In the wake of the sexual assault allegations against Aziz Ansari, I felt the need to say something about consent. I’ve seen a lot of disappointing reactions on my newsfeed today, all from men. Mainly people posting this New York Times article, Aziz Ansari Is Guilty. Of Not Being A Mindreader. Even my gay friends have defended Ansari, and, although I adamantly disagree, I can understand why they would.
When we picture a rapist, we picture someone who is physically and emotionally capable of overpowering a woman or someone who looks rough around the edges.
Aziz Ansari is the opposite of this, more than that, he’s a likable guy. Yet, he has openly joked about sexual coercion in his skits, and we all laugh at it. That’s because sexual coercion is completely normalized in our culture.
But what is sexual coercion exactly?
Most people do not realize there are multiple forms of rape. Sexual coercion, in my opinion, is one of the most insidious forms. Here’s an example:
Picture you’re sitting at a table with someone just trying to do your homework. The other person offers you a bite of their bagel. You say no thanks, but you feel bad, because you like the person, and you don’t want to hurt their feelings. Five minutes later, they offer you a bite of the bagel again. You react the same as you did before. This cycle repeats until, finally, you take a bite of the bagel just to get this person to stop.
This is something women experience every single day at the hands of men, only it’s not a bagel we’re saying no to. It’s unwanted sexual contact.
So, if you give in, eventually, that’s still consent, isn’t it?
Not exactly. What the offerer has proven by the time you cave is that they do not care about your desires, your boundaries, or your consent. They just want to get laid, and they will keep chipping away at you until they get what they want.
If this sounds like something that happens all the time, that’s because it is. Sexual assault is often in plain sight and encouraged. People think of sexual assault as violent stranger rape when the majority of rape is performed by someone the victim knows and is comfortable with. It’s nuanced like that, and because of this, women have difficulty speaking up in the moment.
You wouldn’t expect a woman to pull out a rape whistle on a trusted friend because it’s not that kind of situation. You can’t expect a woman to fight or scream “no!” at these times either.
I don’t think Aziz Ansari is an inherently bad dude, or that he is even rare in thinking that what he did was perfectly acceptable. But it isn’t that hard to tell if your partner wants to have sex with you. It’s also not hard to ask for consent.
A common reaction I see to this line of thinking is that everything is being treated with “kid gloves” now. The same argument has been made for things like autism and rampant levels of mental illness. To which I say, these things have always existed; we just have a name for them now, and we aren’t accepting ignorance anymore.
What Aziz Ansari teaches us about sexual coercion is that it is still a societal problem we need to address. Despite the #metoo movement, victim blaming is still a huge problem.
We should not be teaching women to “speak up” more often. We should be teaching men to stop wearing women down until they get what they want, and that this behavior is, in fact, a form of assault.
Aziz also teaches us that even the nice guy can be out of touch with consent. Speaking and asking questions during sex is embarrassing sometimes, but if we (I’m looking at you New York Times) are going to make the argument that women need to be socialized to speak up, we need to make the same argument about men.
P.S. Medium.com published an amazing piece on coercion and Aziz Ansari worth reading. The author articulates sexual coercion on a personal level and articulates the subject better than I ever could.