A Tale of Two Dates: 15 Lessons from the Aziz Ansari Case

To read the Tweets and comments on the Babe.net story about one woman’s horrible night with actor & comedian Aziz Ansari (read it here if you haven’t already), you’d assume there were only two possible, mutually exclusive conclusions to draw: either you believe that Ansari is a sexual assaulter who’s career should be over OR you’re convinced that the anonymous “Grace” is a weak woman who’s playing the victim card because their date didn’t go exactly how she had hoped.  There is no potential for grey area, no possibility for overlap. And is it any surprise in this hyper-partisan political climate?

One thing is abundantly clear: everyone needs to learn that an enthusiastic, verbal yes is a requirement for any and all good, consensual sexual encounters. This is non-negotiable. No complaints about lost eros, no rueing the death of sexual game-play. Stolen kisses (i.e. sexual sucker punches) are now and forever non-starters. Deal with it.

But as we grapple with this new reality of sexual justice and hammer out the necessary rules of good sexual communication in order to significantly reduce abuse and assault, can we approach complicated sexual questions with some nuance, sympathy and generosity, no matter which side we’re coming from? Can we hold two ideas in our head at once?

If we assume that everything in the Babe article happened as described, it’s not necessarily a case of EITHER/OR — it may just be a case of AND. It’s possible for Grace to have felt genuinely violated while at the same time Aziz genuinely (albeit mistakenly) thought she was into it. Yes, Ansari’s behavior was unquestionably selfish, entitled, presumptuous, and clueless — it should be harshly criticized and all of us (especially men) should learn from it.  But does this kind of bad behavior magically, surgically remove an adult woman’s sexual agency, her voice and her personal preferences? Should we be so quick to unequivocally call this “sexual assault” and Grace a “powerless victim”?  Doing so risks infantilizing women and ultimately undermining the effectiveness of the critically important #MeToo movement.

The brunt of the blame should no doubt fall on Ansari, who had the bulk of the power in the situation: he’s rich, famous, older and should know better, especially as someone who publicly calls himself a feminist. But both participants should be expected to take at least some responsibility for their own respective actions. Suggesting she do so does not absolve him — it simply aims to make everyone better sexual communicators. Because there are important lessons we can learn from his behavior and hers:

What We Can Learn From HIS Behavior

1. Do not try to relentlessly wear down your date’s defenses. The lasting legacy of the “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” dichotomy stinks. Good girls mustn’t admit their desires while manly men must chip-chip-chip away at those feminine false fronts?  Please. Those gender roles are stale, rotten, way past their sell by date. If you think a person is playing hard to get, assume they do NOT want to be gotten. Sex is not a game of peer pressure, cat-and-mouse, or psychological water torture. People who act unsure or uncomfortable are unsure and uncomfortable. For the sex to be good for everyone involved, participants need to be consistently confident and comfortable. Abort mission if this is clearly (or even just possibly) not the case.

2. Do not use alcohol to try to get the sexual outcome you desire out of a date. Proper consent cannot be given by people who…


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