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Women Writers Start Worrying About What, Exactly, Constitutes #MeToo

From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Women Writers Start Worrying About What, Exactly, Constitutes #MeToo

Perhaps it was inevitable that someone would claim the mantle of #MeToo in circumstances that were far murkier than the early scandals.

A photographer using the pseudonym “Grace” gives a lengthy, explicit description of a date with comedian Aziz Ansari that offers an unflattering portrait of him being clumsy and insistent to have sex, but never quite doing anything that most would characterize as sexual assault or harassment. As Andrea Peyser puts it, “Grace apparently believes that Ansari should have been able to read her mind, when a simple ‘Stop!’ would have promptly ended the activities.”

Quite a few women are deeply irked that this description of a bad date is getting lumped in with the #MeToo movement.

HLN host Ashley Banfield:

Banfield continued to criticize Grace’s claims, saying that “by your own clear description, this wasn’t a rape, nor was it a sexual assault. By your description, your sexual encounter was unpleasant.” The host then claimed that Grace had “chiseled away at a movement that I, along with all of my sisters in the workplace, have been dreaming of for decades. A movement that has finally changed an oversexed professional environment that I, too, have struggled through at times over the last 30 years in broadcasting.”

Added Banfield: “The #MeToo movement has righted a lot of wrongs and it has made your career path much smoother … what a gift. Yet, you looked that gift horse in the mouth and chiseled away at that powerful movement with your public accusation.”

Bari Weiss, writing in the New York Times:

I am a proud feminist, and this is what I thought while reading Grace’s story:

If you are hanging out naked with a man, it’s safe to assume he is going to try to have sex with you.

If the inability to choose a pinot noir over a pinot grigio offends you, you can leave right then and there.

If you don’t like the way your date hustles through paying the check, you can say, “I’ve had a lovely evening and I’m going home now.”

If you go home with him and discover he’s a terrible kisser, say “I’m out.”

If you start to hook up and don’t like the way he smells or the way he talks (or doesn’t talk), end it.

Caitlin Flanagan, writing in The Atlantic:

Was Grace frozen, terrified, stuck? No. She tells us that she wanted something from Ansari and that she was trying to figure out how to get it. She wanted affection, kindness, attention. Perhaps she hoped to maybe even become the famous man’s girlfriend. He wasn’t interested. What she felt afterward—rejected yet another time, by yet another man—was regret. And what she and the writer who told her story created was 3,000 words of revenge porn. The clinical detail in which the story is told is intended not to validate her account as much as it is to hurt and humiliate Ansari. Together, the two women may have destroyed Ansari’s career, which is now the punishment for every kind of male sexual misconduct, from the grotesque to the disappointing.

Karol Markowicz:

So many of the well-known #MeToo stories centered on power dynamics. Matt Lauer allegedly assaulting his underlings. Weinstein blocking the careers of actresses who turned him down. But no such power dynamic existed in this situation. Grace was not hanging out with Ansari for a career opportunity. Their date was understood to be romantic by both of them. If we’ve reached a point where #MeToo will include regrettable hook-ups the whole movement is diluted and actual sexual assault stories minimized.

It’s an odd feeling to write “Sonny Bunch is right,” but he’s got a point:

I would suggest there’s a reason this story appeared in babe.net, rather than the New York Times or BuzzFeed or the Los Angeles Times or, yes, The Washington Post. One of the reasons is that, however Grace now thinks of the encounter, what happened isn’t sexual assault or anything close to it by most legal or common-sense standards. And bad dates — including terrible ones that leave one person feeling humiliated — aren’t actually newsworthy, even when they happen to famous people.

An “I had sex with a celebrity and regretted it, and isn’t that kind of like Harvey Weinstein” claim is exactly the sort of unconvincing argument that a powerful sexual predator would want in the news right now. Because if people perceive #MeToo as being driven by a desire to publicly detail every sexual encounter that ends unsatisfactory or awkwardly, a lot of people will recoil from it. Sex is complicated and messy enough without the thought of having every encounter or attempted encounter broadcast to the world for dissection and analysis.

Meanwhile, actress Eliza Dushku described being sexually assaulted by a stunt coordinator on the set of True Lies; she was 12 at the time. Her agent went to the executive producer and told her about the assault, but “nobody really did anything.”

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