Everybody’s woke bae/BFF Aziz Ansari was thrown into the #MeToo spotlight over the weekend after babe.net published a story involving a sexual encounter between Ansari and a 23 year old woman. An encounter she defined as sexual assault and one in which he believed to be fully consensual. Multiple outlets ran think pieces over the weekend, claiming this women’s story is bad for the movement and that women need to be stronger and more vocal in these situations, among other more ostentatious victim-blaming from the NYT.
I know I’m not an official expert. I don’t have a degree in sexual politics or even women & gender studies. But I’m a 30-year old woman who’s had numerous sexual partners (sorry, Mom), some good, some mediocre, some great, some bad, and some truly horrific. As such, I feel I have some basis with which to express the following sentiment: I believe in many of my encounters, and in the experience detailed with Ansari, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the word “consent.”
Let’s start with a little etymology lesson: consent comes from the Old French word consentir, meaning “agree, comply.” But consentir comes from the Latin consentire, meaning “feel together” – from con, meaning “with” and sentire “to feel” – “feeling together.”
This is truly important because I think one of the things the majority of my sexual experiences had in common was that the men felt at all times as if there were doing something TO me, not WITH me. They believed my consent meant they were allowed to do things to me and my body, as if I was just a prop. This is clearly inherent in the way many men put their hands on your head during oral sex or leading to up to oral sex, with no discussion/question. Or how the the woman in the Aziz encounter described him taking her hand and placing it on his penis – these acts in of themselves insignificant, but so meaningful in the weight they bare for the women who endure them.
Endure. That’s what many of us do in these instances. We endure things that make us uncomfortable, that we didn’t want because as “Grace” indicated, many times the man does not pick up on our verbal, or more frequently, our non-verbal, cues. The NYT says that must makes the other party guilt of not being a mind reader. That is not only a disgustingly dangerous sentiment, it’s also wrong, and goes back again to the inherent definition of the term consent. If a woman is closing her legs, frowning, turning her body away, acting tentatively – it is not an invitation to try harder, to pursue more adamantly (as much as society and porn like to teach men otherwise). It is a cue that she is not consenting to what is happening. And while verbal indication is clearer, a partner who doesn’t listen to or watch for these cues is not interested in the pleasure or even comfort of the woman. Thereby, there is no “feeling together” and there is no consent.
The outcry of “THIS IS NOT ASSAULT” from so many powerful outlets was truly jarring. Why were they so angry? So many opinions saying this hurt the #MeToo movement because it was de-legitimatizing “real” assault by conflating it with “buyer’s remorse” or “bad sex.” It was as though the anger and outcry stemmed from the notion that while this was a bad sexual experience, it was also a normal one, and thus didn’t belong in this conversation.
Um, excuse me, hi, Stephi here. Quick query: isn’t the purpose of the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements to question what culture deems “normal” and call out the power dynamics that have enabled men to get away with things that are both demeaning to and bad for women? Just because something seems normal or legal, doesn’t make it right.
If we want to talk about things that are harmful to the movement, subheaders like “Allegations against the comedian are proof that women are angry, temporarily powerful—and very, very dangerous” from The Atlantic are disgusting trash that reinforce the notion that WOMEN are the perpetrators in this fight. Or horrendously stupid openers like “I’m apparently the victim of sexual assault. And if you’re a sexually active woman in the 21st century, chances are that you are, too.” from The New York Times, which like, take your shitty sarcasm, throw it in a raging dumpster fire, and look up some sexual assault statistics, because TOO MANY WOMEN ARE VICTIMS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT, YOU MORON. Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Every NINETY-EIGHT SECONDS. And one out of every 6 women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
(Sidenote: The gall to print that vomit-inducing POS from the NYT caused me to cancel my subscription).
Non-consensual sex happens more than many of us, women and men, would like to admit. As women, we’ve blamed ourselves, thought “at least it wasn’t as bad as x time,” and reconciled it as just a part of the norm. But screw the norm. A non-consensual sexual experience isn’t always violent, isn’t always aggressive, and doesn’t always fit into the neat box we’ve defined for ourselves of sexual assault/rape, but it is NOT the same as bad sex.
So, for the sake of many out there:
Bad Sex: lacking chemistry, interested in different things, parts not really fitting, fumbling, awkward, bad kissing, bad oral, etc.
Non-Consensual Sex: when one or both parties did not agree to aspects of or the entirety of the encounter. That’s it. That can include something as seemingly small as having your head pushed towards someone’s penis without being asked and then “enduring” or having your hand grabbed and placed on someone’s crotch without conversation.
I’ve written before how sometimes it’s the woke, self-proclaimed feminist men who are the least self-reflective. We want to believe that because Aziz wore a #TimesUp pin and wrote an episode of Master of None about a likable guy who’s actually a serial sexual assaulter that he’s a guy on our side. (Btw, I seem to have forgotten his words of encouragement for the #TimesUp movement when he won his Golden Globe 2 weeks ago… oh right, because he said zilch). And just because a guy can say all the right things about the world around him, doesn’t mean that he’s self-aware enough to redefine his approach to his own sexual encounters by making the woman an active participant and not just there to be conquered or used for his pleasure.
Because that’s what Aziz did. He doesn’t deny the account itself, just the label of the account as non-consensual. And the fact that he and so many others don’t see what he did as non-consensual is the problem. We don’t like the idea of the enthusiastic “yes” to sex because it downplays the eroticism and fluidity of what we’re shown and told to expect in these situations, but YES MEANS YES is vital and honestly, we shouldn’t settle for anything less.