Call it the Aziz Ansari problem. A guy behaved boorishly on a date. This behavior fell well short of a crime. What now?
To some extent, the two sides in the Ansari debate are talking past each other. The celebrated comedian, actor, and self-identified male feminist behaved like an utter lout on his now-famous date with “Grace.” The pseudonymous young woman in question (just 23) understandably felt ill-used by the encounter, and following the guidelines that have been established on campus, she channeled her bad feelings into the language of crime. “It took a really long time for me to validate this as sexual assault,” “Grace” said in the gruesomely detailed 3,000-word piece that, it seems safe to guess, has now been read by millions. “It really hit me that I was violated,” she also says, implying that not merely assault but actual rape took place.
Oh? Then why didn’t she go to the police instead of to Babe.net? Because even Grace actually understands that no crime occurred. Sex willingly embarked upon by both parties, even if one party feels reluctance or disgust or shame, is not a crime.
Yet Grace just knows a wrong has been done, and wrongs must be punished. She and Babe.net have chosen the punishment of destroying Ansari’s reputation, just as women on campus have been seeking to undo young men like Ansari by having them thrown off campus. Such a punishment might follow a man around for life and do substantial harm to his reputation and job prospects. So be it, say their accusers. In Ansari’s case, since he is a celebrity, an account of such a sordid nature is bound to go viral and attach to him forever. Even if he doesn’t lose a single gig because of Grace’s story — the details of which he hasn’t denied, though he emphasizes that everything that happened was consensual — he has been severely punished.
The two sides in the debate line up roughly as follows: Ansari’s defenders point out that he didn’t commit a crime. Grace’s defenders say he behaved horribly. Both sides are right.
Feminist writers such as Jessica Valenti praise Grace and say men have been getting away with this sort of callous behavior toward women for too long. That’s correct: Ansari treated Grace more like a prostitute than like a date. The online flogging Ansari has suffered might be disproportionate, goes the reasoning, but men as a class need to be taught a lesson, and the next Ansari will think twice before behaving this way. In this framing, Ansari suffers too much now in order to decrease women’s future suffering, but that’s okay because he’s a man.
But what Grace has done to Ansari in the name of correcting a power imbalance is like watching a steamroller run over a cardboard box, with the steamroller proclaiming itself the victim the whole time.
Here’s the problem: There is no satisfying, condign punishment for boorish behavior like Ansari’s. Hence the frustration of people like Valenti, of people like Grace, of all the women who have had regrettable hookups on campus. We have to find some other way of dealing with this situation other than retribution after the fact.
Feminists need to spread the word among women: You are not a prostitute. You are not a sex toy. Have more respect for your body than to mentally separate yourself from it when things turn gross.
Are men getting away with too much? Yes. So feminists should put a stop to that. They need to spread the word among women: You are not a prostitute. You are not a sex toy. Have more respect for your body than to mentally separate yourself from it when things turn gross.
Much attention has been called to Grace pointing out that when she first arrived at Ansari’s apartment for a pre-dinner drink, he gave her a glass of white wine without asking her what she wanted. (She prefers red.) This was her first indication that the date was going badly: Ansari is a rich, middle-aged man of 34, not a struggling youngster. He probably has many different drink options in his kitchen, but it didn’t cross his mind to be solicitous of her as a person. If Ansari had had a male friend over, would he have been so thoughtless? I doubt it. Ansari was already treating her as an object rather than a person. By the time he rushed her through dinner, with wine still in her glass, she should have declined the opportunity to go back to his place. Once he started being sexually pushy with her, she should definitely have realized that he wasn’t sensitive to her needs and walked out.
Ansari apparently is guilty of disrespectful behavior toward Grace. But Grace is also guilty of disrespectful behavior toward Grace, and her disrespect was the foundation for his. Women, stand up for women. Don’t allow yourself to be mistreated. Grace, and the girl who suffered similar indignities in the New Yorker short story “Cat Person,” and all the millions of young women who identify with them, are not going to change men’s nature, which is to try to get away with as much as they can. But they can change the hookup culture. They can walk away from bad sex before it happens.