The account of Aziz Ansari’s alleged sexual assault might be the most important yet. It underlines the necessity of nuance, and it offers both men and women an opportunity to dissect the sometimes difficult dichotomy between sexual assault and a severe misunderstanding. I’ve read the reactions on twitter, and there are a few things worth noting. First, I believe that this woman felt sexually assaulted, and my heart breaks for her.
Her very detailed account begins with a beautiful date that seemingly went well, which took place at an “Oyster bar on board a historic wooden schooner on the Hudson River.” She then sensed Ansari was “eager to leave,” despite the remaining wine in her glass. Since there is no provided timeline, it’s unclear how long they were on the boat before Ansari suggested they depart. Is it possible, as she suggests, that Ansari hurried their meal as a means to get to the sex? Sure. Is it also possible he was simply sick of sitting on a boat? Also sure. According to Grace, when they entered his apartment “He said something along the lines of, “‘How about you hop up and take a seat?’ Within moments, he was kissing her. ‘In a second, his hand was on my breast.’ Then he was undressing her, then he undressed himself. She remembers feeling uncomfortable at how quickly things escalated.'” For starters, I want to be clear that a woman entering a man’s apartment after a date in no way warrants a blanket assumption that she is game for sex. I also want to be clear that as a general rule, a man SHOULD NEVER undress himself. Endless coffee conversations with many of my best girlfriends have involved that very specific subject, and each and every one of them was horrified when the man undressed himself. My male friends like rules for clarity, and that is one of them. Your pants don’t come off until we take them off. Is it a double standard? Yes. But there you have it. As for a kiss immediately escalating into undressing, while it might feel fast, there are certain rip-each-other’s-clothes-off circumstances that we’ve all been in, and they often involve a “game on” approach. As in, I know it’s soon, but I’m so turned on I can’t wait one minute longer. If that turned-on feeling is not mutual, it’s a mess.
Grace also notes that Ansari “told her he was going to grab a condom within minutes of their first kiss, [and she] voiced her hesitation explicitly.” I’m about to give my male friends and readers another general rule. NEVER get a condom unless the woman asks if you have it. I too have been in a situation when I was heavily making out with someone who then grabbed a condom and I took the condom out of his hand, threw it across the room, and said, “Who is f-g you?” He looked at me perplexed and I said, “We are fooling around. We are not having sex. That is not happening.” I’d like to note that this occurred with a very close friend, who is an incredibly good guy, and he misread the signals. He literally thought that foreplay inevitably turned into sex, and he made the assumption. Had he followed my “never grab the condom” rule, he’d have been fine. In fact, I’d argue that the first time two people have sex, the women should be the one asking. After that first time, the man can ask first (another rule). I’d like to also note that not all women are as blunt as me. Those who know me might say I’m too blunt. But for a women who is greatly uncomfortable and ALSO shy, I can imagine the horror associated with the severe down-shift between, “Hey I’m kissing this cute guy,” and “Wait, this cute guy thinks we are going to have sex tonight?”
Grace then describes how Ansari would “[take] his two fingers in a V-shape and [put] them in [her] mouth, in [her] throat to wet his fingers, because the moment he’d stick his fingers in [her] throat he’d go straight for my vagina and try to finger me.” Another note here. It is not in it of itself objectionable to do this move. Wetting a girls fingers with her own saliva to then insert into her vagina can be hot if the woman is actually turned on. Many dirty moves take place during sex that could appeal to one person while horrifying another. For instance, some women like to be spanked during sex, while others might find this to be a complete violation. While it’s important to read cues, some men can’t, which brings us to this circumstance. Grace’s most damning allegation is when she says Ansari “physically pulled her hand towards his penis multiple times throughout the night, from the time he first kissed her on the counter-top onward. ‘He probably moved my hand to his dick five to seven times,’” she said, furthering that “he really kept doing it after I moved it away.” Another rule here. A man should NEVER put a women’s hand on his dick while hooking up for the first time. Anytime thereafter, a man should only put a woman’s hand on his dick ONCE. If she says no or physically moves her hand away, that means no. She should not feel pressured into performing any type of sexual act, and excessive hand-rejection presents a pretty clear understanding of what the woman wants. She also says that Ansari continued to ask where she wants to be f-ked,which was a confusing question considering she did not want to be f-kd at all. I too have been in situations where the man executes some type of dirty talk that falls flat, and it’s NOT FUN. Also, since he previously grabbed a condom, it’s fair to assume this was a literal question and not just dirty talk, but there is no way to know.
Once Grace shifted her non-verbal cues to verbally saying, “I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you,” she assumed Ansari’s moves would cease. Instead, he pointed to his penis and motioned for her to give him oral sex. How Ansari did not then understand that she was uncomfortable is beyond my comprehension. In law, intent means “know or should have known,” and it’s for this very reason. Though it’s possible he did not KNOW, he definitely SHOULD HAVE known. And we’ve learned from the Times Up movement that just because a woman engages in a sexual act does not mean that the consent is clear. If you bully a woman, or if you ask multiple times after being told no, the consent becomes very muddy. And no man should want muddy consent. It’s a sad fact that if this were the standard for sexual assault, nearly every man I hooked up with in my twenties would be in prison. Saying “no” more than once was basically a hobby for a very old virgin such as myself at the time, and though I have the personality to have no problem with repetitive rejections, many women don’t. They give up and give in. What is it about the male psyche that enjoys a sexual encounter such as this? You’d have to ask a man.
Grace alerted Ansari to her feelings the next day, and Ansari’s surprised reply indicates his interpretation was completely amiss. Ansari said how said he was sad to hear it and it was never his intention to make her feel that way. Clearly he missed something, he said. Their text exchange brings up another question. What is the point of bringing this public? If Ansari were a serial sexual predator and others needed to be warned, then okay. But what if he’s simply a guy who got it wrong? He was explicitly told, he apologized, and perhaps he learned something from her very blunt text about his deplorable behavior. I think it’s important she went public for many reasons. The first is that a lot of nuance is ignored during conversations about sexual assault. As it stands in the media at the moment, you are either good or evil, and there is no in between. We are not allowed to examine each individual story to have an honest conversation about the details. Some men need that honest conversation, and they need to feel free to ask important questions to further understand. One sentence on twitter does not allow for that. And while women are in no way bound to divulge every detail of a traumatic encounter, I commend Grace for doing so. It opens dialogue in a way that lets us examine what is and what is not okay. Maybe if more men read this story, the norm will shift, which will make it far easier for us women.