I’ve watched the first episode of Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” at least five times since its 2015 release. I’ve dreamt of seeing his stand-up comedy live, and I was a huge fan of his since his first appearance on “Parks and Recreation,” which brought much-needed South Asian representation to mainstream television.
He was the first person I saw on my television that looked like, well, me. He was the first reason for me to believe that an Indian person could break out of the “Raj Koothrappali” stereotype and into the limelight. The fact that he was a self-proclaimed feminist ally who spoke regularly against sexual harassment, both on his show and in real life, only reinforced my love and support for him.
So when allegations of Ansari’s sexual misconduct broke, I didn’t want to believe them. As I read through the details of the babe.net article, I found myself thinking, “This isn’t sexual assault.”
And in that moment, I realized I had been conditioned to justify and even excuse inappropriate behavior.
It’s easy for me to comprehend that someone who demeans and talks down to women would behave aggressively during a sexual encounter, but it’s completely earth-shattering to realize that men who claim to respect women, who even wear a “Time’s Up” pin in support of the movement, are also capable of behavior that comes off as clueless, obnoxious and self-entitled.
As a journalist, I have several problems with the way the babe.net piece was written. Its deliberate narrative structure presented the dinner date as awkward and uncomfortable before delving into any of the allegations, remaining far from objective. All the more, the author included details — like the woman’s inability to choose white over red wine — that were irrelevant to the article’s larger “exposé,” derailing the piece’s journalistic integrity.
Ansari allegedly coerced a woman into multiple sexual acts. While this is not at all equivalent to continued abuse and harassment, it is certainly telling of many men’s expectations after a date. Affirmative, enthusiastic consent is never given, and its absence does not hinder Ansari’s willingness to make sexual demands.The article paints a narrative in which Ansari is aggressive, selfish and demanding of his date, who accommodated his demands largely because she has been conditioned to act polite, and because he is a celebrity with immense power and influence. Even if these descriptions of the night are not what truly happened, it’s a scenario that unfortunately occurs all too often.
Many men and several women say the anonymous “Grace” could have left or simply said “no.” Theoretically, she could have. But different women come from different backgrounds. Years of socializing to always defer to and prioritize men’s desires and feelings likely outweighed her natural instincts and her own well-being. It’s a feeling that resonates with many women.
According to her account, she said, “Next time,” and Ansari refused to get the message. She said, “I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you.” For me, that’s a clear, loud, verbal cue that she did not want sex. Could she have phrased it better? Probably. But it can be hard to say “no” when we are taught to put others’ feelings above our own, to be sensitive to others’ needs.
After having said, “it’s only fun if we’re both having fun” and seemingly acknowledging her discomfort, Ansari then allegedly motioned for her to go down on him. Unless babe.net were to add several clarifications and omitted details, Ansari’s actions in their current, reported form are most definitely exploitative and border on assault. Similar to many emerging allegations against men in Hollywood, while Ansari’s sexual conduct may not meet the legal definition of assault, it is not excusable.
There’s a false dichotomy surrounding the way people interpret Ansari’s reported sexual behaviors — either they were evil, or they were normal. Initial responses seemed to indicate that either his career is over, or his accuser is at fault. But ongoing conversations demonstrate that the problem exists far beyond the inappropriate actions of one man, pointing toward the acceptance of these actions within society.
Legally, Ansari has done nothing wrong. To many, Ansari’s actions don’t even resemble assault. Expecting sex and ambiguous consent are deeply ingrained within our dating culture — many men have acted just like Ansari in the same situation. But that doesn’t make these behaviors OK.
Just as Ansari’s accuser was socialized to be compliant, Ansari was socialized to demand — and expect — sex from his date. Let’s advocate for a society in which men are taught that sex is not to be expected and where women are empowered to explicitly say what they want and turn down sex they don’t.
Contact Anjali Shrivastava at [email protected].