Content warning: This piece addresses issues of sexual assault.
The story about the date a young woman called Grace went on with actor Aziz Ansari last year has gone viral. In an article on Babe, Grace details how after dinner, Ansari pressured Grace into unwanted sexual touching and oral sex. People have called Grace’s experience everything from “bad sex” to “sexual assault,” and what has shocked many is that Ansari is a self-proclaimed feminist who has presented himself as “woke.” Yet it has proved difficult for male “feminists,” including those on this supposedly activist campus, to actually treat women with respect.
Many “feminists” blame Grace for what happened to her because she did not explicitly deny Ansari sex during the first part of their encounter. Yet most consent policies, including Columbia’s, define consent as affirmative in nature, without coercive influence, and being “knowing, voluntary, and mutual.” Consent, not just the absence of denial, must be given. It was Ansari’s job to seek a “yes” from Grace, not to wait for a “no.” Grace gave many nonverbal clues: “He probably moved my hand to his dick five to seven times. … He really kept doing it after I moved it away. … It was 30 minutes of me getting up and moving and him following and sticking his fingers down my throat again.”
You can’t tell me that this 34-year-old man doesn’t understand basic body language. If I’m moving my hand away from your dick, I don’t want to touch it. That’s not rocket science.
Blaming Grace for her assault furthers an ideal that is all too prevalent, especially at Columbia: that it is women’s job to stop men from raping us. This leads to a cultural norm of victim-blaming that is present in the minds of the many “feminists” who have argued that Grace should have just yelled “no!” or left.
Yet Columbia’s inadequate sexual violence education makes assaults like Ansari’s all too possible. Feminist writer Katie Anthony, in an article entitled "Not That Bad,” writes, “Men are socialized to fuck hard and often. … Aziz Ansari has been socialized.” As long as men are conditioned to constantly pursue sex, it is Columbia’s job to help students unlearn these toxic norms. The New Student Orientation Program’s consent education and the Sexual Respect Initiative are starting points, but for young men coming into a new environment where social life is often heavily centered around sexual “conquests,” Columbia must lengthen and deepen its curriculum to prevent more Ansaris from being created. Eighteen years of rape culture and toxic masculinity cannot be unlearned in one two-hour period, especially when that lesson is undermined by the gender norms surrounding sex that pervade Bacchanal, frat parties, Tinder dates, and study sessions.
What has struck many women reacting to Grace’s story is the feeling that what happened to Grace can’t be assault, because if so, they’ve been assaulted too. No one wants to see herself as a victim, but I think most women have been in a situation where a partner has pressured, coerced, or worn them down into having sex. This—by RAINN’s and Columbia’s definitions—is assault. Acknowledging Ansari’s actions as assault forces women to relive our own pain and reevaluate our own experiences—and think about why we sometimes tell ourselves our feelings don’t matter.
If more women admit they’ve been assaulted, more men are guilty. This too is hard, because we don’t want to see our friends and loved ones as abusers. But ghosts don’t assault women. Lovers, friends, male “feminists” like Ansari and James Franco, relatives, employers, professors, and strangers do. The first person who assaulted me was my high school boyfriend, a “feminist” who, after crushing me under his weight, restricting my breathing, nearly breaking my ribs, and forcing me to fight him off me, received several character and merit-based awards at our school. This is not an uncommon occurrence. If your way of ending sexual assault is targeting creepy-looking old men like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, you will leave most victims behind.
Aziz Ansari is one of countless men who not only do not understand but also do not care to know how to treat a woman during a hookup, and when to stop pursuing sex with her. The sexual assault prevention education at Columbia stops after NSOP and a quick SRI requirement fulfillment, and thus becomes a distant memory by winter finals. This education is nowhere near enough to prevent young men from perpetuating Ansari’s behavior, and is nowhere near enough to keep women safe. Without changing the way students are educated about consent, and without heeding to the pro-survivor, anti-assault demands of organizations like No Red Tape, Columbia is complicit in the assaults happening on its campus.
The author is a first-year at Barnard College, likely majoring in American studies. In her free time, she can be found running, dreaming about Ferris pasta, and trolling MRAs.
Love, Actualized is a weekly op-ed series on love, sex, and dating at Columbia. To respond to this op-ed, or to submit to Love, Actualized, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.