I’d be lying if I said that the Aziz Ansari scandal didn’t keep me up at night, thinking about whether what he did was sexual assault or not. Ever since “Grace” (not her real name) opened up about her experience with the Master of None actor, noting how he allegedly pressured her to have sex, people have expressed mixed reactions. One was a The New York Times op-ed titled “Aziz Ansari Is Guilty. Of Not Being a Mind Reader.”
The piece detailed how the woman’s date and one night stand with Aziz was nothing more than “bad sex.” It wasn’t sexual assault despite the fact that Grace used “verbal and nonverbal cues to indicate how uncomfortable and distressed she was.” That Grace was responsible for her predicament, and there was nothing stopping her from firmly saying “no” and walking away earlier in the night.
This was supported by Aziz’s subsequent statement, which stated that he thought what they did was fully consensual. He also noted that he apologized to Grace when she texted the next day about her discomfort with him.
Again, I found myself asking where the line is between bad sex and straight-up assault. Our columnist B. Wiser previously cited that the former happens when the moment and attraction is lacking. But a woman still feels compelled to do it because she’s either trapped in the situation or she’s somehow required to reciprocate her partner’s desires.
But the brunt of several arguments has to do with consent, both verbal and non-verbal. The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) elaborates that it’s all about communicating with your partner, giving clear signs like an audible “yes.” They also encourage questions like “Is it okay?” before engaging in sexual acts. Non-consent happens when “no” isn’t acknowledged at any given moment.
Given Grace’s account of the date, she mentioned how she repeatedly asked Aziz to stop before she gave in to his advances. Many would argue that it was so easy to turn him down and she didn’t have to humiliate the man because she had an awful time.
However, this poses the question: Is it really easy for everyone to say “no” at any sexual encounter? Of course not. That’s why the non-verbal cues should also be taken into account.
This goes for many interactions, including sexual ones. This isn't a mixed message. You're ignoring the clear message you got, like we're supposed to speak to you in COBOL to not get boundaries ignored.
— thread (1/666) (@krenshar_posts) January 14, 2018
Broadly noted how non-reciprocation, like what Grace did when she pulled her hand away from Aziz’s privates, should already be a red flag. “But when you think about it, if what you’re doing isn’t being reciprocated—if someone’s not touching you back, if you’re having to move their hand to places—something’s not okay.” said Dr. Fiona Vera-Gray of the University of Durham. “Ansari’s behavior isn’t just about entitlement, but also comes out of a cultural backdrop that presents sex as something that’s done to women.”
There are also other factors as to why women are coerced into having sex. It can be attributed to the “temporary paralysis” they feel in the moment, which stops them from resisting. One netizen pointed out that some women are scared of what might happen to them if they declined.
"Why didn't she just say 'no' to him? It's so easy to just call a cab and leave." pic.twitter.com/InwpFgB8m3
— eat the rich to slow down climate change (@tiyangchang) January 16, 2018
We don’t know what was going on in Grace’s head at the moment. If you’re someone who’s ever felt like you had no choice but to comply in a sexual activity, you may understand her predicament. (Believe me, I know the feeling of getting an angry look from a guy just because I wasn’t ready to do something.) Otherwise, you might look at the situation very differently. Still, we shouldn’t invalidate her feelings and fears.
So, is the Aziz Ansari scandal solely a case of bad sex? Yes. Was it sexual assault? Maybe, depending on what Grace experienced firsthand. Do men like Aziz need to be mindful of what constitutes as consensual? Definitely.
What we can learn from this is simply the concept of consent in general. Men don’t need to be mind readers to spot red flags because not all of them are direct. If you are unsure, it doesn’t hurt to ask. If something’s off, back away and assess the situation. Once a person is forced or held down, it’s rape. Period.
Art by Lara Intong
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