what you’ve read. I think helping boys and men take the perspective of girls and women can only be helpful overall.

  9. Gabrielle, I think you did a great job writing this piece. I also think that as young as 22 seems, this scenario isn’t uncommon with the middle-school age group, and it is so important to have these conversations. I have one son and one daughter – so I think about the potential for this scenario a lot, and from the perspective of the male and the female.

    So far I tell them that using their best judgement in all situations is key – and that begins with not being compromised by drugs or alcohol. There are no shortcuts – wealth, religion, ethnicity, gender, popularity – nothing stamps a person as “safe.”

    And I definitely will not make either of my children be “people-pleasers.” This has come up in other places, such as insisting young kids to give/accept physical affection. “You have to give your grandma (or uncle or or cousin) a kiss/hug.” is the start of this message that the other person’s feelings are more important than one’s own.

    I’ve posted about this before – my daughter has a younger, smaller friend who is so demanding about being hugged/kissed and I refuse to make my daughter comply just to be nice, even though the friend is not physically threatening or intimidating. I want my daughter (and son) to remember this as the situations and feelings become more complex.

    1. MELISSA L, you hit the nail on the head for me. I was having this same conversation with friends today about forcing our kids to show affection when they don’t want to. We absolutely agree that when we do that to our kids we teach them that they’re not allowed to say ‘No’ which is what gets women into these kinds of situations. So today I made a promise to myself to allow my daughter to use her “No”. God gave it to her (and us) for a reason! Who doesn’t like it, well that will have to be their problem. I am a recovering people-pleaser so I’m learning too.

      1. Leonora Ballantyne

        YES to this. We teach this same principle in my family (though Nana is still learning to not push my kids to hug her!) and I love watching my children say “no” if they don’t want to hug/kiss.

        1. I love the philosophy of my friends who encourage their kids to give high fives, fist bumps or hugs upon saying goodbye. It sends them the message that their body is theirs but also reinforces good manners of saying goodbye to loved ones.

  10. I keep thinking about this onion headline: Report: Shame of walking out without buying anything drives 90% of small business purchases. Sex without a relationship is transactional and that’s totally fine (fun, healthy even) But as a culture we are accepting sex as a small and trivial purchase. It’s like browsing isn’t ok when the shop is cute and the shop keeper is nice. it’s difficult to say no thanks. As a woman (and someone who frequents adorable, independent shops) I get this. But should sex be more than a trinket or useless do-da? If I’m browsing for a larger purchase, I have no qualms saying “I’m just looking.” At a car lot, at a furniture store. And if the salesperson gets pushy, we both know I’m probably not going to buy a car out of shame or because it was be awkward not to. I’m not sure what has made women and men feel that sex as a transaction is on the “pack of gum” level (it’s weird not to chew it if you took it out of the wrapper and all) and not like the process that goes into buying a car or a sofa or even (for crying out loud!) a pair of shoes (I can tell from just my right foot that this isn’t a good fit, thanks but no thanks).

    The Grace and Aziz story is nuanced and tricky. Where Grace lost me was “The Worst Day of My Life.” I refuse to police a woman’s right to speak up, but that doesn’t mean the woman shouldn’t be responsible with the words she used. If Grace had said: “I had an icky/awkward/shit feeling sexual encounter and if you are a woman, it may sound familiar.” I think this might have more naturally opened up a more constructive conversation (rather than shouting over the divide about who’s to blame for icky feelings about a consensual sexual encounter). In my opinion, “worst day of my life’s” feels privileged and tone deaf to violent, aggressive assaults or sexual exchanges that involved higher, professional stakes. Yes, yes, even crumbs are bread and icky sexual encounters are part of the larger culture that hurts women. I believe that, but still it’s important for clarity to call crumb a crumb and a slice a slice and a loaf a loaf.

  11. I agree with your Facebook fried who thought the way he depicted relationships in his show was pretty anti-feminist. I always felt gross watching those scenes. I like this article from Lindy West. This movement isn’t new. It’s good to remember how easily society moves on.

  12. I wonder if the generational difference is also because us gen x women have experienced what Grace did in one iteration or another (and likely more than once) and took the responsibility for it ourselves –
    we didn’t cry rape or assault after, believed sexual encounters are messy, and the lesson learned was: I stayed and participated when I should have left, and he’s kinda a prick. So first of all, a) I’ve observed there’s some basic need to validate your response/actions and much like the mom-shaming with formula/breast-feeding: wait you just prepared a bottle for your baby while I did all the physically draining, etc parts of breast-feeding because I thought that’s what we were supposed to do?? – there are people who’s response is to vilify someone that didn’t make the same choice as them – they didn’t think it WAS a choice and feel disgruntled, even betrayed when they find out not everyone was following the same play book that they thought was “mandatory”. b) I think there is already the complaint/annoyance re millennials and their not taking responsibility for their actions, etc But c) I think, when it’s not annoying to their bosses/professors/etc, there is admiration that they’re willing to stand up for themselves in a way we didn’t – and there is some shame in that for us. But ultimately d) there is hope for our daughters, etc that the responsibility won’t just be the woman’s; that the culture can change; that what we classified as normal due to the prevelance and lack of condemnation can go the way of cigarettes/smoking; that patriarchy can be replaced by humanity.
    So I read her account and thought yes, he was pushy and focused entirely on having (getting) sex to the point that she ceased to be an actual person – he was a prick and a creep and wrong and we definitely need to include it in the conversation because this is the second-hand smoke women have been breathing (regardless of their sexual morals) and I can see why she stayed – how she could want it to be different and how she could keep thinking maybe it will be now, or now, maybe now? I’m not sure I classify it as assault – but that’s probably a semantic argument. And maybe it’s because I’m a Gen Xer but I don’t think she is without some responsibility (not for his actions, of course) – and that’s also why it is important to include this in the conversation – so women/girls learn how to be active participants, not just reactive, not just passive/accommodating – and be able to read his non-verbal ques as well – she wanted him to be the fun, interesting guy she thought he was – he wasn’t being that guy. He just wanted her to put out; she wanted to spend an interesting evening connecting with a guy – ideally they would have acknowledged the misfit, maybe seen if it was an impasse and if so, called it a night. The comment above quoting Dan Savage is great – there’s a maturity, humanity, and equality there that seems to have alluded so much of heterosexual culture

    1. Your comment gave me so much to think about. This is so good:

      “there are people who’s response is to vilify someone that didn’t make the same choice as them – they didn’t think it WAS a choice and feel disgruntled, even betrayed when they find out not everyone was following the same play book that they thought was “mandatory””

      And these lines too:

      “there is admiration that they’re willing to stand up for themselves in a way we didn’t – and there is some shame in that for us”

      “that what we classified as normal due to the prevelance and lack of condemnation can go the way of cigarettes/smoking”

      Such good observations. Thank you for adding to the conversation.

    2. “this is the second-hand smoke women have been breathing”

      This is a brilliant way of describing the culture’s historic passivity around sexual harassment, and gender biased behaviors.
      Off topic somewhat but…
      I was clicking through broadcast TV the other night and came across “Three’s Company” which was my favorite show when I was in 5th grade. After watching for 90 seconds I had to turn it off. I’ve tried to re-watch movies from that era, and even things I thought were great at the time, are SO cringe-worthy in the way their horrible sexualized depictions of women, or even just women’s, bodies are played for laughs. So yes, this is the secondhand smoke we, women and men, have been breathing.

      I appreciate the way you framed this.

      1. My husband is a diehard Seinfeld fan (and honestly three’s Company as well) and nightly Seinfeld is his unwind time. He was watching one night and I was in the other room, heard an exchange between Jerry and Elaine, and it was just what you said “cringe worthy”. I said to my husband, (Who by the way is a perfect gentleman with a weakness for old sitcoms) “difficult to watch these shows in the era of #metoo, isn’t it?”

    3. An, if you’re not already an accomplished writer/speaker you should be! Your comments are the most eloquent and insightful I have read on the matter. So well written and throughout!

      And yes, managing millenials at work can be super annoying for us 40 somethings. Thanks for articulating why so well in the context of different cultures. (Still I wish they’d do their homework, write thank you notes after interviews, and not ask for a big raise after 3 months on the job….)

  13. Thank you for creating this space that engages in hard conversations. Reading Grace’s story reminded me of a night when I felt “subtly assaulted”. I was 17 and had gone to the apartment of a coworker who was in his 20’s with another girl my age who had driven me there. I remember my protective parents saying, “be home by 10” as I walked out the door. My grownup self says, “stay home with your dad!”
    When we got there, me and my friend sat on the couch with a bunch of other older guys. He and his roommates were smoking pot, and I was sitting on the couch holding his hand. (I didn’t even like him!) I felt so uncomfortable with the pot smoking, so when he asked me to follow him upstairs, I did. When I walked in his room he was already naked. I was shocked. My expectations of maybe making out…were clearly different from his expectations. I have gone over and over in my head why I didn’t turn around and ask my friend to drive me home at that moment. My grown up self yells, “RUN!” To the naive teenager who sat down on the bed. It felt like I was frozen in fear and embarrassment of obviously misreading what was going on. I went along with getting undressed and laying down with him, but when he stated to penetrate me I said, “no”. A no that was ignored. A no that I didn’t yell or kick or push with. A no that I wondered if he had even heard.
    Looking back, I wish I had had the courage to be in charge of my body, when someone wanted to use it with little regard for me in the interaction.
    I have two daughters, and one thing I want them to understand is that every part of them is so worthy of being heard and respected. I want them to know that at no point are they “obligated” by anyone’s expectations. At any point, they can say “no thanks!”, “NO!”, or “No way!!!”

    1. Ange. I’m so sorry you had to experience such an awful night. I’m glad you shared, and you have me thinking of the “subtle assault” classification you gave your story. I confess, when I read it, I didn’t feel like it was subtle at all. My response was: that was rape.

      Of course it’s your story, and you get to classify it in whatever way is most useful to you.

      Either way, it makes me ponder our reluctance to call coercion and intimidation and force what they are. I truly appreciate you sharing. You’ve given me so much to think about.

      1. Thanks for your response. I think these conversations are helping me re-examine those early experiences. I remember feeling guilty for not telling my parents where I was going, guilty for being in these guys house who I knew were no good, guilty that what I assumed was a light flirtation was interpreted as we are having sex right now, guilty for not leaving, guilty for not being forceful in my “no”. What a bunch of crap to carry all that guilt!
        Still, it is difficult for me to classify my experience as rape, maybe because that is a difficult thing to face.

        A couple of weeks ago you talked about personality tests, and I have been reading the book The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stable. As I look at my own experiences through the lense of self discovery and then look at how my very different daughters may face circumstances where being assertive is necessary, it is clear one of my daughters will have no trouble speaking up for herself and taking charge. When I taught her the phrase, “I am in charge of my body” to let people know when a hug was ok, she has used it with abandon! On the other hand my oldest is a people pleaser, who hates to rock the boat. Teaching her to advocate for herself is a practice even as I am learning how to advocate for myself as well.

    2. Ange, I was date-raped at 21 in similar circumstances, now raising two sweet boys to become loving, sensitive partners. Sending love and support. The #metoo stories are important, but they pull up difficult memories for so many of us.

  14. I struggle hard with this from a parenting perspective. How do I best give my children (boys and girls) the right tools and training for this aspect of their lives. I want to prepare them for these situations and choices in the moment and how to handle saying no clearly in any situation where they are uncomfortable, but also how to be mindful of the other person and cues. We constantly impress upon them that one ‘No’ in any situation and the behavior has to stop, but clearly there needs to be more impression around context, non-verbals, respect, open communication about all subjects, etc… There are just so many layers here and while I can’t prepare them for all of them I want to help them build as much confidence and have plans/knowledge to help support their decision making and behaviors.

  15. Gabrielle, this is one of the most thought-out articles I’ve read regarding this incident. You definitely bring up some good points, especially that we go into it knowing something bad is going to happen and she did not. I also very much appreciated the “but not far off” comment above. So much to think about! My thoughts are still that they are both to blame to some degree, but no, I do not consider it assault (though I am glad it is being discussed).

    Yes, men have been taught to be persistent to get sex, and need to learn no means no.

    Yes, women have been taught to be polite/comply to be liked, but also to feel safe, and need to learn to speak up, even if it means hurting someone’s feelings.

    Your friend that doesn’t like him….I find that interesting, because I’ve also gotten that vibe from him (note: I do not know him). Bill Maher (who is the grossest to me in this aspect, yet can be funny), Aziz (funny!), and Ed Sheeran (talented!) all give me this vibe that they secretly hate/have no respect for women. I imagine they were probably all ignored until they got famous, then suddenly, women were lusting after them. Again, I don’t know any of them – I guess these are just nonverbal clues I get. ;)

    1. I’m right with you on Bill Maher. I’ve found my instinct is to always steer clear of his work. And I confess, I’m not as familiar with Ed Sheeran (I mean, I’ve heard his music, but have never seen or read an interview).

    2. Anne – yes! I’ve had the same thought about Aziz and Ed Sheeran and their attitudes towards women. They probably sincerely believe they love and respect women, but the stories they tell can sometimes show that they really don’t – at least not all the time. I keep thinking of the way Ed Sheeran used the song “Don’t” to shame Ellie Goulding for (apparently) not wanting a serious relationship with him and sleeping with someone else.

    3. Anne, do you watch the show Black Mirror? Your description of those men as “all give me this vibe that they secretly hate/have no respect for women. I imagine they were probably all ignored until they got famous, then suddenly, women were lusting after them” reminds me of the episode USS Callister. I highly recommend it.

      1. I haven’t, Allison – I’ll have the check it out (though I’ve heard some episodes are hard to watch?)!

        Megan M., YES!!!!! It was specifically this lyric that made my blood boil:
        ” And i wasn’t looking for a promise or commitment, but it was never just fun and I thought you were different.” Um, what? So, you weren’t looking for commitment, but it wasn’t just fun either? Is there some relationship purgatory that I’m unaware of? I took that to mean, you weren’t committed to one another, but you expected her to be a “good girl” and wait around for you while you were off doing whatever else you’re doing. Guess you should’ve asked for commitment if you were going to get so butt hurt about her not being committed to you, bro.

  16. I spent the morning ‘not working’ and talking about this with my oldest son (age 18) and husband. It’s so nuanced, isn’t it? My initial response after reading your post and then the Babe article, is that she waited way too long to put her foot down and leave. The hand in the mouth is, to me, such a base violation. Which makes me look much deeper at our culture and how this can be construed as even borderline acceptable. I feel for her. I feel for a generation (not sure how to define that specifically, but it’s linked to the rise of the digital age, and pornography, etc….) that sees sex as more of a recreational sport/pastime than as a result or by product of true affection, dare I say love. I, too, sympathize with Olive having to see this and digest it, but I also think that sadly, it’s the new norm. I could go on and on, but I REALLY need to get back to work. :) Thanks for sharing your well thought out viewpoint!

  17. Aziz Ansari has monetized wokeness — he makes a good salary off his comedic persona, his book, his Emmy-winning Netflix series, all based on his being a “feminist bro.” Similarly, Caitlin Flanagan has monetized loathing of other women. Her infuriating writing on the “mommy wars” positioned herself as a stay-at-home mom; it’s only reading between the lines that the reader learns she has a maid, a nanny, and writes from home, so she’s actually a works-from-home mom, throwing poisonous shade on women who have to leave their houses to earn a living. Specious and nasty, like most of her work.

    I’m not surprised she’s on the wrong side of history here, as everywhere else. I don’t consider her a serious voice on any subject, and I rue the day the Atlantic hired her. One day I’ll rent a truck and drive it through the holes in her logic. It’ll keep me busy for a while.

    1. I’m am clapping for your comment. “One day I’ll rent a truck and drive it through the holes in her logic” is so good. It’s perfection. And I think your assessment of Caitlin Flanagan is correct. I suppose I’m a sucker, because once in awhile she writes something that resonates with me and I think I like her. And then I get whiplash from her next article. I should probably have learned to steer clear by now.

      1. I’m clapping for your blog, and for the work you do in offering people a thoughtful way to engage with important subjects. Warm thanks for all your efforts, Gabby!

    2. This is so so good. After seeing story after story incriminating former “good guys,” I couldn’t help but feel quite cynical and doubtful seeing so many men in black during the Golden Globes and watching them give Oprah heartfelt cheers for her speech. You’re absolutely right that there is money to be made off of riding the current feminist wave, and although the dialogue is good and necessary, I’m sure that much of it is still specious as you say, particularly for celebrities.
      Gabrielle, I agree with everything you wrote here and once again I’m impressed and appreciative of how thoughtful and articulate you are on these matters (your post on gun violence was one of the best I read on the matter).
      I like the take that women should be more comfortable with giving clear no’s, not because the responsibility should fall on their shoulders, but so that they can be active, empowered owners of their lives. That said, there wasn’t much gray area here for me; I was disgusted by Aziz’ pushiness and vulgarity toward such a young girl. The only thing that gives me pause is whether or not –on a human level–Grace should have spared him the humiliation of going public, but then again, perhaps that is the only way that powerful men can come to terms with their behavior. The conversations happening as a consequence are certainly worthwhile.

  18. I saw a facebook post that expressed my feelings accurately – it wasn’t assault, but it was overly aggressive and he needs to know he acted inappropriately.

    1. YES. And my problem with Grace isn’t in how she reacted in the moment or how this experience made her feel. It’s that she DID let him know via text and he responded in a way that seemed sincere. WHY did she have to put him on blast publicly? She got to keep her name anonymous. Why was it fair to put his name out there?

      1. Nicole, I admit I had a similar thought. Then I learned that the publication contacted her to get her story (not sure how they found out). There’s a good article on Jezebel about how the story was handled by the website, Babe, and how they dropped the ball in several ways, so that now what could have been a conversation about consent is getting lost and Grace is being vilified. It’s an interesting take on opportunities lost when publications are trying to make headlines without really knowing how to handle their subject matter. Babe’s article is just so poorly written (like when they make it sound like Grace is whining because Ansari served her white wine instead of red and so many other little things) that it opens Grace up to more criticism.

  19. Thank you for this nuanced discussion and all the resources you’ve linked. I personally have very little dating experience–two very long term relationships, including my husband, and one bad date. Well, I didn’t think it was a bad date, until the end. In college, a friend connected me with a guy friend of hers and he and I watched a movie at his (parent’s) house. This seemed normal to me, but at the end of the movie he started kissing me and said he wanted to have sex. I felt no interest in even the kissing we were doing (read: no attraction at all) and I told him no and that I wanted to go home. He then preceded to tell me I had put myself in a dangerous situation by going to his house (that he shared with his parents!) and that he could do anything he wanted with me and I was lucky that he was going to just drive me home instead. For many years, I took the cultural bait and blamed myself for this situation that, like he said, I had got myself into by watching a movie on the couch in the family room of the basement of his parent’s house. Thank God the #MeToo movement is waking us all up to whose fault it really is. I am so glad for these discussions.

    1. Oh my goodness I want to punch that guy. Talk about entitlement! Him saying “that he could do anything he wanted with me and I was lucky that he was going to just drive me home instead” is like announcing he’s already concluded he’s going to rape someone at some point and that it will be her fault.

  20. Leonora Ballantyne

    I love this discussion and the incredibly thoughtful and articulate comments on this layered issue. In many aricles/comments I see a phrase similar to this: “our culture teaches men to push until they get sex.” I agree with this to some extent, that the popular media/music/film industries we all consume during the course of our daily walk do include pieces (large or small) of mysogeny and objectification/humiliation of women and their bodies etc, but there is a HUGE piece of our modern ‘culture’ that crucially influences sexual expectations, experiences, and attitudes that has not been mentioned in any thread or article I have read in recent months: the multi-billion dollar porn industry.
    I know this is a sensitive/triggering subject for some, and may even be off limits to others, but a lot of porn condones/celebrates violence to women (and men, too). If we as a nation or international community are going to make any cultural shifts or progress with nuances about consent or respect for women, I think it is imperative to include the effects of pornography in that conversation.
    Thank you, Gabby, for your discussion of this really, really important conversation.

    1. In the discussions I read, I did seen the topic of porn brought up. The commentary was along the lines of: His specific actions that night (like fingers in mouth) feel like he’s attempting to act out some sort of porn he’s seen. And how porn is a horrible teacher and gives men a very warped idea of how women should behave in a sexual encounter.

      I agree with that. The idea of thinking you have a handle on sex because you’ve seen porn is discouraging and depressing.

    2. I’m with you Leonora!

      I’m a gen xer and things weren’t great for my generation. I think the millennials (and younger) men have been exposed to a horrific amount of unhealthy depictions of sex as a casual entitlement where anything goes as long as they get “theirs”. Fortunately, from my observation, the millennials (and younger) women are also far better off than any previous generation because so many of them know their rights and are fighting the status quo.

    3. I agree, but I don’t think it’s only changed young men’s attitudes towards sex. I also think this has an effect on young women’s ideas about what is attractive in a sexual partner. There’s a sense that “cool girls” and “desirable girls” will play along, watch porn as well and just generally “be cool” about being treated poorly. There is a narrative that women don’t speak up because they feel responsive for men’s feelings, because they have been socialized to not make men feel embarrassed or rejected. I think that’s true for many women and for many generations (think of that iconic v-day kiss/assault in time square between the sailor and the nurse), but I don’t think that’s the case with Grace. By her own actions she has shown that she’s not afraid to embarrass her sexual partners—she texted him the next day—AND she named him directly in this piece. I think Grace might have been afraid to embarrass herself, afraid to admit that she’s not “cool” with porny sex. And with all the talk of giving our daughters confidence, this feels most important. We need to convince our daughters that the things men want in a woman are not the things women should want in themselves, which takes more than confidence, it takes being able to understand: if you want to be liked by many kinds of men you will hate yourself and if you want to be liked by yourself, you will be undesirable to many kinds of men. And…of course it means teaching our sons a whole different set of lessons about what healthy, happy, consentual, respectful, enjoyable, safe sex looks like—and ps it does not look like porn.

  21. I think that Grace’s flirting and obvious interest in Aziz may have led him to think that she was up for a loose, casual sexual encounter. He obviously read her I’m-interested-in-you cues but what gets me so mad is his seeming inability to also read her I’m-uncomfortable-with-this-cues. Someone commented on this but I find this so maddening.

  22. These comments are great. Not sure if mine will add much to the discussion, but I am so glad that you wrote about this. I haven’t been able to articulate how I feel about Aziz and Grace. I am frustrated that the conversations being had are about who’s side one is on, if this was assault, and not conversation about where change is needed regarding consent and our lack of discussion about healthy sex and relationships. I feel bad for both of them. I have been in her shoes a dozen times and consider myself a strong woman. Communication is key. I read Girls & Sex in 2016 and it resonated so much with me. I especially like the pizza analogy. Discussing what kind of pizza, how many toppings, how much, etc in relation to sex and intimacy.
    My husband says all of this wouldn’t be a problem if we as a culture weren’t having sex so informally. And I have to disagree. We need to have continual dialogue about what our partners like, what we want from an encounter etc. We all need to learn to communicate.

  23. Gabby, I love everything you wrote and quoted here and it reflects how I’m feeling about this story, too. My sister and I went back and forth for hours the day the story broke about our feelings on this. I’ve also been a fan of Aziz for years and my sister has never liked him, but, she wanted to give him more of a benefit of the doubt than I did. My husband and I also talked about this, and how Aziz should have (and did, I feel) known that Grace did not want to go as far with him as she did and that he was pressuring her in a really gross way. Aziz only cared about what Grace was willing to let him do, not whether she actually wanted it or not.

    If you’re with someone, ASK them if they’re into it! “Do you like this? Does this feel good? Do you want to do xxx?” If someone says no, STOP IMMEDIATELY. Any person who would tell you no and then get mad that you stopped is manipulative and plays games and you do not want to sleep with or date that person.

  24. My husband is a military attorney (JAG) and he has handled many, many, many sexual harassment and assault cases. Last night I was trying to explain to my husband the controversy with this story. It was a very brief synopsis, maybe 3 sentences and husband’s instant response was “That guy has no respect for women.” That rather stunned me because it went against what I thought I knew of Aziz’s reputation (I’ve never watched his shows) and it was uttered with such certainty with a scant amount of facts (my husband is not quick to judge). When I asked him why he said that he replied, “If he respected women, he would have stopped but he was more interested in getting what he wanted. If she’s sending mixed messages that means she wasn’t sure or is confused and that is not consent. He understood her cues he just chose to ignore them.” It made me rethink the the whole issue.

    1. That he understood and ignored her cues really makes so much sense to me. There are several great comments here that have been helpful in helping me process my thoughts. However this comment seems to sum up the situation.

  25. Thanks so much for your take on this. The Aziz Ansari debate reminded me so much of “Cat Person,” the New Yorker story that went viral (and subsequently made headlines) just a few weeks ago. It explores a lot of the same themes of consent, sexual power dynamics, and transactional sex.

    I think, as you do, that clearly we need to have a lot more discussion about this. Thanks so much for creating a positive, thoughtful space to do so.

  26. I think what we’re seeing too is people trying to rationalize behavior of seemingly nice people. We build celebrities up to be these great people and when you learn that, no they aren’t all that great all the time, there’s a tendency to make excuses.

    If someone says CelebA sexually assaulted them and it’s someone I don’t care about or have a liking of, I’m inclined to believe it. But say someone says Celeb B sexually assaulted me, and it’s someone I love, I might be skeptical mainly because I wouldn’t be able to rationalize what I perceive of that star against the accusation.

    And then there is the issue of accusations being taken as completely true, but no way of actually verifying them. When you see situations like Cosby and the freaky producer guy (his name escapes me at the moment), where many women, many not linked in any way, accuse them, it’s hard to deny that it happened. 80+ women getting together to ruin a person is not logical to believe.

    But when you have 1 accuser and only 1 accuser, it becomes a bit harder to figure out if it’s true or not. Could it be a false accusation? Could it be regret over doing something with someone? Could it be a situation where one person feels one way about it, but the other didn’t feel that way? Where is the line as well? Is it about feelings, or about action? How do we determine truth in these types of situations?

    I think that’s why many ask why she didn’t just leave? Why didn’t she say no? They’re trying to determine truth in the situation with no way to actually determine the truth.

    And then yes, I think a lot of people are unsure as to how to move forward and I can understand. These signals and non-verbal communications techniques can’t be used in my opinion. Does this mean we need to be asking all the time? Yes. We need to be asking before doing anything. It seems highly unromantic but it will save you a lot of issues doing it. Also we need to express ourselves. It’s okay to say no. Teach techniques to defend and protect yourself in these situations.

  27. I admit, I hadn’t read the story until you posted about it. But, having a daughter and having survived my own abuse and assaults and ‘wasn’t far off’ situations… made me stop and read both your thoughts and the original story. And then the comments here. I think one thing that this discussion brought to light for me is that nobody ever had the ‘what an ideal date should look like’ talk with me (or so many other discussions I wish a parent had had with me). And part of me thinks I should have not needed that talk, but I don’t want to get into a shame and blame thought process over this. I guess the main take away for me is that I want to make sure I have that talk with my daughter when the time comes and to feel confident that I’ve armed her with knowledge and confidence.

  28. WOW! I don’t have anything to add to this thought provoking post other than to say thanks Garbrielle for this deep drive into an exceptionally complicated issue. I’m still very conflicted about this but one thing I know for sure is that these types of discussions are essential and need to be happening!

  29. I wanted to thank you Gabby for not using an image of Aziz smiling, honestly I’ve found it so offensive all week seeing his “approachable” smile used on most articles.

    Personally I completely feel that Aziz was in the wrong. Did he need to be called out publicly? I don’t know. It turns into a slippery slope of guilty because accused but at the same time is this the only way we will see change? Whether or not Grace was also to blame isn’t even on my radar. Men need to do better.

    As for consent – I’ve been talking to my daughter about consent since she was a toddler. This isn’t an adult issue. Kids need to understand about good and bad touches. Even hugs! I expect her to ask her friends if they want a hug before she gives one, and she is never required to hug anyone (relatives included). It is never too early to start talking about consent and how to say no or get yourself out of an uncomfortable situation (sex doesn’t even have to enter into the discussion).

    1. It’s a really good question on whether or not he should have been called out publicly. I don’t have an answer. By telling the story publicly, I think there’s a greater chance Aziz and other men like him will reconsider their behavior, and I think it’s created some excellent dialogue.

      Overall, if the public discussion will help men consider the feelings and needs of their sexual partners as human beings, then I’m glad the story was shared.

  30. I went on a date with a celebrity once. He was a big time pro baseball player. He was completely out of my league (no pun intended). I can relate to Grace’s story. While I can’t say that Grace and I had the same thoughts, I can tell you what I felt like and how confusing it was for me and my date. I didn’t want to have sex, but I sure wanted him to like me. I was in another world on our date. I wasn’t my usual assertive self. I definitely sent mixed messages. My date stopped when I said no, but yet I stayed and flirted and kissed and touched. And over and over we went from there to no and back.
    I didn’t feel pressured by my date, I felt pressured by myself. I felt pressured to like the situation more because OH MY GOD he is famous and I should like this and I want this to go somewhere.
    I’m sure there was some element of my date being a hot celebrity being able to get what he wants when he wants it and his behavior reflecting that. But that doesn’t give me a pass at being an adult woman and being in charge of my situation.

    1. Christine –

      THANK You for sharing your experience. I do think that continuing to stay, taking off her clothes, receiving oral sex makes the “it was only a bad date” camp feel justified. I think as the US has greater dialog about sex/good sex/why sex, both men and women need to understand that everyone is bringing their past dating selves to the current date. Perhaps in Aziz’s history, women who took off their clothes eventually had sex. It doesn’t mean that Grace HAD to, NOT AT ALL. But, her continuing to stay kept him in the game. Her continuing to kiss may have seemed like encouragement to him. All of these things happened before she said that she was uncomfortable. I’m in the straddling camp, I think there is no one in the “right” here.

  31. It seems so clear to me when I read it. It was assault. I am horrified at Aziz treating someone else as an object to get what he wants, rather than a person. It is so clear he had no regard for her. Only himself. It terrifies me as a mother, woman that it is so common that many hardly bat an eyelash and blame the young woman.

  32. I see two victims of bad communication here. Both won’t have good sex any time soon unless they start saying what they need and feel and listen to the other person. If this is normal sex for Ansari at his age, I am sorry for him. I am also a bit embarrassed for him, now everybody knows that his sexual behaviour is that of a fourteen year old with oportunity. That is very sad. It reminds me of the one sexual encounter I had with an American man (I’m from Germany) and I often thought afterwards that he behaved like someone who learned everything he knew about sex from watching porn. It was awful, but I didn’t let it go very far. I didn’t feel assaulted, I felt disappointed afterwards. At this point I had learned how to say no and leave when I didn’t feel good about it. This is the most important thing you can teach girls. Or anyone. Never agree to do anything sexual that doen’t feel good for you.

    1. Very true on communication being key to good sex. Frustratingly, that’s not something we see represented in novels and movies and TV, but it’s key nonetheless.

  33. I’ve been 22 and wielding the power of desire poorly. Trying out my own attractiveness. I put myself in situations where suddenly I didn’t like where I was, simply because I wanted to see what would happen next. And then not being able to get myself out. Maybe Grace liked the power of a dare with a celebrity until all of a sudden she didn’t. Power shifts. Our boundaries clarify.

    I also think that my no at 40 sounds like no and my yes sound like yes.

    I think for many years my no in relationships, work, sex sounded to listeners like the please-convince-me, “No I couldn’t possibly have any more cheesecake” than my current this-discussion-is-over “No”.

    Unless there are a flood of allegations against Ansari, I’m inclined to think that this is two sided poor communication.

    And maybe he was a jerk or maybe she was. But sometimes we are, and that’s not all we ever are.

    1. I’ve appreciated the nuanced responses to this story, and I think they are a reflection that women are taking these discussions seriously, and they know and understand the difference between rape and what happened on this date. There’s a great line in one of tonight’s Samantha Bee segments where she talks about how women “know the difference between a rapist, and workplace harasser, and an Aziz Ansari.”

  34. Gabby, thank you for this analysis, for sharing your thoughts with your readers, and for allowing us a forum to express ourselves. My good friend runs an organization called The Uncomfortable Conversation which offers approachable, realistic videos and tools on how to give and receive consent, to be there for survivors, etc. The work is about getting us all to open up and really talk about this.

    Second, I think back to an encounter when I was 19, and went on a date with a graduate student at my university, who my best guess was probably at least 27 or 28. After dinner, we went back to his place, and he wanted to watch a movie. We started kissing, and then all of a sudden, I just felt weird. I just had a bad feeling in my gut about the situation. So, I somehow just struck up the nerve to stop what was otherwise a nice date and made up an excuse why I needed to go home, and he stopped, got up, and drove me home, and sent me a nice email the next day. We didn’t go out again, but in reflecting upon this situation, I’m realizing “This is exactly what’s supposed to happen. I no longer gave consent. He stopped, and drove me home, and didn’t pressure me to stay or do things I didn’t want to do.” I’m grateful it didn’t end differently. Unfortunately, I have had experiences where I didn’t verbalize my discomfort and where I felt pressured, and I blamed myself for not being more forceful in my no. I think its often women who carry the burden of guilt or blame, and I appreciate that this story illuminates that there can be fault on both sides, and that these encounters are nuanced.

    I think the most important thing to tell our daughters and sons is to trust their gut. If something feels off, then it probably is. I think it is possible to teach consent. I think it starts with having uncomfortable conversations.

  35. Signs that a sexual encounter may not be consensual: she says “maybe next time,” she walks away during the encounter, she PUTS HER CLOTHES BACK ON after it starts, you have to PUSH her head down in order to get oral sex.

    We need to do better somehow. I have so many feelings about this and am glad we are having this moment. Thank you for your post.

  36. When I think of her carefully choosing her outfit I want to cry. My daughter is only 7 months old and I’m already so scared. I think something I plan on emphasizing to her is that you don’t always have to be nice, you don’t always have to be polite!!!!!!!

  37. As women, we need to start respecting ourselves enough to be honest. “I engaged in a sexual encounter that never felt right, I should have stopped, I should have left, I shouldn’t have allowed it.” Men are not innocent all the time, neither are we. Sexual assault and abuse needs to be better defined (or understood). Women and men just need to start taking responsibility for their own lack of respect for boundaries. She could have left at any time. She didn’t.

  38. I’m genuinely confused that there is any confusion about this situation. In multiple ways she said no.

    1. Verbally she asked him to slow down and just chill.
    2. She moved around the apartment and he kept following her and forcing his fingers in her mouth.
    3. When he agreed to stop, he calmed her enough to get her on the couch and immediately started all over again with the oral sex.(ie. manipulation.)

    Someone said above that she needed to be honest and not overblow the situation by calling it the “worst day of her life.” I’m 41 years old and what she described would definitely be in my top 5 because DATES SHOULD NOT BE LIKE THIS. A “date” should not be a woman trying to rebuff constant sexual advances while trying to be polite. A “date” is not a guy expecting sex the second you walk in the door and not taking no for an answer.

    This experience isn’t normal. And if someone feels like it is normal, then you should probably know it isn’t right. There are men out there who don’t “date” like this.

  39. Language changes us. The words we use to define behaviour change our behaviour. When I started thinking about consent as an enthusiastic yes instead of an absence of no, I realised that a lot of the hurt and uneasiness I felt about previous relationships came from this crucial distinction. I was 42 before I heard consent couched in these terms. That’s a lot of horrible experience to process. But before that, when I was 6, I had no language at all to describe what had happened to me. No one talked about it.

    I think that saying to women “just say no” and “take responsibility for your own lack of respect” is a disingenuous form of argument that completely elides the ignorance in which a lot of us have lived, and the fear that haunts some of us still. I think that arguing this IN PUBLIC is very important. Even if it hurts. Especially if it saves other women from this kind of humiliation and pain.

    Words have power. Let’s hear them.

  40. It seems like everyone is trying to treat this very fairly. One thing that hasn’t been discussed as much is maybe this is a failure not of consent but casual sex morality. Maybe Grace felt badly because sex is more than a physical act. It is emotional and perhaps people are feeling ashamed after a casual hookup because it was exactly that-casual, iNstead of a more committed relationship.

  41. Claire Millington

    Such a great round up and overview. At the very least the story is starting an important conversation about what consent looks like. I wonder though, who are having the conversation? I know that I am having great conversations with my sister, female colleagues and my best friends but are men having these conversations with each other?

  42. Thank you for your thoughtful and thought provoking post. I think we have to be very careful about the language we use. While I do not believe the word “assault” is applicable I do see him as someone who doesn’t care about someone else’s feelings. Although I sense that I don’t fully “get” it, I don’t understand why she did not simply walk out of his apartment or why she didn’t say something like, “I am uncomfortable with what is happening, with how you are treating me. Thinks are going too fast. If you are comfortable with us just talking fine. If not, I will need to leave.” While he certainly acted like he was clueless I do not understand why she didn’t act on her instinct. If I am walking down a dark street and feel threatened by someone coming towards me, I cross the street, or hail a cab or do whatever I can do to remove myself from the situation.

    If it is ok for her to share this publicly and anonymously, I am afraid of what we will be reading in the coming months. We are on a very slippery slope.

  43. What a great post! Thank you for taking such care to go the distance in discussing both sides of this topic. This is a discussion we must have, especially with our children, and more than once. The scenery is changing, mostly for the better. But they need to be prepared for it. An article/post like this is a great place to start for someone who hasn’t already breeched this subject. Again, thank you!

  44. I don’t think that Aziz’s actions were criminal, but I do think he acted like an asshole. I do wish that Grace could have just left, but I also understand it’s not always so easy to do so. There are myriad reasons why she may not have, and I do not blame her for not doing so.

    When I was 18, I was watching a street performer in a crowd on Venice Beach. I was wearing cut off jean shorts. Slowly I realized that a man (I assume, though to be fair, it could have been a woman), had put his finger between legs and was touching my vagina. I was in shock, and I froze. So many thoughts were racing through my head. They ran the gamut from: How long has his finger been there? If I scream, what will the people around me do? Can other people see this, and if so, do they think I asked for this or like it? I began to feel guilt, shame, and humiliation because I was frozen and couldn’t figure out what to do. I was also afraid and in shock. Finally, after a couple of minutes of this, I just walked away briskly. It wasn’t until I was far away that I looked back to make sure no one was following me. I was not a shrinking violet either. I was a cheerleader, on the debate team, a member of student government and easily and often expressed my opinions and did not shy away from confrontation. Now I am a lawyer. I can’t explain why I didn’t turn around and scream and punch him. There is no reason why I should have felt guilty, but I did. I did nothing wrong. I was even worried for him – how getting caught might affect him. All of this created the inability in me to do anything other than walk away. And I don’t blame myself for that at all.

    So when I hear about Grace’s situation, I can imagine a million reasons why she continued to stay and even why she gave him head (e.g., “maybe if I just give him head, he will then stop trying to have sex with me). Anyway, in the end, it was Aziz who was being an asshole. He even asked her if she was ok, and when she indicated no, he said, cool let’s just hang on the couch. When they got there, he then motioned for her to give him head. So think about that — he knew enough was off to ask if she was ok, and she acknowledged things were not ok, and then he acknowledged that he understood things were not ok, and then he asked her to give him head. Nuff said.

    1. I appreciate your comment so much. I’m no shrinking violet, but I’ve had similar situations, where I froze unexpectedly when it seems like I should have screamed or punched or said NO. We can’t predict how we’ll actually respond when things like this happen to us.

  45. I’m not sure how well I’ll phrase this but it has been something I’ve been thinking about for a while so I’ll give it a shot. I think that as a society, we’ve done ourselves a disservice by making sex so casual. I think that “K” in the comment above touched on it, talking about sex as a “small and trivial purchase.” Cathryn above also said something about this being a failure of casual sex morality.
    As a society, we want to be able to have casual sex anytime we want (assuming it is consensual.) But, at the same time, sex in its very nature is not casual. It’s something that is very intimate and emotional, even as a “casual” encounter.
    We’ve been trained and taught that it’s something we can do on a first date if we want to, but it’s also something that is not okay for our husband/wife/partner to do with someone else other than us. It’s hard for me to understand how we can have it both ways. How can sex be so casual that we can do it with someone we’ve just met, but also be something that is so special and intimate, it’s grounds for divorce if it’s done with someone other than your partner? I’m not judging or placing blame. I think this is where we are in our society right now, and it’s a conversation we need to have. We are trying to make sex casual and unimportant, but that’s not the way our bodies and minds react to it.

  46. So glad you wrote about this issue. I have to admit, I didn’t like this story from the get-go because it felt gossipy and like celebrity-gawking. But having read about it on a few sites, and now here at DesignMom, I changed my mind. I hope we are experiencing a cultural shift on the topic of consent. And as uncomfortable as it is (a beloved celebrity!), these conversations are important for re-setting the bar for this topic.

    I also felt bad at first for Aziz, but then I reconsidered that he is a celebrity. Exposure kind of goes with the job title to some extent. Especially if you act in certain ways towards others.

    PS – perhaps this has already been mentioned but the short story “Cat Person” in the New Yorker has really stuck with me. It felt familiar to encounters I had in my early 20s, and offered a different lens through which to examine those encounters.

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